I have always been aware of weight. Mine. Yours. His. Hers. Theirs.
I don’t know where exactly it started in my family lineage, but I believe this obsession with body began many generations ago and has been passed down, perhaps on a cellular level.
I didn’t know my maternal great-grandmother, but I spent every other Christmas with my maternal grandmother and my entire life hearing stories from my own mother.
Sally Lawrence, my maternal grandmother, was a slender woman. That is, to everyone but herself. She was obsessed with being thin. She was most likely anorexic, without a formal diagnosis and, therefore, no support.
When my mother and aunt came along, she became obsessed with having thin daughters.
“Don’t eat that. You’ll get fat” was commonly heard in my mother’s childhood home.
In an effort to not pass on the pain of food neuroses to me, my mother swung the pendulum in the other direction. I did have to eat everything on my plate, like all good children of the ‘80s, but I was never told to watch what I ate or to worry about being fat.
As I grew up, I heard my mother’s stories and watched her struggle with her weight. I heard my grandmother’s comments, about my mother and me, when we saw her at Christmas. There were positive accolades and compliments about how beautiful I looked when my weight was down and heavy silence or sideways comments when my weight was up.
In 2013, my grandmother was diagnosed with dementia, at the age of 85. As she progressed, she lost her veil of tact. She said whatever came to mind, exposing every thought she had about other people’s weight.
“The nice, thin nurse … that large one …”
By hearing these judgments spoken out loud, I realized they were familiar. They existed within me.
Much to my chagrin and shame, I too placed value on the people around me based on how much weight they were carrying. Or at least I noted it. And often compared myself to them in doing so. Was I thankful I didn’t have as much weight on me as they did? Or did I wish I was as “trim”? How did I measure up? It wasn’t really about them.
I had likely seen the world this way my whole life without realizing it. As I became aware of my own unhealthy, inner comparison dialogue, I had great compassion for my grandmother. Here she was, 85 years old, and she was still unhappy with her own body. She still saw the world through the lens of weight.
In March of 2016, my grandmother asked her pastor if it was okay to pray and ask to die. My grandfather, her husband, had died almost three years prior, and she was ready to go, too. He said he thought that was an okay thing to pray, and within a week, she was gone.
I was able to fly to Iowa to be with my mother for the last few days of my grandmother’s life. She was unconscious when I arrived, and most of the time I was there, it was all three of us in the room. On one rare occasion, it was just me and Grandma.
I had been painting her fingernails. Realizing we were alone, I stopped and took a breath. There had been a heaviness inside me since I arrived. Now that we were alone, I took a moment to see if there was something I needed to say to her.
“Grandma … I forgive you.”
I didn’t see that coming.
“Grandma, you are beautiful and wonderful, just as you are. You are one of the kindest, most generous people I know. You are so much more than what you look like. I am so sorry you have been plagued by lies about weight your entire life. And I’m sorry you passed that on to me. I forgive you for passing this judgment and belief on to me. I release you of any blame.”
I don’t know what all I said. There were a lot of tears and Kleenex involved. We didn’t have long, but it was just enough.
The weight lifted off me. I’d like to think a weight lifted off her too.
Within an hour, she breathed her final breath, with my mother and me by her side.