Coming Out of Grandmother


I saw a woman at the bank the other day. A bank teller. She had the same kind of liver spots on her face that my grandmother used to have, right on the side of her cheeks by her eyes. She had laugh lines like my grandmother did. The shape of her face was almost exactly like hers. So was the texture of her skin. I wondered if the woman’s skin, like my grandmother’s skin, is what old lady Filipina skin is supposed to look like… like a coconut but not so hard, smooth even though it looks rough.

Seeing this woman was like looking at grandmother again, as if she were standing in front of me even though it wasn’t really her. The teller also had drawn in eyebrows, except my grandmother never used black eyeliner to pencil in her eyebrows. She always used a brown pencil. (Although when my grandmother was in her seventies once, she drew one of her eyebrows in blue because she was in a hurry and didn’t notice. When my sister pointed it out hours later my grandmother laughed so hard that she had to put her hand over her mouth to keep the rest of her laughter from spilling out all over the floor.)

I wanted to touch this bank teller’s face. I wanted to press my face next to hers and inhale deep to see if she smelled like Pond’s cold cream and Johnson’s baby powder, just like my grandmother. If I could have stood in front of the teller window longer I would have looked at her hands to see if they were wrinkled in the same places where my grandmother’s fingers had been wrinkled too.

As a little girl living in the Philippines, when it it was time to take a nap, I would get into bed with my grandmother and wrap my arms and legs around her until I’d fully sunken into her down comforter softness. I would hold on to her tight because I knew that once I fell asleep she’d find a way to free herself from my limbs and get on with the rest of her day. I didn’t want to let her go.

When my grandmother died in 2006 I didn’t make it to her deathbed. I wasn’t able to fly back from the U.S. for her funeral either, so I never got to hold her goodbye. For that first year after, the longing to hug her one more time was this big, constant ache inside of me.

Until one day, while moving in my body—which is my way of going inward and working out stuff in my life—the realizations hit me:

I come out of the womb of my mother, who came out of the womb of my grandmother. We’re like a Matryoshka doll—only human, not wooden; Filipina, not Russian. My body comes in part from my grandmother’s DNA, which still very much lives on in my DNA. My grandmother is right here, right now, alive in me.

Womb to Womb (wikimedia commons)

Knowing this doesn’t make the hurt of losing her any less, but it does make the pain feel a little less tender. Now, when I miss my grandmother, rather than looking everywhere and wondering if she’s out there, I sink into my body a little more deeply instead. Because I know that’s where I can always find her.



64 Comments on “Coming Out of Grandmother”

  1. Your post reminded me of after my aunt Jean died, I was on the bus and saw a woman come on who looked exactly like her. I couldn’t take my eyes off her. I wanted to believe that it was her and for a long time i created scenarios over this.
    We are very much a composition of those who came before us. Their DNA lives in us. To me, it’s really a mystery.I like that you sink into your body to find your grandmother. That’s a very comforting thought. 🙂

    • diahannreyes says:

      Thank you, Carol. Wouldn’t it be great if when see someone who we feel could be a passed on beloved that it’s them channeling their soul through and saying hello? If only.

  2. Diahann, this is touching tale. It’s funny how you’d wrap yourself around your grandmother to keep her near to you, as though she wouldn’t be able to separate herself. When my father died in 2005, I began to think likewise, that he lived in me. In fact, I’m accused of being more and more like him, as I grow old—though that doesn’t always come as flattery.

    I’m sorry that you couldn’t have a final holding goodbye.

    Peace to you Diahann, and thank you for sharing your experiences.

    • diahannreyes says:

      Thank you, Peter! Yes- I regret that I couldn’t be there. One of the life’s “no do-overs” is a person’s last breaths. A definite regret! Peace to you too and thanks for receiving my stories.

  3. Tony Single says:

    You’ve given yourself a little Matryoshka love. I love insights like that. It’s a beautiful way to be kind to oneself, and ultimately to carry oneself.

    • diahannreyes says:

      Thank you, Tony! It really was a profound aha moment for me. I love what you said, about giving the self a little Matryoshka love. I looked up the word Matryoshka, and it means matron- so mothering the self, I guess- which definitely is an act of self-love.

  4. That’s really a comforting realization for me to read about. We have those Russian dolls on our fireplace mantle and it really is a great analogy. I am trying to find the equivalent solace with not having any closure or a goodbye with my Dad (his was a sudden, unexpected departure from this world.) It’s a toughie to reconcile within myself. Thank you for this.

