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How My Two Grandmothers Shaped My Life & Menopause

Menopause Kuel Category Expert: Lorraine Miano

As a mature woman who was on the brink of becoming a grandmother and experiencing some rather unpleasant menopausal symptoms, I often thought about my upbringing and the time I spent with my grandparents.

Growing up, I was fortunate to have two grandmothers and one grandfather. When comparing myself to my two grandmothers, I’d think about the state of their health, lifestyles, and habits.

Great Impact On My Life:

Each of my grandmothers had such an impact on my life. Most of my fondest memories include them. I decided when I started having children that I was determined to be that type of grandparent when the time came. I wanted to be someone’s fondest memory. I wanted to create moments to cherish—the kind of moments that can shape a life. Giving of yourself, the most positive parts of yourself to a loved one is probably the most treasured gift you can bestow on them.

Your time, your laughter, your positive ideals, and even your sweet, warm hugs are the things that children or grandchildren remember and treasure. I had these types of grandparents.

Our Nanny, Our Grandmother:

My two sisters and I always felt as though we were the most important people in the world to them. I can still hear the songs my Irish-German grandmother sang to us. To us, she was “Nanny”. Her laugh was contagious.

She and my grandpa would care for us during our school breaks at their apartment in the Bronx. We lived out on Long Island, or The Island as we called it. We loved those stays with Nanny and Grandpa. I could not tell you one material gift they ever gave us (excluding the boxes of candy that Grandpa would pick up at Grand Central Station on his trip home from the office).

However, the time they shared with us, singing and playing games, or the fabulous places they would take us, like the Bronx Zoo, the circus, or Radio City for the Christmas show, are deeply embedded in the treasure box of memories in my heart.

My Grandmother’s Lifestyle Choices Found Their Way Into Our Lives:

Nanny also happened to be a smoker and a drinker—not an uncommon thing during the fifties and sixties. Although I don’t ever recall her being overweight, I am now quite certain she probably suffered from MONW or metabolically obese normal weight. This is where you are under lean but over fat, having not enough muscle and too much fat.

She gave up smoking in her late sixties, but unfortunately, emphysema found its way into her life. Rather, it found its way into our lives. Nanny, who I loved and adored, was soon bedridden, on an oxygen tank, and would live out the remainder of her life in a small 9X10 bedroom.

What I Felt In My Heart:

Emotions flood me as I write this. Both anger and sadness fill my heart when I grieve the loss of my Nanny. I grieve for those years I was unable to share my life with her. I am saddened when I think of the visits I made to see her. I would sit by her side for hours and talk, while she was unable to breathe without an oxygen tank.

“My grandfather would care for her, cook for her, and watch her wither away.”

Rarely did she leave her bed. My grandfather would care for her, cook for her, and watch her wither away. I am angry that some simple lifestyle changes may have saved her life. She could have lived for many more years. My children might have heard her songs and her contagious laughter or felt her warm embraces and her unconditional love.

The Day Of My Wedding:

Bedridden, she could not come and be with me on my wedding day. My grandfather came, and my heart ached for him. He was unable to dance with the love of his life as we celebrated. She was not in my wedding pictures.

I can only imagine the feelings she had that day as she lay in her bed, unable to watch the granddaughter she sang to, who she cradled and loved, walk down the aisle and into the arms of the love of her life. She passed away soon after my marriage, never to know my three beautiful children.

My Sicilian Grandmother:

There was also my paternal Sicilian grandmother who we referred to as Grandma. She was widowed at the very young age of thirty-five, left with four boys, aged twelve and under, to raise during the Depression. They lived in the Bronx. She barely spoke English yet worked very hard to keep those boys on the straight and narrow.

With the help of her widowed mother, they labored day and night by taking in sewing and bead embroidery. Those four boys went on to serve their country, get married, and raise wonderful families. My grandma never dated or remarried.

