Death and a generation can change a perspective in an instant.
When I first signed up to participate in August McLaughlin’s Beauty of a Woman Blogfest IV , I flip-flopped between a couple of different topics I might write about. Little did I know that in the days to follow, I would experience the most major paradigm shift of my life–the loss of my mother.
In my mom’s last week and the days following her death, my family has reminisced about all the things she used to tell us. Here are a few of our favorites:
- Good morning, Glory!
- You’ll catch your death of cold!
- Be sure to text me when you get home.
But the one saying at the top of everyone’s list was, “It hurts to be beautiful.”
My mother said that to me so many times throughout my life, and I must admit, I grew tired of it, even angry at times, as she’d pull my hair into a ponytail, spray hairspray that stung my eyes in her feeble attempt to hold my fine hair in place, make me wear itchy slips or scratchy wool sweaters, all the while, giving stern warnings that scratching would be most un-ladylike. I often thought to myself, “This is ridiculous. It should NOT hurt to be beautiful. Leave my hair flyaway and unruly! Let me wear jeans and my old, comfy sweatshirt.”
I saw beauty as superficial, and there were times I resented the importance my mother placed on it.
Then came my daughter, Andrea. Her relationship with my mom was so different from my own with my mother. The generational distance seems to soften grandparent-grandchild relationships.
My mother recited those same words to Andrea throughout her life: “It hurts to be beautiful.”
But as I learned during Andrea’s eulogy at my mother’s funeral on Thursday, somehow, one generation can make a huge difference in how words are interpreted.
Here’s an excerpt of Andrea’s eulogy:
One of Grandma’s earliest lessons was, “It has to hurt to be beautiful.” This was not so fun when I was a little girl, when beautiful meant hair pulling, itchy foofy clothes, and patent leather shoes that were too tight. But as I got older, I began to understand the true meaning behind this saying, and I believe what Grandma really meant was how important it is to always try to present your best face to the world—to be kind even to people you may not really like, to hold your head high, and to smile when you don’t feel like it. Given how much pain Grandma experienced so often throughout her life, and how many people’s lives she still managed to touch, I believe this concept is something she understood better than just about anyone else.
The deep sobs I cried upon hearing Andrea’s interpretation of my mother’s words were not tears of sadness, but joy and pride, maybe even a little shame that I had not seen it on my own.
How proud I was that Andrea took words that had often irritated me and turned them into something beautiful to remember my mother by. Though I’d learned the same lessons about “presenting your best face to the world,” I had not related it to “It hurts to be beautiful.”
It’s true that sometimes it hurts to be nice when you don’t want to be nice. To smile when you don’t want to smile. To hold your tongue when you want to lash out. To give when you feel you have nothing left to give.
All this time, I’ve grumbled that it shouldn’t hurt to be beautiful–on the outside. But real beauty radiates from inside, and it’s true that sometimes maintaining inner beauty might hurt just a little.
I smile when I remember the times my mom pulled my hair to make it look just right. I know very well that usually, when she told me “It hurts to be beautiful,” she was talking about outer beauty. But, in so many ways, she also taught me the importance of inner beauty.
I’ll always be grateful for what my mom taught me about beauty, both inside and out. And I’ll always be grateful for what Andrea taught me about my mom.
My mom, Andrea and me.