  5. Michael Lane says:

    Lovely, emotional, poignant piece. Loved it and it brought up feelings of my own relatives that I was close to and lost.

    • diahannreyes says:

      Thank you, Michael! It amazes me how much the dead really do linger with us long after they are gone. I hope those who are on the other side are watching, knowing how much they are missed.

  6. Mélanie says:

    mabuhay-bonjour and thanx for this impressive and emotional post, Diahann… ❤ for 2 reasons: I loved and I often miss my maternal granny(RIP) and my best friend in Houston during my 5 years spent there has been Ingrid, a wonderful Filipina lady…
    * * *
    thanx for stoppin' by my crossroads, my very best, lots of inspiration and have a positive September… cheers, Mélanie

  7. BroadBlogs says:

    This is very touching. Reminded me of my own grandmother, and how much I miss her.

    And this really hit me too:

    “I come out of the womb of my mother, who came out of the womb of my grandmother. We’re like a Matryoshka doll—only human, not wooden; Filipina, not Russian.”

    • diahannreyes says:

      Thank you, Georgia. I feel like the grandparent-grandchild relationship can be so special if we are lucky. It’s no wonder we miss them so when they are no longer around. I’m super jealous of my boyfriend. He’s 47 and both his grandmothers are still here.

  8. Oh, how I have missed you. You wrote, as always, about something I can only describe as a visceral hug. Does that even begin to make sense? I hope so. What a smart and simple realization of how to illustrate the generations. I will never look at those dolls, of which I have two sets, the same again.

    Interestingly, you wrote of your grandmother at a time that mine have been on my mind a lot. I envision them all around me, advising and cajoling me to work on the very things I am at the moment. Are we in the season of grandmothers?

    Anyway, so nice to see you. Hope you are well, and so, how was the TV/media free month?

    • diahannreyes says:

      Robyn! I’ve missed you and your posts too. I was even going to email and see if all was well but then figured you probably have been having a busy summer and I didn’t want to be intrusive. I love that you felt a visceral hug- love that.

      I also love that you are feeling your grandmothers around you. It is getting to be fall when the veils between the worlds are supposed to be thinner…. your words remind me of this song.

      Great Grandmother Song

      (Lori P. & Linnie S)

      Great Grandmother…

      I see you sitting in the (East, repeat all directions)

      You are sacred

      And you are looking at me.

      I pr~ay to you, pr~ay to you.

      You are sacred

      And you are looking at me.

      mY TV media free month went pretty well, although I quit a week early after my friend, who was doing it with me said she was out. The impetus got a bit less at that point!

  9. ledrakenoir says:

    The old story about the chinese box or the more modern russian Matryoshka doll really make sense here – excellent idea, very well written… 😉

  10. Nastalgia and sublime intermingled

  11. Ralph says:

    A beautiful post Diahann. Loved it ! ❤

    • diahannreyes says:

      thank you, Ralph! Sorry to just be responding now- for some reason your comment ended up in my Spam filter and I just noticed it now. 🙂

      • Ralph says:

        No worries Diahann. Akismet is playing games with my comments. They said it’s fixed, but I see no change as my comments are still being kidnapped by Akismet. Maybe you unspamming me will be okay now on in your blog my friend. 😀

  12. SirenaTales says:

    What a breathtakingly lovely and poignant piece, Diahann! Two things struck me most as I read your powerful words, one more “technical” and one substantive. I so appreciate how you are able to paint such a resonant portrait of your beautiful grandmother and your loving relationship with her: your writing deepens our vivid, sensuous experience of her and your connection.

    Second, I admire and love your wisdom about the treasure of the human body. “Now, when I miss my grandmother, rather than looking everywhere and wondering if she’s out there, I sink into my body a little more deeply instead. Because I know that’s where I can always find her.” Brilliant and true! Thank you for the bountiful inspiration, my friend. xoxo

    • diahannreyes says:

      Chloe, thank you so much! I’m really happy to know that the story felt visceral and that the body wisdom really transmitted. I so appreciate your thoughtfulness and always taking the time. Thank you for your expansive presence here. xo

  13. Miranda Stone says:

    This is a beautiful post, Diahann. Very moving. I couldn’t help but grin at your grandmother’s wonderful humor, the way she laughed when she accidentally used a blue pencil for her eyebrows. Both of my grandmothers passed away about twenty years ago, but I can still hear my grandmother’s jolly voice and remember the way her whole body shook when she got really tickled by something and began to laugh. I’m sure you know this, but your mention of DNA made me think of mitochondrial DNA, which is only passed down–unchanged–through the maternal line. So you do carry a very special part of your mother, and her mother, and all the mothers before them.

