Two weeks ago, I lost my wonderful 99-year-old grandmother, Mama Nina. She and my grandfather, Papa Ellie, were married for 60 years and I imagine them now reunited and enjoying each other once again.
Long before there were “life coaches” and “life strategies,” my grandparents were living life as successfully as human beings can do. I figure if you get to be 99 and have never had one enemy in your entire life, you must be doing a lot of things really well.
Here are some of the “life lessons” I learned from my wonderful grandparents. I could never be like them, but I will spend my whole life trying to be half as good.
- Do the right thing. As Papa Ellie would say, “It’s not hard to know what it is.” Even if you are by yourself, no one is watching and you could get away with doing the wrong thing…do the right thing anyway.
- Save money. My grandfather was a newspaper Editor-in-Chief for more than 45 years and never made a huge salary, yet he and my grandmother faithfully saved and invested money throughout their entire marriage, giving meaning to the saying, “It’s not what you make, it’s what you keep.” They were Dave Ramsey before there was a Dave Ramsey.
- Laugh often. My family is blessed with wonderful humor which helped us all these past difficult weeks. I could picture Mama Nina’s face grinning at us as we joked freely and frequently with each other at a difficult time. My uncle who observed us stated later that having us all joking and sharing humor was something that helped him the most on such a sad occasion.
- Treat people who have wronged you the way you want them to treat you when you are wrong. It’s a simple principle many of us learned as small children; do unto others as you would have them do unto you. We will all take our turn at needing another’s compassion and forgiveness.
- Exercise your mind and body. The last day Mama Nina was at her house before going to the hospital, her caregiver told us she sat up with a smile and began doing her arm exercises as she did every single morning. Now if a 99-year-old woman can exercise daily, who among us has an excuse? She also kept her mind sharp by listening carefully to others and having the newspaper and the Bible read to her daily. She also faithfully watched the Texas Rangers baseball games.
- Eat good food! My grandparents grew their own garden and enjoyed many fresh fruits and vegetables, as well as awesome cooking by Mama Nina. My brothers have suffered injuries fighting over the last piece of Mama Nina’s chocolate cake! You can eat most anything if you remember that balance is the key.
- Don’t over-think life. This is hard for me, especially since I can think about the same situation for ten years! This only creates unneeded stress. Let each day pass and go on to the next one free and clear. Mama Nina had a gift of simply taking each day as it came, accepting life on its terms and not engaging in mindless questioning of things we will never understand anyway.
- Be kind. Kindness was what Mama Nina was all about. Her face throughout her life radiated warm kindness. I remember simple things she did for me, like waiting up for me after I had driven across the country just so she could draw me a bath and make me feel comfortable.
Years ago Mama Nina commented to me how her other friends were able to give their grandchildren new cars and how she felt bad she couldn’t do this for us, since there were six of us. I told her that what she gave to us all was so much more important than some old car. After all, that car would be about 5 vehicles ago by now, but what she and Papa Ellie gave us is something we will have every day of our own lives, and that is the enduring example of how to live well.
I don’t know if I will make it to 99, but I hope every day I do live I can be a little more like Mama Nina and Papa Ellie. No one could do better.