a self-care lesson courtesy of my late grandma
“Alive or dead,” my grandma said, “I want to go home.”
We laughed then, because we were at the hospital and she was dying. There was a real chance she wouldn’t make it home, where she wanted to be. So we laughed, because it was that or cry. And she’d already scolded my aunt for crying.
I’ve had a lot of mixed feelings toward my grandma over the years. She was outspoken and not always kind with her opinions. She gave me bear hugs and slipped me candy and money. My mom says I have her nose. She and I argued about the natural color of my hair.
Seriously, Grandma. It’s brown. And now I get the last word.
Standing in that hospital room, I had no idea she was laying the groundwork for a lesson in self-care. I doubt she knew either. Or even intended to teach me anything. She was simply being herself.
After she died, I learned more about her. The way her parents viewed their daughters, how they shipped her off as soon as she was 18 to work and send money back home. How she met my grandpa working at a paper mill, the way she didn’t like him at first. The reason behind her obsession with socks, because she’d gone without for so long.
I gained a new appreciation for her, and while it didn’t erase past hurts, it certainly gave me a new perspective. And I tuck that appreciation and perspective inside me, so that I can keep her with me.
My grandma was determined to go home. She was done being poked and prodded. She was done being in pain. She had a DNR. She wanted the comforts of her own home, to be surrounded by who and what she knew. The woman was never afraid to speak her mind, at least in my lifetime. And she knew what she wanted.
As I live my life, worlds away from anything she knew, I’m reminded of the moment when my grandma announced she was going to go home alive or dead. As I practice self-care and honoring myself and my needs, I think of the power of our voice.
Not voice, as in writing style. Voice as in putting to words what we want and need from this world. Our voice in standing up for ourselves. Our voice of being able to form opinions of our own.
I’m reminded too, of the discussion surrounding how we teach consent. I’ve read articles recently that say consent needs to be part of a larger discussion, separate from sexual education. Because, in fact, we begin teaching children consent when they’re little. Consent ties in with the ability to create boundaries, which is an important skill in self-care and life in general. Consider, for example, a toddler who doesn’t want to hug anyone in her extended family goodnight. If her aunt disregards this desire and goes in for the hug anyway, the aunt disregards the toddler’s voice, boundaries, and lack of consent.
Many of us are taught, from a very young age, that our voice doesn’t matter. So we’re conditioned to push down what we want so we don’t upset anyone. We disregard what our body is telling us because what we want is less important than what others want. Eventually, we no longer know how to recognize our own needs. And we’re miserable, but don’t always understand why.
Some of us spend our entire lives trying to find—and use—our voice. Given what I know about my grandma, I don’t think she fully discovered the power of her voice until she was older. But she did. And that’s one lesson I’m going to take with me.
To teach myself to tap into my voice, though, here’s how I see that working.
Take a moment to stop and reflect on the situation.
In one of my grandma’s less lucid moments, she mumbled a replay of a conversation she’d had with her doctor about why she was in the hospital. Sassily, with her eyes closed, she said, “I’m dying, you idiot.”
It was the first time I got the sense that my grandma acknowledged and accepted the reality of the situation. And I think being realistic about any situation you’re in, even the everyday, mundane ones, is key to truly harnessing the power of your voice.
Removing your filter and saying whatever comes to mind isn’t what I’m talking about here. Just because you have an opinion or a thought doesn’t mean you have to give it voice. There is a time and place to speak up. There’s also a way to do it that doesn’t cause unnecessary pain.
So, what’s the reality of the situation? The best first step is always some reflection and self-awareness.
Be honest about what you want and need.
The thing is, it can be scary to admit what you need, even in your head. Often times, people don’t understand why we need what we do, so it’s easier to pretend we don’t have needs. Why risk having to explain yourself and reassure someone it’s not personal or simply having the person quash your needs completely?
But it’s a skill worth developing—honesty. What do I need in this moment? What is going to fill me up? What is going to drain me?
Voice your need.
Even if you only voice it to yourself. For me, sometimes this need comes in the form of a knee jerk “I can’t” that reverberates in my head. That triggers me to ask why. Sometimes “I can’t” means my energy reserves are so low I have nothing to give.
Sometimes “I can’t” means I don’t really want to, and then I work my way through the other steps. And yes, there are times I put myself on hold because someone else’s need is greater. But it’s my choice. And by honoring my needs regularly, I’m better able to be the person people need . . . when they need it.
How will you harness your voice?