The Shape of a Great-Grandmother (Dora, interviewed by Holly)

Age: 90
Number of Pregnancies: 2
Children: DD1 – 71; DD2 – died at 64 years old. (would be 69 today)

Saturday morning. Bath day. Clothes gently stripped and placed aside, laundry for another day. I grip her elbow and guide her slowly into the shower, and onto her seat. And for the first time I truly see the woman before me. She is old, to be sure. But she also has young eyes. She sees everything fresh, grasping memories alongside fresh experiences, comparing, contrasting, learning, teaching.

Today she is teaching me about the wonders of the human body. She doesn’t know that she is doing this, but I learn much as I slowly cover her in soft and gentle suds. Her skin is papery, almost feathery. It lies in folds everywhere, on her arms and legs, her back, belly, breasts, neck. She is like the baggy little puppy, except she won’t be growing into her skin.

I notice two light lines tracing from her belly button to her pubic bone. I ask after them in passing, trying to make conversation during an experience that could be awkward if we let it become that. She points to each in passing, and tells me their stories. The one most left gave her a daughter, her second, born after a long and difficult pregnancy. She couldn’t tell me what was wrong with her by name, but by symptom it sounds like pre-eclempsia. She remembers a nurse caressing her brow and telling her that when she woke she’d have a baby. She tells me of waking up three days later, to pain in her breasts and pain in her belly, and staring at its deflated state and wondering wildly where her baby could be.

She was brought her baby, a pink little sprite asleep and swaddled in blankets. She wouldn’t take the breast, and so the doctor gave Dora medicine to stop the flow of milk. Not even a few days to try. Just emptiness.

She stares into space a moment, lost in reflection over her youngest daughter’s life and death. I continue to soap and scrub, wash and rinse, and watch her closely. After a moment, she surfaces again and tries to resume conversation. Where were we? Oh, yes. That scar, she points matter-of-factly at the scar on the right side. From a surgery a decade after her daughter’s birth, to remove scar tissue from the c-section. A surgery that almost killed her. Too much anesthesia. She shudders a bit. This must be painful.

I change the subject to save her from further reflections. How did she adjust to her body? Did she love her body? She waives the thoughts away. She’s never thought about it that much. It’s just a body. She feels old, she says. And before, when she was young, she wouldn’t look at her body. It wasn’t talked about, wasn’t proper. She kept her body covered, shown only to her husband, who she says loved her and her body fiercely. She smiles at that thought.

I tell her about the world today. Women having surgery to remove loose belly skin, tightening and “fixing” the marks that children give them. Trying to look perfect. Bah, she says. Would she have had that surgery to fix her loose belly? Maybe, she says. Maybe, but what good would it have done? She’d still be here now: An old woman, saggy, wrinkled, and no longer new of body. Although, she doesn’t see what I see. A woman who is wise, surrounded by love and loss, strong for the inclusion of all of it, marked by a life well-lived, but at precious peace now because of that journey.

She smiles as I wrap her in a warm towel. Where were we? Oh yes, she says, I loved my babies and that’s all that mattered then, and all that matters now.


42 thoughts on “The Shape of a Great-Grandmother (Dora, interviewed by Holly)

  • Friday, August 20, 2010 at 7:36 am

    That was so awesome.

  • Friday, August 20, 2010 at 7:51 am

    Love this post. Thank you.

  • Friday, August 20, 2010 at 8:01 am

    Beautiful story <3

  • Friday, August 20, 2010 at 8:19 am

    oh wow! it made cry! what a beautiful story, what a beautiful woman and such a great reminder that loving our children comes first. At the end, we cant stop time, not even botox. There will be the time when we will look old, our skin will be old..but so what! we will have gained wisdom…beautiful!

  • Friday, August 20, 2010 at 9:13 am

    I love this!! It brought tears to my eyes!! Such a strong woman!

  • Friday, August 20, 2010 at 9:23 am

    Beautiful truth…my shirt is wet with tears! How quickly we young mommas forget that we are all on a path of becoming old one day, and that we need not dread that day but should celebrate each and every stage of our lives- and the people in our lives. Although no one is certain what happens when we die, I think that most will agree that our posessions and physical self are not what hold any importance in the end.

  • Friday, August 20, 2010 at 9:29 am

    What a beautiful change of pace! Thank you for posting this!

  • Friday, August 20, 2010 at 9:30 am

    very heartfelt, brought happy tears = )

  • Friday, August 20, 2010 at 9:31 am

    oh yea and thank you so much for sharing this!!!!!

  • Friday, August 20, 2010 at 9:42 am

    It shows true love for ones self. Thank you for sharing.

  • Friday, August 20, 2010 at 11:57 am

    Incredibly beautiful story, full of love and wisdom. Thank you for this.

