My grandma died a week ago Friday.
We buried her yesterday.
Here are a few things I learned from her.
Delight in and celebrate others.
Grandma celebrated the achievements of her children and grandchildren like we’d hung the moon. Not just in the moment of achievement or accomplishment, but weeks, months, and years later. Twelve years ago, two cousins and I adapted “The Night Before Christmas” into a poem about a family excursion to a favorite ice cream shop. My grandma loved this poem, and nineteen days before she died, she was still showing it off to near-strangers.
Learning is a lifelong endeavor.
In her late 70s, Grandma decided to get a computer and learn email. My brother helped her set it up and showed her the basics. For the next few weeks, the home phone rang several times a day as Grandma called her personal “tech support.” Often, she threatened to throw the machine out the window. But soon, she only called once a day, then once every few days. Eventually, the frequency declined even more, to once a week, once a month, until finally we only heard from her occasionally in regards to her computer. Just a few months before she died, she bought a new computer.
Never stop creating.
Grandma had a knack for exploding. With projects. Give her ten minutes in a space that was her own and every surface would be covered with projects and supplies. She moved from assisted living into nursing care a few weeks ago and her projects came with her. Over the decades, she finished hundreds of projects, donating dozens of quilted wallhangings to a disaster relief auction and raising thousands of dollars for disaster relief efforts around the world. There’s no way of knowing how many unfinished projects she left behind (including plans for and drafts of the Christmas cards she planned on sending out this year).
Write to people you care about.
In a notebook found in her room after she died was a note Grandma had started writing to my other grandmother and never finished. She made all her own notecards and filled them with notes to friends and family. She was the master of filling a blank page with small anecdotes and bits of news that made it seem like she was having a conversation with you.
To connect with people, learn their names.
Four years ago, I brought a group of friends I was traveling with to my grandparents’ house. Grandma had heard me talk so much about them and wanted to meet them. Unbeknownst to me, she’d asked my mom for a picture of all of my friends and their names, and studied both intently. When we walked into the house, she greeted each of my friends by name, from memory. (She also made us iced tea and gingerbread cake, as only grandmas can.)
The right of way is something you give, not something you take.
My great-grandfather taught this to my grandma, who taught it to my mom, who taught it to me. The more I think about this, the more I realize it applies to far more in life than just who gets to go first at a four-way stop. I see it now as choosing, in every interaction we have, the path of generosity and abundance rather than scarcity—something Grandma modeled with grace.
At the funeral, people kept on telling me I look like you, Grandma. I’ll carry that resemblance proudly. But I hope to make these lessons a part of my life, too—so that, when people meet me, they also meet a bit of you.
Thanks, Grandma. You are dearly loved and greatly missed.