A few short days ago my great-grandmother passed away. My husband and I took our children to visit her three months ago and after visiting I wrote the following and for some reason never posted it or shared it.
A few weekends ago Dustin and I made a last minute trip up north to visit my great-grandma. You see, she turned 99 years-old in August! There are plans by the extended family to have a huge party for her next year when she turns 100. But, after the unexpected death of my 30 year-old cousin last month I decided I wasn’t taking the chance of not seeing her until August. I wanted my daughters to have the chance to spend time with their Great-Great-Grandma!
She lives in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, almost to Wisconsin. She lives in an old farm house in a small town, the same one where she grew up. Her parents came to America from Belgium and when I was little she taught me a Belgian poem. She used to cook us Belgian carrots and red cabbage. When we used to drive around her town she would show us each street and tell us about what people lived there when she was growing up. Back then what part of town you lived in depended on what country you had immigrated from.
Life was so different back then. The people were tougher, probably because they had to be. Grandma told us a story about a boy who died after being shot by a farmer. The boy had stolen vegetables from the farmer’s garden and that wasn’t something that you got away with back then. The parents apologized to the farmer and the farmer paid for the boy’s funeral. Things were different then.
And the people who lived then are different too. My Great-Grandmother is an incredibly strong woman. Almost all of the people she grew up with are no longer here. When my Great-Grandpa had Parkinson’s disease she took care of him at their house until she couldn’t possibly do it alone any more. She carried him to the bedroom up the steep steps of their old farmhouse, and she was over 80 at that time! Once he was moved to a nursing home she visited him every single day to feed him his dinner until he passed away.
Visiting with her is always an amazing reminder of how easy we have things in life, and how much of what we have is unnecessary. She was born in August 1915. Think about the inventions that came along after she was born and not just the internet, computers, tablets, and cell phones but:
- Microwave (1945)
- Deodorant (1941)
- Chocolate Chip Cookies (1930)
- Penicillin (1929)
- Cotton swabs (1923)
- Adhesive Bandages (1921)
- Toaster (1919)
- Blender (1919)
- Lincoln Logs (1916)
- Hamburger Buns (1916)
Grandma has never owned a microwave. When I visited her house 7 years ago and my daughter was a toddler I had brought some of the Gerber Graduate toddler meals that you pop in the microwave, it took me a minute to process how to cook it the old-fashioned way!
She does own a nice flat screen TV and loves watching Walker Texas Ranger and the Green Bay Packers (she is an Aaron Rodgers fan, but no longer a fan of Brett Favre). Her memory is amazing, which makes me think we should all get rid of our microwaves! She can tell you the price of just about everything she has ever bought. She hasn’t been to the doctors in a few years because she said “why go if there isn’t a problem”. She is an amazing woman.
And I could sit and listen to her talk and share stories all day.
After visiting her, I felt like there was some important thing I had learned and wanted to share, but I couldn’t quite pinpoint what it was. I wrote the above, which are all memories I have of her, but it seemed like there should be some major life lesson that I learned from visiting my 99 year old great-grandmother.
Now, after her passing, there are a few lessons that stand out to me.
- The importance of not delaying and following your instinct (and God) – Just a few days before she passed away I had contacted my parents, sister, aunts, and cousins to start our plan for going up in August to celebrate her 100th birthday. Everyone was excited about the trip and being able to celebrate with her.
I am so glad that back in October, I followed my instinct and my husband supported me so we could see my grandmother one last time. I invited everyone at that time to go up, but it was a last minute trip and everyone was convinced they would see her for her birthday. The only people that came along were my parents. When my mom called me to tell me that her grandmother had passed away she also thanked me for pushing her to go up in the fall instead of waiting for Grandma to turn 100.
I believe that was God’s prompting for me to go at that time and I have not always been, and still am not always great at obeying immediately; but there was something in me in October that knew we needed to go whether anyone went with us or not. I easily could have pushed that feeling away and just planned on going up in the summer with the family, I could have delayed following that prompting inside of me, but this time I didn’t. And because of that I got to see my great-grandmother one last time and my daughters got to spend time with their great-great-grandma.
Sometimes we can ignore God’s prompting and still have a chance to obey it later, and sometimes we only get one shot at an opportunity to obey. We didn’t get a chance to celebrate her 100th birthday, but we did have a chance to see her again.
- Celebrate the small things –Like turning 99 or 95 or 90! It probably sounds awful to all of you, because it sounds awful to me. My whole family never went up to celebrate my great-grandmother’s birthday all together at any of these milestones. She had two sons, my grandfather and his brother. My grandfather passed away when I was in high school and his brother lived next door to his mother. So, my great-uncle was there to celebrate with her, but we were all 9 hours away.
9 hours, that was it; and we never all went to see her at the same time. The older she got, the plan became to celebrate her 100th birthday! Why did we not go before that?
Take time to celebrate the smaller things in life, not just the huge milestones. Life is made up of all those small things that happen every day.
- We only have a short time to learn from our elders – Think of all the lessons that I could have learned from my great-grandmother if I would have spent more time visiting her. She was alive for 99 years. She was married for the majority of that time. She was a mother, grandmother, great-grandmother and great-great-grandmother.
A while ago I wanted to write her (she was a card and letter sender) and ask her what advice she could offer on marriage. I mean, what better person to get marriage advice from then someone who was married to one man her whole life, and a long life at that? But, I delayed in doing that and now the opportunity is gone. All those lessons I could have been blessed with learning from her experience have all passed away with her.
Our history is contained within these people. Yes, some of it is recorded in history, but if you are familiar with the public school system curriculum, they are changing the history books constantly and soon some of those actual historical things will be lost. These are the people who have the memories of those times we risk the chance of losing.
Do you have someone in your life that you could be learning from and aren’t taking the time to do so? My grandmother lives in the same town as me and I haven’t seen her in too long! That is going to change. We get so caught up in our busy schedules that we miss the things that are actually important in the long run.
- The importance of living life until the end – This makes me sad to have to share, but my great-grandmother even though she was alive until 99, wasn’t having the chance to experience so much that she could be. When we visited in October, she shared with me that she had not been out of the house in probably two years! That broke my heart. That means she hadn’t felt the breeze on her face or the warmth of the sun on her skin (other than through the window). She had watched life and the changing of the seasons from her living room chair, through the window.
She could walk a little, but for the most part used an electric scooter to be able to get around her house. To leave the house there were a few steps that she had to get down and somewhere along the way she reached the point of not being able to do the steps on her own. While we were visiting we asked if she wanted to go for a drive, she always loved when we visited to ride with us around town and share the stories of her life. However, since it had been so long since she had been out, she felt it was too much to try.
She was an incredibly social woman and was always a talker! It makes me sad to think that she was just in her house having limited interaction with people for two years. She still did things she enjoyed from her home, but she was inside.
I start to get angry thinking about the fact that she had family living right next to her and they didn’t think it important enough to even take her outside during the summer, but then I remember that I wasn’t there myself to help. Can I really blame someone else when they were at least there and I wasn’t?
So my final lesson is to live life while you are alive, take chances, get yourself out there because our lives are so short and before we know it we don’t have the chance anymore.
My great-grandmother was an amazing woman! I will always be grateful for the memories I have of her and so thankful that I had one last chance to see her, eat pasties with her, and listen to her stories.