  • Friday, August 20, 2010 at 12:26 pm

    how wonderful. hopefully we will all reach that state of wisdom about our bodies and our lives.

  • Friday, August 20, 2010 at 12:51 pm

    What a fabulous post, puts a lot in perspective. I smiled along with her as I read about her husbands love for her and her body. :) Thank you!

  • Friday, August 20, 2010 at 1:42 pm

    Beautiful!!! I have never commented but today I have to! Definitely a change of pace for this site, and one I hope others will consider. I’d love to hear the stories of more mothers with grown children and read their reflections about their bodies now that childbearing and childrearing are done.

  • Friday, August 20, 2010 at 3:26 pm

    This was beautiful. Thank you!!

  • Friday, August 20, 2010 at 4:44 pm

    Just last month we took my daugher (who is 1) to meet my great-grandmother (who is 91). While I was watching my little one play on the floor and my mamaw talk to her, it struck me that she’s one of the few people alive that remembers my grandma at that age. She’s seen everybody on that side of the family as a baby. How cool is that?

    We can all learn something from our older generations, if we just have the courage to ask.

  • Friday, August 20, 2010 at 6:42 pm

    It makes me wish my grandmothers were still alive to ask the same question :) How different things were for women in childbirth back then! I can’t imagine. I do remember my grandmother telling a story about going for surgury to get her bladder suspended… That would have been about 1950. They removed her uterus without her consent. She said that she always wished she could have one more child, a girl (to make 4 boys, 4 girls). Women of prior eras are strong beyond belief, we can learn a lot from them. Thanks for sharing!

  • Friday, August 20, 2010 at 7:48 pm

    Thank you so much for sharing this, it was so touching.

  • Friday, August 20, 2010 at 7:49 pm

    of all the stories i have read on this site this is my very favorite! i want to be like dora – what a great role model she is. thank you God for women like dora!

  • Friday, August 20, 2010 at 8:34 pm

    Jeez, make me cry! That was beautiful! Thank you. I’m glad you asked her those questions. :)

  • Friday, August 20, 2010 at 8:38 pm

    Beautiful post. Thank you so much for sharing and give lots of hugs to Dora. :)

  • Friday, August 20, 2010 at 11:08 pm

    i especially loved the bit about her hubby. i wish men today weren’t so bombarded with “perfect” female bodies so they could enjoy just their wives too. the internet, with all it’s awesomeness, still has so many drawbacks. what a great post!

  • Saturday, August 21, 2010 at 1:19 am

    Thank you so much for sharing. What a gift this was. I’m crying happy tears, hoping to be more like Dora :) She is so beautiful.

  • Saturday, August 21, 2010 at 4:22 pm

    Thank you

  • Saturday, August 21, 2010 at 4:41 pm

    I LOVE this post. I’d love to hear more about older women and their reflections, feelings, thoughts on their bodies. And see pictures!

  • Saturday, August 21, 2010 at 10:43 pm

    That brought tears to my eyes. Simply beautiful.

  • Sunday, August 22, 2010 at 3:50 pm

    What an awesome story. Thank you!

  • Sunday, August 22, 2010 at 4:40 pm

    So real and beautiful. Thank you.

  • Tuesday, August 24, 2010 at 9:53 am

    beautifully written. Puts things in perspective.

  • Tuesday, August 24, 2010 at 3:35 pm

    Beautiful…Just a magnificent story…If only we could all see ourselves that way <3 <3 <3

  • Tuesday, August 24, 2010 at 9:37 pm

    Thank you for sharing. Tears to my eyes. I miss my grandma.

  • Friday, September 3, 2010 at 12:35 pm

    Thank you.

  • Sunday, September 5, 2010 at 2:42 am

    My most favorite!

  • Thursday, September 9, 2010 at 11:16 pm

    Beautifully written. Thank you for writing this. And thank you to her for sharing!

  • Sunday, September 26, 2010 at 3:46 pm

    I love, love, LOVE this so, so much! Thank you so much for sharing.

  • Tuesday, October 12, 2010 at 11:58 pm

    Beautiful, beautiful story.

  • Tuesday, January 4, 2011 at 12:26 am

    Thank you for sharing this.. It made me cry happy tears.. Truely beautiful.. xx

  • Thursday, January 20, 2011 at 6:34 am

    Thank you!

  • Thursday, February 24, 2011 at 2:58 pm


  • Wednesday, April 27, 2011 at 3:57 pm

    What a wonderful, wonderful woman, Thankyou xxx

  • Thursday, January 26, 2012 at 9:58 pm

    Awesome! Thank you for sharing. Helps me see things in a whole new light ;)

  • Saturday, July 20, 2013 at 6:13 am

    That was incredibly beautiful. Thankyou.

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