Last week my Grandmother died and we had her funeral today. The pastor suggested that we discuss the things about her life that shaped us. During the reception I really didn’t get a chance to do that but I have put some thought into it and I’ve come up with 3 things I’ve learned because of her.
When life knocks you down, get back up and keep going.
Yes, a cliché, I know, but it is always more meaningful when you see it in real life. One day, when she was 12 years old, the oldest of a big family, the parents left for a bit. While playing outside in a tree, her 8 year old brother fell and fatally broke his neck. It was very hard on her, but she kept going. Later in life, as the mother of 5 kids, her husband had an affair and left her and the kids. She was forced to raise them on her own. And somehow, she did. For many years she lived in the country and drove into the city to work the night shift as a nurse. Somehow, she found the strength to keep going.
I don’t think it would be hard to despair and yield to the temptation to give up. But she did not give up.
Work with what you have
Raised during the depression, spending many years on a farm later in life, raising 5 kids on her own, she learned to waste nothing and to get by with what she had. She took great pride in how well she could stretch a dollar. Her heirs are left with an ample supply of recycled wrapping paper, gently used aluminum foil and countless other treasures that have plenty of life left in them. I would not call her stingy, I would just say she got as much use as humanly possible out of everything that she had. Before “living green” was a buzz word, she had over 50 years experience doing it.
Her accountant paid her the best compliment she could hope for when he told her he was afraid the government would doubt her tax statements because they would not think she could live on the small amount she was reporting.
You can do better than just “get by”
She did get by, despite the challenges in life that she faced. But she went beyond that, she enjoyed life and she worked to make the world a better place. I remember a time as a child when we walked by the river near where she lived. We found a place where someone had a picnic and left their litter covering the ground. She suggested we clean up the trash (she always carried a plastic grocery bag for that purpose). After we were done, we discovered on the ground 5 wadded $1 bills. That was more than enough for us to enjoy a trip to Burger King. For fun crafts, we’d assemble broken bits of jewelry into new, sometimes unusual, pieces to give as gifts. She volunteered to help at hospice and facilities for the disabled, doing laundry, keeping people company and helping out however she could.
She discovered many ways to enjoy life and to make the world a better place.
Growing old is hard, and it was especially tough to see her frail and painfully ill in the final months. We saw the end coming with plenty of advanced notice and when she had passed it was sad, but at the same time a relief. In once sense, I will miss her, but in another, she is so much a part of me that I don’t feel like she’s really gone. And even though my son hardly knew her, he’s already inheriting her influence through me. I would not be surprised to see her continue on for generations to come.