Most of what I know I learned from my grandma. 

She taught me to be tough but kind. 

She taught me to work hard but never forget to stop and help others. 

She taught me to take care of family and value the irreplaceable things in life. 

She taught me to give without strings or expectations of return.

She could see beyond my fleeting teenage heart, and she scared off the boys who weren’t right for me with a serious scowl somehow mixed with a tender release.

I was always in awe of her.

Her laugh was robust and contagious, and people were always telling stories of how she impacted them. She was never on a stage or a big screen, but she was purposeful in the moments that went unseen. I grew up knowing she was a mother figure not only to her own daughters but to their friends and others in the community. She did humble work, but women would always stop and talk about how mamaw mentored them and taught them the skills they couldn’t learn in school.

When I brought the first great-grandchild into the family, he was adored. Mamaw spoiled him with Popsicles waiting in the fridge and though her eyesight was quickly fading, I’ll never forget the look in her eyes when she would hold and admire him.

There was a mere week between the time we learned our second child would be a girl and the day my grandmother passed.

We spent that week talking about bringing the next generation of strong women into the family. We admired her features through her ultrasound pictures, and when I broke the news a heart defect had been found, we cried together. “She’s going to be so strong, though,” I remember her saying, and I knew somehow it would be true because Mamaw believed it. As my grandmother’s health took a quick turn and I realized she would never hold this sweet baby girl, I was crushed.

Now, I think I might have been wrong.

There were 20 weeks between the passing of my grandma and the birth of my daughter. Between losing one of my greatest role models and taking in the news of my daughter’s complications, they were some of the darkest weeks. While I was lamenting the loss and confusion, I now know they were spending those weeks together.

Those 20 weeks were undoubtedly spent just the two of themsharing secrets, passing on family values, practicing robust laughter and the “I mean business” serious scowl. Surely she shared the stories she kept like a book in her mind. Surely she passed on her famous pecan pie recipe. Surely she told my girl that she had it in her to be whatever she wants to be and accomplish whatever she longs to accomplish.

Dear Mamaw, thank you for what you taught my daughter before she was born to me.

You always found a way to accomplish what you wanted, and I know you so wanted to meet and hold this sweet girl. Now I know you accomplished spending time with my daughter because I see you in her every day. All the things I loved most about you, I see in her.

I see you when she laughs so hard her face squishes up and everyone around can’t help but laugh too.

I see you when she has an obstacle in her way but always manages to find a way through it.

I see you when she has that serious scowl that somehow feels like intense love and serious intimidation in the same moment.

I see you when she joyfully makes a new friend wherever we go.

I see you when she has that mischievous smirk because she knows she pushed a limit.

I see you when she gets excited for mashed potatoes and scrambled eggs.

I may not have a picture of you physically holding her, but I have so many pictures in my mind of the time you spent together.

I picture the two of you singing and dancing. You probably told her to put more feeling into it and stood up to show her how it’s done.

I picture you baking and sneaking the uncooked pie crust with a little whipped cream for a taste.

I picture you sitting her down with that stern but loving look and reminding her to keep her priorities straight and not be derailed by distractions.

Being raised by strong women is one of the greatest parts of my life and to raise a strong woman is a gift. Thank you, Mamaw, for what you taught my mom. Thank you for what you taught me. Thank you for what you taught my daughter before she was born to me.

Chelsea Skaggs

Chelsea is a postpartum advocate and coach committed to shifting the postpartum narrative and bringing more support to women. She thrives on creating communities of authentic conversation and leading virtual postpartum support groups. She's the mother of two young kids and constantly learning in the chaos.