Prayer for the grandmother I long ago scorned

Guest post by Mackenzie Amara
Original art by Oklahoma City painter Jerron Johnston, for sale here. Learn more about Jarron’s work.

This is the time of year when the veil between the worlds is the thinnest, they say. A thin veil facilitates communication with our ancestors, those who have passed into the other/underworld, the beyond. They are close enough now to feel the heat from our breath. They are right here, upon us.

I suspect the veil between our conscious minds and the chthonic dark of our own personal unconscious thins during these days, too. I suspect we have greater access to our own unknown bits, should we desire such a thing.

I myself, do desire such a thing. I relish every opportunity I stumble upon to dive into my own interiority; access to the illuminated darkness of my own psyche feels like a treat indeed. I have never wanted to engage my ancestors, however. Beyond the perfunctory nod to my genetic inheritance, I have all but scorned the people I come from. I have next-to-never wanted to feel their presence in my life or name the stories they silently sung to me as I’ve grown. Their existence has only proved a source of terror for me: from them I have inherited the bitterness of unrealized dreams and a mountain of tedious unrest. I have inherited the blueprints for a drinking problem and a dangerously compulsive nature. I have inherited self-hatred. It has never felt useful to honor the broken people behind me, for they gave me nothing but their brokenness.

I read today that all of a woman’s eggs, each of them potential life planted in her fertile womb like so many seeds buried in the dark earth, develop in her body when she herself is still in utero. At four months, the female fetus develops its ovaries and all of the eggs that lie therein. Which means that the seeds for every single one of us, every single human being, are planted in our mothers while our mothers are still within our grandmothers. It means that my grandmother was the receptacle in which my entire physical potential—my latent life—came online. As your grandmother was for you. In a sense, we were all born of our grandmothers.

Wild and wondrous as this truth may be, it renders me a tad stupefied, for I am profoundly afraid of the woman that was my maternal grandmother.

My grandmother, Elizabeth Mackenzie

Here is what I know of Grandma Mackenzie. She was beautiful. She was profoundly fragile. She lived with deep wounds, and suffered tremendously under their weight. She might have been abused; it might have been incest. She was a drunk, out of control, and often could not manage to care for her five daughters, who learned to steal groceries and clothing to take care of themselves. My grandmother suffered and she suffered and she suffered. After her girls were born, her husband left her. She filled the void with a string of lecherous, slovenly men, like so many women do. She never once knew the feeling of being worthy or lovable, so ingrained were the beliefs she was inherently unworthy and unlovable.

It was from this woman that my mother was born. It was inside this woman that my own mother’s ovaries developed, and inside those ovaries that every egg my mother’s body would ever produce developed. Like a Russian nesting doll, it was in the womb of this woman, my grandmother, that my own wild and precious life started.

A terrifying revelation.

I have frequently resented my grandmother, Elizabeth Mackenzie, and the havoc her addictions wreaked on her descendants. I have frequently felt like it was easier to disconnect from her than to let her in, easier to sever the line than know its pain, easier to disinherit this person, my family whom I never met but who gave me my bones.

But denial never stays easier for long, and I am no motherless child. I may be born of a troubled lineage, but I am born. I can no longer tolerate a life of separation from my ancestors, a life lived sans acknowledging the breath they have breathed into me. So today, I choose to remember the womb of the woman in whom my life started. I choose to recollect the time I was a seed, buried deep in the darkness of raw potential. I choose to own that soil as my rightful home. In reverence of the now gossamer veil, I choose to let her in, just I as I was once in her, this broken woman. I will feel her pain and remember her suffering. I will know her power by my own.

Today, from behind the fold I summon my maternal grandmother and my matrilineal inheritance. I call forth from my own unconscious the dissociated parts of myself that I long ago named Grandma.

Elizabeth Mackenzie, after whom I am named, gifter of trauma, addiction, and self-loathing: I see you. I am you. It is to you I dedicate this life and all the healing it will hold. You left so much unprocessed, so much ugly emptiness, so much mangled. From you, unworthiness has been my primary inheritance. Yesterday, I could not bear to name you. Today, I choose to reclaim you.

And so, like our names—reversed—I am flipping the script. I am writing a new legacy for us, and for the seeds I carry that come from my mother, your daughter. I am writing a legacy that holds this life as sacred. One that honors this body with luscious love and gentleness, one that knows the truth of my own power.

