Do you know what a “matriarch” is? I was born into a lineage laden with matriarchs: mature, powerful women who have focused their entire lives on creating, leading, and serving a family. Constancy, wisdom, and devotion are the hallmarks and heritage of a matriarch; generational reverence is her reward. 

My mother, Sharon, lost her mother when she was just a toddler. Six older sisters — Athlene, Helen, Jane, Dorothy, Dyan, and LaNae — took responsibility for their baby sister’s upbringing, even as the older ones started and raised their own families. Most of the sisters even settled in the same county just so they could support one another in mothering all of the children (and there were a lot of them). 

Because of my father’s work, our family was the exception to the proximity rule. We lived 12 hours away in another state. Even so, as the only daughter of their baby sister, my five beloved aunts treated me like the golden girl all my life, just like they knew their mother (my grandmother) would have. 

You hear me speak of my “mentors”, well…my aunts’  influence on me has been incalculable.

Sadly, over the past few years, these women have been, in their 90’s, one by one, leaving us. The fifth one passed away just this week. The sixth and last, Aunt Dyan, is in hospice officially, which means that my Mama, their baby, is soon to be the sole remnant of the matriarchs’ heritage. 

The thought is making me especially emotional and introspective this week. I clung to my frail, elderly Mama throughout Aunt LaNae’s service, and I knelt in reverence beside Aunt Dyan’s wheelchair. I cried watching these two very old women touch foreheads like girls in a schoolyard…whispering in ears, kissing on noses, clasping hands like there was no tomorrow. 

The service (organized by LaNae’s posterity) turned out beautifully. We reveled in the tributes to her life; primarily praising her motherhood. Afterward, we went into the family lunch.

We first placed Aunt Dyan’s wheelchair at the table and then helped my Mama move from her walker into a chair close to Dyan. With Dyan’s advanced dementia, we knew it was important they spend every possible minute together, whether or not Dyan fully appreciated why. But Mama hadn’t been seated for thirty seconds before, out of the blue, her sister leaned toward her with great concern and said the first and only words I heard from Dyan all day: “Sharon, are you okay?” 

That’s a matriarch.

My 48 cousins and I marvel at the strength of our continuing connection to one another (even as we are parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents ourselves now), and at the commonality in our gifts and capacities, as well as our faith and worldviews. 

Representative of that bond and unity, several of my sister-cousins and I sang 3-part harmony at Aunt LaNae’s service; a song we’d hummed through for the first time only minutes before. The words jumped off the page and caught in our throats: they’d been written by our grandmother, the one we had never known; or rather, the one we knew well through our mothers. 

I am proud to be a matriarch. And I want you to be one too if you want. Though it’s classically part of the definition, you don’t have to have a lot of children or any children necessarily, to be a matriarch. 

What you DO need is lots and lots and lots of love…so much love over a very long time that people, your loved ones, are drawn together and glued together and progress together through your guidance, advocacy, and example. 

That is why I do what I do. 

I can see, I believe in, the next generation, a new generation of powerful, influential women; not “power” the way the world thinks of “power” but powerFULL in the ONLY THING THAT MATTERS:  building and leveraging RELATIONSHIP.

Leave a comment: Tell me about the matriarchs in your life or your dreams for your own family.