My family is spread out geographically. My brother, sister, parents and I live in four different states making our time together much less frequent than we would like. Yet, four generations, from ages 9 to 99, had the opportunity to spend a very special 48 hours together this weekend. I feel incredibly blessed to have had this time together. The most touching part of the weekend for me was watching my 99 year old grandmother sit in a circle with all nine of her great grandchildren and share her life stories. As we listened to her weave her tales, we marveled at what she has lived through in her lifetime, from the Great Depression and two World Wars, to the use of the first cars, airplanes, televisions, computers, cell phones and the internet. It is difficult for my children to comprehend the world she grew up in, and wonderful to watch their faces as they hear her first-hand accounts of how the world has changed, and how it has stayed the same, over the past 100 years.
We also had the privilege of watching my grandmother in action, glimpsing secrets to her fountain of youth. I have often wondered how she does it. At 99 years old, she has more energy and stamina than most of us half her age.
Grandma, this is what I came up with . . . the most important lessons you have taught me that can help me live a long, happy and meaningful life.
#1 – Don’t Eat Wheat – Her first response to my question on what her secret is to living a long life was rather unexpected. My grandmother has had a severe wheat allergy for most of her life, so she was probably one of the pioneers of gluten free eating. Not the philosophical answer I was looking for, but maybe there is something to it ????
#2 - Wake Up Each Morning and Be Thankful You are Alive - My grandmother has a remarkable appreciation for her good fortune. Instead of complaining about her shoulder pain, her loss of hearing and her weakening vision, she refuses to dwell on what she lacks and instead focuses on what she has. She told me that she wakes up each morning and thanks God each day that she is still alive. Over her lifetime, she has suffered some terrible losses including the early loss of her husband and later her son. Yet, she has always amazed me with her strength and courage in the face of her difficulties and continues to live with optimism and with great appreciation for all that she has.
#3 – Never Give Up - She admits that some days it is hard to get out of bed, but she gets up anyway. As long as she still is able, she will persevere. For her, the trials of growing old are simply more challenges to face and conquer each day. She told us to never give up, always keep trying, that is the only way to succeed.
#4 - Serve Others – Twice a week, every week, my grandmother volunteers at a senior center where she serves meals to people who are homebound and in need of food and camaraderie. You should know that most of the seniors she is serving are considerably younger than her. It is quite clear by the great joy on her face as she describes this work that she gets as much or more than she gives from her service to those in need.
#5 - Always Be Kind – I have never met anyone with more admirers than my grandmother. From the man who parks cars in her building, to the wait staff at her favorite restaurant, to the custodian at her temple, everyone tells me how much they love my grandmother. The reason is quite clear, no matter who you are, she shows you kindness and respect. She thanks you for what you do and is always so grateful to each and everyone who touches her life in any way. From thanking me every time I call her, to the huge smile and warm hugs she gives everyone she meets, she never misses an opportunity to let us know that we are loved and appreciated. Her incredibly kind treatment of others comes back to her ten fold.
#6 - Surround Yourself with People You Love and Who Love You – My grandmother is fortunate to be surrounded by an incredible group of friends, all widowed, all with amazing life stories of their own, and all there to offer each other friendship and support. She and her friends discuss politics and world events, share the accomplishments of their families and always schedule a competitive game of Rumikub or Gin Rummy (and they are tough competitors). They visit each other when someone is sick, check on each other when someone is absent and always include each other in their daily lives. It is an amazing sisterhood of support and love that keeps us assured that she is in very good hands when we cannot be nearby.
#7 - Always Keep Moving - We use to beg my grandmother to slow down, rest and do less. But a few years ago, we realized that her very active life was her way of staying young – her fountain of youth. She simply refuses to “act her age.” She lives in what I would characterize as camp (although a very sophisticated one). Her weekly activities include pool aerobics, yoga classes, competitive Wii bowling, memoir writing classes, movie nights and the all-important weekly trips to the dollar store (from which we are the proud recipients of care packages). In addition to all of those activities, there is rarely a concert she will miss, a social invitation she turns down or a party she does not attend (especially one that requires her to dress up in costume). It is exhausting for us to imagine her schedule, but she would not have it any other way.
If you are reading this Grandma, how did I do? Please send your edits my way. And, keep on planning that big 100th birthday celebration (we will be there), take it easy on your competitors in Wii bowling and keep doing your yoga! We will be back soon to visit and if you don’t have time to call me back, it’s OK – I know you are busy!
Most importantly, know how much we love you and how important you are in all of our lives.