Remembering a mother of peace: Lidia Grilliot

By Megan Hope

On May 1, we lost a great mother of peace: Lidia Grilliot.

I knew Lidia best in the context of her family, as the mother of Marvin and Charlie and the constant companion of her husband, Joe. I don’t think I ever saw her alone. Many knew her far better and longer than I. But her singular effect on me, while only a tiny fraction of the transformative love she practiced during her life, suggests the enormity of her legacy.

I met Marvin in a class on the Politics of Religion in Latin America at KU in the fall of 1998. He brought personal experience to the course topic–his parents met in Chile, Lidia’s homeland, where Joe served for a time as a priest during tumultuous times for the Church in Latin America. Marv and I began came fast friends and spent hours together reviving the Latin American Solidarity student group.

That October, former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet was arrested in London on a warrant from Spain requesting his extradition on murder charges. Latin American Solidarity hosted a rice and beans dinner on campus to discuss the development. Lidia and Joe brought their dear friends, Marcos and Alicia Cruz, who described how they were tortured under Pinochet’s regime. It was a dark, disturbing evening, especially given the uncertainty about whether Pinochet would ever be tried. But looking across at Lidia and Joe was comforting. They were our examples of the unflagging friendship and stubborn hope solidarity is made of.

How good it was when they came to other rice and beans dinners, too–not just because of their connections and commitment to Latin America, but because they were parents. My own mom and dad lived six hours away in western Kansas, and were too busy with their own meetings to make a long drive to come to mine. This, and their rather unusual oldness (they were 48 and 49 when I was born), propelled my search as a young adult for satellite parents–not full-time nurturers, but just some representation of parental love and safety. Lidia and Joe were ready satellites.

On September 12, 2001, I stood next to them at a peace vigil by the JC Nichols fountain. I’d come confused and rather ashamed of my lack of anger about the events of the day before, and wasn’t prepared for the vitriol of the drivers passing us. I ruptured into tears. Lidia and Joe encircled me with the compassion and calm of veterans who’d seen it all before. Joe said that even when he was a schoolboy and someone picked a fight with him, he couldn’t bring himself to hit back. Their courage gave me courage to persist in an unpopular resistance.

Lidia made a home that was open to everyone. One long weekend, when I was helping some Peruvian friends new to Kansas City deal with car problems and apartment searching, we ended up at a supper party on the Grilliots’ back porch, overlooking their verdant garden. Lidia fed us well, and Joe later helped my friends find a mechanic. Years later, Carolina and Tito still talk about the kindness of “Lidia y José.”

The Grilliot house is on the way to my sister’s place in Roeland Park. For several years when my sister very ill and needed rides to and from the hospital, we might drive by their home several times a day. Just seeing the paz sign in the front yard, Joe’s cart of aluminum cans in the driveway, or Lidia sitting in the living room at night–signs of parents when our own couldn’t be with us–brought us solace.

At 84, my mother is still surprisingly strong and industrious. Only recently did she stop writing the newspaper column she’d churned out for 55 years. Increasingly, though, her mind is clouded by the effects of chemotherapy, old age, and an impossible jumble of memories, including of six children born in four different decades. She is still here, but many parts of her have slipped away.

I often think about my mom while lying in the dark at night. I remember nights when I was little, worried about falling asleep or not, afraid of bad dreams or school or the future. But always I could see a slant of light shining in, the light from the living room where my mom was reading, only a few seconds’ walk to my room. Somehow I’ve never outgrown the desire, at least once in a while, to call out for her.

These nights I think of Lidia, too, and the light she provided in a room down the hall–for me, my sister, my Peruvian friends, and so many others–when our sources of safety and consolation were far away or fading. Women like Lidia explain the power of the world’s many images of Mary. They explain why Mexican migrants travel with crumpled cards of Our Lady of Guadalupe in their pockets, and Vietnamese seek comfort and healing before Our Lady of La Vang. We need not one mother, but multiple ones, to sit near us and visit us in the darkness.

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