    • diahannreyes says:

      Thank you, Miranda! I knew about DNA but didn’t know that about mitochondrial DNA even though I guess that must have known it without knowing that I did, since I wrote it, if you know what I mean. Another wonderful thing about the female body!

      I love that your grandmother laughed really hard too- i wonder if it’s a grandmother thing- having lived long enough to find the funny in life, maybe?

  14. livelytwist says:

    I love love love the image of your grandmother these words evoke:
    ” . . . my grandmother laughed so hard that she had to put her hand over her mouth to keep the rest of her laughter from spilling out all over the floor.”

    I’m happy that you still ‘feel’ her inside you. Such precious knowledge!

    • diahannreyes says:

      Thank you, Timi! That is one of my favorite memories of her laughing that way- and the rest of us joining along not because we necessarily knew why she was laughing but because her laughter was so infectious!

  15. I love the nesting doll metaphor. What a beautiful tribute to your grandmother. My grandfather died 15 years ago, but I still tear up whenever I think of him…his patience, his kindness and overflowing love. It’s as if his presence lives on.

    • diahannreyes says:

      Thank you! I definitely think that the grandparent-grandchild relationship can be so special. Perhaps it’s that grandparents don’t usually have the job of bringing their grandkids up, which allows for all the patience and fun. Sounds like you had that special bond with your grandfather.

  16. Wonderfully written, memories of love and loss so well documented, thanks for sharing …

  17. Jenn Berney says:

    What a beautiful image. And your story here reminds me of how vivid and sensual my memories of my own grandmother are. If I close my eyes, I can still walk around her home and even smell it. When we came to visit, she always used to give my parents her bed and sleep with me in her guest room. It was the only time I didn’t sleep alone, and I looked forward to it.

    • diahannreyes says:

      I love that you and your grandmother used to sleep together too, Jenn. I also do that- visit her in 1975ish and see the house almost like it’s still there and everyone’s living that same life but only in another time. (I thought the latter was just a me thing and I kind of love that it’s a you thing too)

  18. Oh yeah, Pond’s! And I love the Russian doll metaphor. Diahann. Lovely, poignant descrpx of
    your love for her. I can feel the pain you carried with you.

  19. What an original and sweet way to reach in to your female lineage. We usually say to ‘reach out’ but this what makes your way so special.
    I will remember this when working with clients. Thanks! xox

  20. Aw, this post made me teary-eyed. It’s really hard to lose someone you love, especially an important female role model like your grandmother. God bless her and may she rest in peace.Amen. Also, I really loved the Russian doll analogy ❤ ❤ ❤

  21. I love your blog. So glad to discover your writing. Thanks! Dan

  22. KPS says:

    Your writing is so beautiful. I love the image of the Russian dolls.It made me teary-eyed thinking of my maternal grandmother who passed away years before I was born. However, when my aunts and her sisters see pictures of one of my sisters, they say she looks a lot like her, which is such a comfort.

  23. writingcoachnomi says:

    Beautiful, Diahann. I especially love the part about you wrapping your limbs around your grandmother at nap time . . . to try to keep her from slinking away after you fell asleep.

  24. reocochran says:

    I am not sure what led me to this beautifully expressed love of your grandmother, but I am blessed from reading it. I appreciate these kind words and tribute to your grandmother’s warmth, sense of humor and your childlike wrapping yourself around her touched me deeply. I admire the final thoughts, we have our mothers, grandmothers (and also, fathers and grandfathers…) wrapped within ourselves, we may sometimes innately imitate them, or sometimes we may do this on purpose. The woman in the bank was such an inspiration for this story. I loved the details of Pond’s lotion and baby powder, your grandmother’s use of brown rather than black eyebrow pencil, then the funny time she used blue… Lovely!

    • diahannreyes says:

      Thank you so much. It has been a real comfort to know exactly where I can still find my grandmother- and you are right- it’s not just the feminine side of lineages that run through our bodies for us to tap into when we have the longing.

      • reocochran says:

        I also hope you found peace in something you may have inherited from her, where you can be thankful and see in the mirror or in your house, what is part of your grandmother, Diahann. Thanks for your recent comment on my mountains post, too. Hugs, Robin

        • diahannreyes says:

          thank you, Robin. I look nothing at all like her but sometimes when my sister laughs, scooping hear guffaws with her hands over her mouth, I see my grandmother too.

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