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The Matriarch

Updated: Aug 15, 2022

Judy & Tavish | July 23, 2022

Judy Hallisey might be my most beloved person in the world. I call her Mams and she is my grandmother. If there is an angel on earth, and in my life, rest assured it is her. There is not a single chapter when I remember her making me feel anything but happy; anything but loved.

Over the pandemic my stepdad, Frank, did some digging through the basement and came across some old VHS tapes. They were home videos. He converted them to digital files and mailed them on a USB. It was one of the coolest gifts that I have received.

What I loved about those VHS tapes was being able to see me as a child and recognize the ways in which I have not changed. I was always curious, goofy, and eager for something to happen. It did a lot for my sense of self-love because, man, that was a loveable kid -- and funny, if not earnest. What moved me the most was seeing how loved me and my sibling were. That really came through. For other folx, watching these videos would probably be boring, save for the moments that could be edited down into an Instagram post – maybe I should do that? – but I was glued to my screen. Watching my family members as they were over 25 years ago… that was a trip, especially to see my parents at the age I am right now; at the age most of my friends are.

Among the hours of footage was a lot of Judy. Let me tell you, she is timeless.

I don’t know what it is about her. She is just. so. fun.

I would run into the kitchen squealing, “Maaaamss!!” racing to give her a hug. As I got older, we would greet each other by teasing each other. I would say, “Hey Chewie-Chewbacca-Jabba-Boogie-Girl!” She would say, “Hey Chewie-Chewbacca-Jabba-Boogie-Boy!” and to my brother, “Hey Chewie-Chewbacca-Jabba-French-Fry-Boy!”

One of my favorite clips was of me, my mom, and Mams. I couldn’t have been more than three. We were playing a game with the video camera where I would sing a song and then Mams would sing a song. She sang “Sing to the Mountains.” Two weeks ago, I went to Church with my grandparents for the first time in many, many years. Wouldn’t you know it? The first song we sang was “Sing to the Mountains,” and her voice sounded just the same. It made me very happy. Judy is a child of God. I’ve struggled with God since I was eight or nine. When I was a young child, I believed fervently. I believed in fairies, leprechauns, and elves too. For little me, magic was real. As I grew older, as life became political, the world lost its enchantment.

When I stopped believing, I was confused by my grandmothers’ persevering faith. Every meal began with grace. I could see and feel that she believed in God. And every Sunday she went to church with Pops. If I vocalized my doubts in God, I could feel her concern. Whenever I expressed my contempt for religion, I could see her hurt. However, she never shamed or admonished me for being an independent thinker. She simply lived and loved and gave praise to the Lord.

In my late 20s, I returned to spirituality as a Buddhist. And over the past two years I have strongly returned to my belief in God – not in a kingly or fatherly sense, not necessarily as a Christian, but as an absolute spirit that shares the ground of being with us, that knows love, and may guide our course. Being in church with my grandparents and sharing that Knowing with them was a beautiful thing; a blessing.

The love Mams engenders is the love of God. It’s immensely powerful. It’s humble, playful, mischievous, but kind. My whole life, Mams has been my loudest cheer leader. She is the heart of our family. Sometimes, we forget to smile for the people we love, but I have never, not ever, failed to smile for her. So Mams, as I am about to turn 30, I want to say thank you for being my grandmother.

Thank you for giving me the gift of humor. Thank you for always playing with me when I was younger. Thank you for making me brownies and sweet things. Thank you for always calling me to sing on my Birthday. Thank you for writing me cards for every holiday and sometime just cause.

Thank you for modeling what a beautiful marriage can look like. Thank you for letting me watch Star Trek, even though the Borg gave me nightmares. Thank you for babysitting us every Monday, bringing us candy, games and a movie from Blockbuster. Thank you for days at the pool, the beach, sleepovers, and spaghetti with chicken. Thank you for teaching me how to play Nertz like your father taught you how to play. (I’ve taught every single one of my friends that game and it makes me so proud to share that connection with your dad.) Thank you for reading Harry Potter with me and talking with me ad nosium about the unfolding mystery at Hogwarts. Thank you for teaching me the value of gratitude and prayer. Thank you for praying for me. Thank you for raising this family and being honest about how you feel. Thank you for taking care of Mom. Thank you for the time we spend together, for the light you share. You are so wise. You are so kind. You are so incredibly fun. You lead by example because you lead with love.

Another part of those VHS tapes was a recording of me talking to you on the phone. I have no idea what we were talking about, but I know it ended with “I love you.” And how lucky is it that we still get to talk on the phone, laugh, and end those calls the same way? You used to read me a book before bed called Love You Forever. As you read, you would sing, “I’ll love you forever. I’ll like you for always. As long as I’m living, my baby you’ll be.”

Back at ya <3


This article is part of a series called “A Month of Gratitude,” about the people, places, and things that I am thankful for. You can read the first post in the series here and all other posts here.

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