The Stephen Lewis Foundation has been asking Canadians how grandmothers inspire them for International Women’s Day. We are pleased to share the following stories and reflections with you.
Grandmothers inspire me by being always patient, encouraging, innovative, loving, caring and being role models to others.
I have 2 grandmothers I would like to honour. The first is my own, a woman who believes wholeheartedly in everything I do and celebrates with me as opportunities arise and as things come together. I am so grateful to have her to share my journeys with and to experience her enthusiasm for the stories I get to tell her.
The second is a grandmother I met 5 years ago in Uganda. She is the caregiver for 19 children, a collection of beautiful little ones that are her biological grandchildren and those passed to her by others who knew they would be in good hands. This Jaja inspired me to take a risk in my work and pursue a career change that allows me to support grandmothers, caregivers, and people who are passionate about making a difference across Africa. I am forever grateful to her for showing me what it means to care, and for showing me that people like her would do it, no matter what it costs them.
I am inspired by the Grandmothers to Grandmothers campaign, bringing together people from different walks of life but shared experiences. Thank you for working so tirelessly to support Grandmothers in Africa and for taking the opportunity to learn from their wisdom and experience.
Attached is a photo of my great-grandmother, Mary Becker Axelrod (1872-1962), who immigrated to New York from a Russian-Jewish village in 1886, age 14. Over the years she took care of many children — in her family and in families who needed her. Her motto was, “We’ll fight it through.” I was 19 when she died, so have good memories of her — she has been an inspiration to me.
This is the same way the Grandmothers in Africa live their lives — I am also inspired by them, and by your Foundation’s work in supporting them.
Warm wishes on International Women’s Day,
Ellen S. Jaffe
My gramma passed away in late January and I wrote what you see below as a testament to her. She didn’t want a funeral, but I felt the need to let others know what a powerful influence she was in my life. I know that you wanted only 200 words, but I couldn’t bring myself to cut out anything I wrote about her. I understand if it’s not possible to include it, but felt compelled to submit this.
When I was a baby, you opened your home to me and my parents. I can only imagine that having a wee baby in the house after so long being without one was quite the adjustment. The bathing. The feeding. The crying. Although I have no memory of this I must have sensed that I was loved.
When I was eight I faked my way sick through several weeks of grade 3. Every time I was put in a cab and sent off to your place where I would miraculously recover with the help of ginger ale and chocolate cake. Apparently, I didn’t want you to leave for Texas and this was my way of trying to make you stay. Chocolate cake and ginger ale – I knew I was loved and I can only imagine you knew you were loved.
When I was twelve I used to hop on my bike and travel alongside the train tracks by my house to your home on Penningham. I was an awkward pre-teen and you had the innate ability to make me feel like I was even more than special and could accomplish anything I set out to do. And you tolerated when I would call you with crazy fake accents trying to fool you into thinking I was someone else. How could I not have known I was loved?
When I was sixteen my dad moved to Calgary. You and Papa packed my sister and I up in your car on spring break to drive out there. You sat in the back and told Papa to let me drive. Your trust and faith in the untested driving skills of a sixteen year old meant I definitely knew I was loved.
When I was eighteen I broke up with my first boyfriend. It was friendly enough but you immediately removed any trace of him from your family albums. You were like a warrior princess who couldn’t take the thought of your granddaughter being hurt. I understood just how fiercely you loved.
When I was twenty-two I moved to Toronto. You told me not to go out at night. You cried every time I visited and left Winnipeg. You pressed twenty dollars into my hand for magazines on the plane and cab rides home from the airport. I missed you every minute I was away. I understood the power of love.
When I was twenty-nine you sent Matthew a birthday cheque. You told him fiance’s only got half the amount until they were husband’s. You also threatened, in writing, to ‘kick his ass’ if he broke my heart. I laughed and knew how much you loved me.
When I was thirty-two I got married. You conquered your fear of flying. Got a passport. Baked and brought me chocolate chip cookies. Made a speech at my wedding and danced like you were 25. I completely understood how much I was loved.
When I was thirty-three I had a child of my own. I was so proud to show him off to you. You loved him and hugged him and called him Nick (and sometimes Matthew by accident). I have no doubt he knows how much he is loved.
When I was thirty-four I got the news. You were sick. I flew out to see you. One of the first things you asked me was if I was hungry and had eaten. Food. It was your way of letting us know how much we were loved.
When you were sick we all rushed out to see you. You had all of your family with you. They were there - All day. Every day. As long as the hospital would let them. I only hope you understood just how much you are loved.
The last thing you said to me was that you loved me more than I could possibly imagine. I don’t know how that’s possible. We spent our whole lives feeling your love. And we’re better people for it. I look at my little guy every day and I take comfort in the fact that through him I’m connected to you in a new way. Looking into his smiling face I understand just how much I can love.
I had the pleasure of growing up 4 houses away from my Memere Diana Marsolais and 2 blocks from my Grand’Mere Florence Goguely for most of my childhood.
Memere Marsolais was always a pleasure to be with and several days were spent at her house with my siblings helping her maintain her home and yard. She became a widow early in life with the loss of pepere to a brain tumour and was a single mother of 9 children for over 50 years. Our friends would often tease us for working so hard at memeres house for free (other than a bowl of soup and ice cream floats). My response to that then and now is that her kindness, wisdom, respect and acceptance for whatever mistakes we made in life, was payment enough.
She taught me to appreciate and respect women and realize that gender should never be a barrier in fulfilling our dreams.
Grand’Mere Goguely was a very intelligent quiet ,patient women that always had the correct time and date of events in the past despite grand’Pere Victor’s disagreement. She was a mother of 5 and also taught me mother that everyone deserved respect and recognition for their qualities, not their shortfalls.
I cherish the life lessons and the legacy these 2 lovely ladies instilled upon me, lives on through my children & grandchildren !
How do grandmothers inspire you? Share your stories with Stephen Lewis Foundation for International Women’s Day: write a story, email us a note, post on Facebook or tweet using the hashtag #granspiration, share a photo or create a video to tell us how they motivate you! E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.