I initially began writing this piece shortly after the death of my sweet and Godly grandmother, Wilma Bishop Chaffin who passed away in March, 2006. I finally was able to complete it this year. It is true from the most secret places in my soul and I hope and pray my Savior is glorified in these words....
On one woman’s rite of passage
Adulthood. Womanhood, more specifically. How do you know when you are there? Really there. Does it occur at puberty? At your sweet sixteen party? First date? First kiss? Perhaps you make the transition from girl to woman at high school graduation, definitely by college graduation, right?
I had done those things. I had purchased a brand new car. I had bought a house. I had a career. I earned a great salary. But I still felt like a girl, or at least like a “young lady”, never really considering myself to be a woman, even at thirty-two years of age.
I thought it was because I was single. I thought it was because I had never delivered a baby that I wasn’t really a woman. It’s not that I didn’t desire these things, because from childhood I imagined my “grown-up life” with the husband, children, and home with the white picket fence. For some unknown reason, God was not creating that life for me.
Then it happened. My rite of passage. This is the story of my passage into womanhood.
Early one Friday morning in March, I had a hysterectomy. Cancer.
I had settled it in my mind…this surgery made me no less feminine than the next gal. I had perfect peace that God was so big that if He desired for me to be a mother, then He would make that happen whether I possessed a reproductive system or not. Still I pondered if this surgery was God’s way of telling me that I am not to be a mother, not a real woman, but just a girl.
The following Wednesday, my grandmother had a massive stroke. This stroke was bad. On Wednesday evening when I arrived at her home, the house was filled with my aunts, uncles, and cousins. Some were sitting at her bedside; others were congregating in the kitchen. There was a deep sadness in the air, yet there was also a sense of relief that soon there would be an end to the suffering that she had experienced over the past few months.
As I stood by her bed, holding her hand, I called to her by name. Very weakly, she opened her eyes and looked me directly in the eyes. Her mouth moved just a little bit, and then she closed her eyes again, exhausted. I sat with her for a while, reminiscing silently over all the ways this incredible woman had blessed me. I whispered my “see you later, love you!” in her ear, kissed her forehead, and prayed silently at her bedside for God to take her quickly, knowing that to be absent from this body is to be present with the Lord.
Over the following two days, I saw other family members go to her bedside one-by-one, in their own ways saying goodbye to our “MawMaw” and praying for an end to her suffering. Grown men and women, teenagers, and children, some with mournful sobs, others with quiet tears, some with numb silence, all touched, grieved, keeping vigil, and longing for relief.
On Friday afternoon, surrounded by her children and grandchildren, MawMaw took her last breath on this earth, leaving us with a beautiful smile on her face, a miraculous shadow of what she must have been experiencing in Heaven.
After a while, my aunts and I bathed the body and dressed it in a lovely nightgown. It was such a quiet, peaceful, beautiful time. My aunts demonstrated womanhood. Family caring for family, even when it’s hard and it hurts. It was the last thing we could do for our MawMaw. It was what real women did, and it was an honor and a joy.
I left my MawMaw’s house a woman that day.
I was clueless that God had escorted me through my rite of passage right in time. Or was it right on time? It matters not. Only three months later, almost to the day, I had to draw from my new, God-given womanhood.
My beautiful, young, strong, creative, powerful, smart, womanly mother suddenly took her last breath on this earth and went to be with my MawMaw. I wasn’t there to see that last breath, but I’m certain that her last breath on this earth was a deep one for the shocking news of her death deeply took my own breath away.
I found myself stepping up to care for my mom at a time when she could not care for herself, choosing her prettiest bra and panties, buying a beautiful, flowing white peasant blouse and long straight black skirt, selecting her signature black high heels, taking her own make-up to the funeral home so they could match her colors exactly, giving instructions for her hair… “Please don’t comb her hair out straight after you wash it. Just gently use a pick, and then scrunch the curls and let them air dry. I’ll be back to style her hair early in the morning.” I did go back, and Mom’s sisters went with me. It was hard, and it hurt, but it was the last thing I could do for my own mother, who had given so much to me. And it was an honor.
The girl that had existed in me only three months earlier was not ready for this task, but the woman in me did what she had to do. I think Mom would have been most pleased with the decisions I made on her behalf. As strange as it may sound, she was breathtakingly beautiful, even in a casket, and that made me happy.
Womanhood. Doing what you have to do, even when it’s hard and even when it hurts. Family caring for family.
Remember the scripture that reads: “When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things” (I Corinthians 13:11)? I don’t always behave like a woman. Sometimes I find myself reverting back to a little girl with childish ways, sometimes a rebellious and unteachable adolescent. But I’m making progress, for I see less and less of the little girl I used to be and increasingly more of the faithful God who created me, working in me. I have discovered a new richness in life, a sense of fullness, and a deep security by unleashing the grasp on the childish things and accepting His plan for me.
Womanhood. Doing what you have to do, even when it’s hard and even when it hurts. Not understanding as a child but as a woman, letting go of childish things, and seeking the wisdom and mind of Christ.
My goal is to consistently live that kind of womanhood. If you have achieved that kind of womanhood, you can achieve anything. Thanks be to God!
March 8, 2008