Every summer my grandparents would drive from Cincinnati, Ohio, to the Bronx, New York, to pick me up, so that I could spend the summer with them. It was my favorite part of the year—the hours spent on the road listening to what my grandparents listen to: Smokey Robinson, The Beatles, Otis Redding. We would stop for burgers and count the horses we saw on farms while driving past.
When we arrived, my grandmother would escort me to my bedroom, and, as a little girl who had to share a room with her brothers, having my own space was a vacation. Homecooked meals, trips to the aquarium, shopping sprees, ice cream dates, time spent at the park…those summers with my grandparents meant everything to me.
One summer during my junior year at New York University, things felt different. This time my grandfather picked me up without my grandmother. This time the once immaculate front yard was decorated with furniture on the lawn. My grandma felt different, too. Her once patient tone was disturbed, and even little things bothered her. Her responses were unpredictable. I barely recognized her.
That’s when my grandfather explained to me that my grandmother’s bipolar and she was having a manic episode. He explained that for the many years I was around her before she had been medicated.
I returned home feeling heavy. I had known my grandmother in one light for most of my life. Janette Ingram was a God-fearing woman from Virginia. She left home at an early age because her father was particularly religious. She met James at a military base and a few months later they were married (love moved differently then). Shortly after that, Janette gave birth to Melissa, my mother. I knew all that, but I did not know about her mental health.
The news did not change my love for my grandmother. Being bipolar added to her brilliance, and learning about her condition gave me permission to be honest about my depression. She allowed me to feel seen and to have an open dialogue about our mental health.
Growing up, to be Black with mental illness was often thought to be a contradiction. We didn’t talk about what we were going through, instead we laughed it off or buried it within. We silenced our trauma and allowed it to fester, afraid to say words like “depression” or “anxiety” or “schizophrenia.” We were ashamed of naming our struggles or asking for help.
But my grandma told me different. Her life showed me that it’s okay to show up as you are — to be complicated and courageous, to be progress and not perfection. She made room for me to tell my story because she lived her own.
Her story says: To those who feel the distance—the quiet, know that you are not alone and that you are not your diagnosis. You are the glow. You are the story of our ancestors and the glory of our future. You are a brilliant storm, a body made of magic, a wellspring of love. Feel everything and do not apologize for any of it.
Be unashamed of your presence and your journey, even when it is difficult and muddy. Especially when it is difficult and muddy. You are en route, so take courage. The road is patient. The sky is open.
My grandmother calls me almost every day, and I can hear the triumph in her voice, the joy in just being here, the peace in being alive. At the end of our conversations, we never say goodbye. Instead, we say, “so long” because the story is never quite finished. We are never quite finished, friends. Thank goodness.
What piece of wisdom did your grandmother pass down to you?
SL Bradford says
My grandmothers (I was fortunate enough to have 2 until well into my 30’s still have one alive now) taught me so much. From trusting myself in the kitchen to paying attention to peoples actions instead of their words. Most importantly they taught me to be open and welcoming something that has served me well in life.
Donna Lynette Kornegay says
I talked with my grandmother (known as Ma Ma) everyday until she passed. During the work week, I would take a break from work, walk out the front door of the office and hit my grandmother’s number on speed dial. Every work day at the same time she would pick up and we would laugh about something, while I walked around the parking lot. My grandmother was a comedian at heart. She would say or do something to make you laugh every time you communicated with her. My time with my grandmother was so special. When she passed I learned that my sibling and most of my cousins had the same experience. She made each one of us feel special. Even thinking about her now puts a big smile on my face. My goal in life is to leave a lasting smile of the face of others when they think about me like Bessie Louise George Clark or Louise Bessie George Clark, she didn’t remember which name was first or middle (or was that another one of her jokes); affectionately known to all who met her as Ma Ma.
Bertie C Brown says
My grandmother taught me to have patience and recognize that God has a plan for each of us. I was very young when my aunt was admitted to a mental institution. She had become violent and caused our family a lot of problems. My grandmother was a very patient person. No matter what my aunt did, my grandmother always told her that she was loved. Unfortunately, when my aunt was ready to leave the hospital, my uncle, her husband, refused to sign her out. The only way they would release her, was if her mother, my grandmother signed for her. She did and I will always be grateful for the way my grandmother showed love and compassion for my aunt. We all go through difficult times, but we need to show love, kindness and respect for others, relatives or not. I thank God that I had a loving grandmother. Thank you for sharing your story.
A story of a beautiful journey!
Thanks for sharing!!!
I enjoyed the story about the grandma. I can relate to counting horses on the roads too when I was a little girl. What my grandma passed down to me was to be clean, clean and clean. She said no matter what you “got ” make sure it’s clean. To keep your body clean and always Wash your hands. I love that woman. Rest in peace grandma.
Jodi Brown says
My grandmother raised me from a teenager to woman hood. SHE emphasized that I “Be a mother to my children”. Also that”education was the key”.She was SOOO serious about that statement that she would use the analogy”they would have to burn the school house down before they got me out of there”!!! She was born in 1906(segregated)schools along with many,many,many other injustices.
Edna Moffitt says
My grandmother left me with a sense of special moments. My birthday was in January two weeks after Christmas. Often I was with her because both of my parents worked and I stayed with her for the week and went home with my parents for the weekend. When my birthday came and I was with my grandmother she would ask me what special thing did I want to do for my birthday and did I remember that I was born at 5:47 in the morning. For some reason I said “ice cream” and she said okay and we ate ice cream before we ate our breakfast. For the remainder of my life, we always ate ice cream on my birthday at 5:47 in the morning. She never forgot and no matter where I was I knew that the phone would ring and my grandmother would have her bowl of ice cream and we would talk and laugh together. She taught me that special moments can last a lifetime.
Yes! I thank hallmark & mahogany for this wonderful newsletter
I really enjoy it
This was beautiful. My grandma spoke life over me and all that I would accomplish.
Carriece Jefferson says
Such a lovely story, and thank you for sharing. I just wrote four lessons my late grandmother taught me. One of the most amazing memories of her is the way she unified a room just by her presence.