I cry tonight knowing that you were never able to see how beautiful you were, how magically inclined and how profoundly powerful. You did not know—you couldn’t have—but I do. I know it about you as I know it about me. And you are me. This knowing is for you, this healing your inheritance reversed, this embodied heart your home. Welcome.

Comments on Prayer for the grandmother I long ago scorned

  1. This is incredibly moving, thank you for sharing your story. I know what it’s like to want to distance yourself from the problems of the people you came from and you’re doing something brave and wonderful here.

    Also, the realization about how we all began within our grandmothers is blowing my mind. I never knew my grandmother – she died when my mom was a kid. I’ve thought and wondered so much about her over the years. To think about our connection in these terms is such a gift. Thank you. I wish you the very best on your journey!

  2. I love this post, in part because it echos some multigenerational personal work I did when the veil was thin last November with my paternal grandmother and her mother… my great-grandmother died abruptly when my grandmother was 4, and my heartbroken grandmother carried a sense of worthlessness and neediness through her life. She then handed that down to my father, who lovingly handed it down to me. (“We are a people who have to make do with what we can get, because we are not worthy of being loved… we serve those who are willing to put up with us, and will not ask for more”).

    I spent November and December of last year trying to use my own anxious attachment/worthless feelings as a cue to turn inward and do some serious healing work between my two grandmothers… using my own feelings of worthlessness as an invitation to attend to the root of the story: the broken bond between mother & daughter.

    My goal was to bring the two of them back together within my own genetics. I mean, inside my body, the DNA of both women are intertwined… so in some ways, that little 4yo girl who lost her mama are reunited in my cellular structure! *head splode*!!

    ANYWAY! I love that there are other folks doing this kind of family ancestral work… if anyone’s looking for resources on their own multigenerational healing process, this book is great: It Didn’t Start with You: How Inherited Family Trauma Shapes Who We Are and How to End the Cycle

  3. Really good read.

    Humans are amazing. I have that book “It Didn’t Start With You”. Excellent book. Almost eerie how it explains our connections to our ancestors.

    I’m a biologist and I also really loved “A Brief History of Everyone Who Ever Lived. Not only do the eggs that become us reside in our own grandmothers, but even the way our genes are expressed is influenced by the experiences of the previous generation. It comes back to me when my daughter has tendencies that resemble MY grandmother, even though they were only alive at the same time for a year. Thanks.

  4. Wow. This induced goosebumps!
    I too harbour some really difficult emotions towards my maternal grandmother. This pushed a lot of buttons that I would rather ignore. I am not ready to look at those issues yet but I suspect this piece will quietly work away at me and will help me get there in the end.
    Thank you – a magical post.

  5. This is one of the most beautiful and poetic, painful, articulate and acurrate pieces I’ve ever read. And it so incredibly timely for me to read it, that it is all I’ll want or need this holiday season, as gifts go. Thank you for writing it, thank for sharing it, thank you to Offbeat Home for publishing it.

  6. Also for me, this one of the most beautiful and poetic, painful, articulate and accurate pieces I’ve ever read. I think we all have good and bad in our past. I bet your grandmother passed on resilience to you, creativeness, and just plain endurance. Life is difficult for a lot of people, and back in those days many people didn’t know enough where to seek help, how to seek help, or even that what was happening to them was WRONG. So please, enjoy the good, appreciate the bad. We are all only human, after all.

  7. This article is beautifully written and full of significant insights. I honor the author for her willingness to re-frame her relationship to her grandmother. I am currently engaged in an on-line course with the Shift Network called “Ancestral Medicine” (taught by Daniel Foor) which is opening new ways of connecting with the wise, healed and loving ancestors in our lineage, the ones way back when before the dysfunction got a grip. There is a way to ask these ancestors to heal the many generations of “damaged” ancestors that lie between us and them.

    Check out Daniel Foor’s book for more specifics and keep exploring……whether we acknowledge it or not, our ancestors DO impact us and healing our lineages is big work!

    • Sounds like rich, powerful work you’re doing Therese, and I commend your enthusiasm and willingness to do it, as well. Sometimes it seems like our problems are on repeat – it’s a very good time to break the chains and start embodying new stories, eh?

      Thank you, also, for the kind words about my writing.

      Deep bow to you.

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