Emotionally Strong:

My grandma was an emotionally strong woman who endured much in her life, from leaving her home in Palermo, Sicily at the age of sixteen to raising her four boys with little to no money. My dad was the youngest, and when he felt his mother shouldn’t be living on her own anymore, he purchased a home with a small cottage on the property for her to live in.

“Grandma would come and care for us in the summers so that Mom and Dad could work.”

Prior to that time, Grandma would come and care for us in the summers so that Mom and Dad could work. I shared my bedroom with her. She slept on the trundle that pulled out from beneath my bed. It was the kind that lifted to the height of the bed. We had so much fun on those summer nights. Grandma’s broken English was the basis of some frequent amusement for us. All in good fun, we would give her some funny words to repeat like “hippopotamus” or “Englebert Humperdinck”. She laughed harder than we did no matter how many times we had her repeat the words.

Her Self-Care Routines:

It was during those nighttime laughing fests that Grandma introduced me to her rituals, or as I realize now her self-care routines. She would begin by laying in the dark, telling me stories from back home in Sicily, so descriptive that I could smell the lemons and hear the sounds of the city streets.

As she told her stories, she would do her “exercises”. First, she would take each wrist and turn them in circles several times to the left, then several more to the right, one hand and then the other. Then circling arms would commence, followed by ankles, and lastly her legs. When this routine was complete, the moisturizing ritual began. I believe it fluctuated between Noxzema and Vaseline. Grandma would massage the product onto her face and decolletage, followed by her arms and hands. This ritual was a nightly occurrence, with no exceptions.

I Recall The Stories:

During that time, I was between ten and twelve years old. I can still smell the Noxzema when I recall the stories she shared with me. When you think of a Sicilian, you imagine a dark, olive-skinned person, someone who tans easily. However, my grandmother was raised to “never go in the sun!”.

She endured sunburn but one time in her life, and she was punished by her mother for allowing it to happen. As a lady, you were to keep your skin pure. Well, if ever there was a model for the ideal porcelain skin, it was my grandmother. She barely had any wrinkles and the texture and tone of her skin were magnificent! As teenagers in the seventies, my sisters and I often baked in the sun, and quite frequently, we doused ourselves in baby oil. We never needed the iodine addition that so many of our friends used. Sicilian genes were enough to give us that golden glow.

“Sicilian genes were enough to give us that golden glow.”

Of course, that glow often did not come until after an extreme sunburn, which on occasion was also blistering and peeling. What in the world were we thinking? We were literally frying our young skin! I could hear my grandma moaning as she watched us laying on our towels around the pool. “Girls! What are you doing? You are going to ruin your skin!” she would lament in broken English. We would just laugh and say, “Don’t worry Grandma. We will be okay!”  “No! No! It’s not good!”

Simple And Healthy Skincare:

Of course, she was right, and my splotchy skin did pay the price. I have to say, my grandmother was ahead of her time. Or maybe we need to get back to the times she was from—simple and healthy skincare, pesticide-free and organically grown food, environmentally sustainable practices like deposit bottles and cloth shopping bags.

I often refer to those times as “the good old days” much to my two daughters’ chagrin. Yet times did seem so much simpler and less “processed” then.

Grandma Lived To Be Almost Ninety:

Grandma did suffer a bit from type 2 diabetes in her later years. I believe her sweet tooth for Stella D’oro cookies and love of pasta contributed to that. Her main nutrition, however, was a true Mediterranean diet complete with extra virgin olive oil, lots of fresh fruits, veggies, and lean meats.

We were fortunate as children to be introduced to many foods that our friends never heard of or dreamt of trying—fava beans, escarole, calamari, and scungilli. She prepared some very interesting and tasty dishes! We still make many of them today and always think of her. Grandma lived to be almost ninety. She died peacefully in her sleep.

I Don’t Recall Them Fanning Themselves:

Now you’ve got a small picture of my grandmothers. As most grandchildren do, I came to be with them when they were in the prime of their menopause years. As a child of the baby boom generation, I don’t ever recall my grandmothers talking about it or even visibly noticing any of the symptoms associated with what we are now told is “menopause”.

I don’t recall them fanning themselves or complaining about how warm they were. Quite possibly, this was due to their diets growing up during the earlier part of the twentieth century. Processed foods were not a part of their lives. The foods they ate were organic. Pesticides for crops and antibiotics for livestock did not come until the fifties and sixties, and the baby boomers are reeling from the effects of those toxins now.

Environmental Chemicals:

Research suggests that women who are extensively exposed to common chemicals found in plastics, personal care items, household items, and the environment are likely to experience early onset menopause, as compared to women with lower exposures.

“In Japan, the symptom most reported is shoulder stiffness, with hot flashes being very rare.”

Scientists suspect that these environmental chemicals are causing hormone disruption as well as gynecological diseases. Did you know that menopausal symptoms vary around the world and in different cultures? For instance, women in India report no significant menopausal symptoms other than menstrual changes. In Japan, the symptom most reported is shoulder stiffness, with hot flashes being very rare. Researchers suggest that there may be a direct link between diet and lifestyle habits, and their effect on hormones.

One interesting suggestion is that western culture, which looks at menopause as an “ending”, may determine a woman’s experience with menopause, versus other cultures where menopause is looked upon as a time of new respect and freedom. All of this interesting information leads me to wonder: Could the changing landscape of our western environment be affecting our female health from puberty through menopause?

Menopause Years:

Spending a good portion of my childhood and young adult years with my grandmothers allowed me to observe the effect that their lifestyle choices played on their health and wellbeing during their menopause years.

My two grandmothers were two different people with different lifestyle habits. I wish that Nanny had taken better care of herself. Smoking cigarettes for a good portion of her life and excessive alcohol consumption took their toll on her. Watching her live out the last few years of her life bedridden, unable to breathe on her own, losing so many years that she might have spent with her loved ones truly broke my heart. I would have loved to have more time with her.

Healthy Diet Throughout Her Menopausal Years:

Grandma was my first inspiration for the benefits of simple exercise routines and skincare. Perhaps the fact that she took the time to care for herself with daily exercise and skincare rituals, as well as eating a healthy diet throughout her menopausal years, allowed her to live a healthy and enjoyable life well into her late eighties.

“Grandma somehow knew what she needed to do to stick around for a while.”

Science proves that eating a well-balanced and healthy diet, as well as following certain lifestyle habits, will help you balance hormones. This, in effect, will also keep your bones strong, enabling you to be physically active in your later years. Grandma somehow knew what she needed to do to stick around for a while. She successfully did so and was around for the births of close to ten great-grandchildren.

 

grandmother

I Miss Them Dearly:

I loved both of my grandmothers immensely and miss them dearly. They have provided the influence that drives my desire to live gustily, passionately, and with purpose.

Together, for better or for worse, they are my inspirations for living a sustainably happy, healthy life; a life that I plan on sharing with my grandchildren and great-grandchildren for decades to come. I have seen first-hand the kind of life that can be experienced by taking simple steps to care for myself. I am determined to make my years of “the change” the very best years of my life, bringing all of you lovely ladies along for the ride!

As Lauren Bacall once said during her midlife, “I’m not a has-been, I’m a will-be”.

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About the Author:

As a post-menopausal woman herself, Lorraine Miano discovered her passion of offering menopause advocacy, support and resources to women in all phases of menopause through health coaching, proper nutrition and preventive lifestyle choices. She received her certifications as a Health Coach and hormone health expert from The Institute for Integrative Nutrition. She has been able to help even more women by writing and publishing her first book, The Magic of Menopause: A Holistic Guide to Get Your Happy Back!
Lorraine loves to encourage her clients with her mantra “Menopause is NOT an ending! IT IS a new beginning!” When she’s not advocating for “the change”, you can find Lorraine traveling with her husband Richard, quite often to visit her 5 grandchildren who call her “Nonni”.