April 21, 2016

Invaluable Life Lessons from my 90-Year-Old Grandmothers.

Photo: jenschapter3 on Flickr.

Time keeps ticking along and with it comes the inevitable aging process.

The older I get, the more I appreciate the wisdom shared by those who have walked this earth much longer than I have. My thoughts turn to my grandmothers, both quickly approaching 90 years old. Their lives juxtapose each other quite dramatically.

Like all of us, they are not perfect or broken. They are flawed and beautiful in their own individual ways. I will never know the paths they walked well, since we spent most of our lives separated by many miles, but they both serve to teach valuable life lessons.

My paternal grandmother, Grandma B, turns 90 this year. She told me the other day, “I am not that old. I don’t feel like one of those old people.” She has lied about her age as long as I can remember, but she pulls it off since she’s spry. I jokingly call her “Zsa Zsa” since she reminds me of Zsa Zsa Gabor, always elegant and polished, put together in classically coordinated emsembles with her (dyed) red hair in a french twist updo.

She epitomizes an abundant mindset. She always felt she deserved to be surrounded by nice things and travel to beautiful places and those were her reality.

She strongly believes that keeping her mind and body active are keys to living well and holding the aging process at bay. She walks several miles every week. She takes lessons in Japanese watercolor and gourmet cooking and regularly practices these pursuits. For her, it is more about the “doing” and less about the results or speed of progress when pursuing her passions. She loves to entertain and spends weeks planning these events. She plays cards and puts together puzzles to keep her mind agile. In the last few years, she has hiked the pyramids in Costa Rica and rocked out in Branson, Missouri. She will soon be cruising around Cuba, one last destination she has to check off her bucket list. As I write this, I realize these activities not only fuel her body, mind and spirit, but they also create opportunities for connection with friends and loved ones.

My maternal grandmother, Grandma A, has a much different story, but the lessons I have learned from her are no less powerful or important. My Grandma A had a childhood filled with horrors, poverty and all the things you would never wish upon anyone. These emotional wounds helped accelerate mental illness that has dominated her adult life and created great dysfunction and dependency on others to take care of the majority of her needs.

Despite these challenges, I can honestly say that Grandma A is the most unconditionally loving person I know. I never felt like she had “favorites” with her children or grandchildren. She is always overjoyed to have visits with loved ones. Her hugs and smiles are vibrant and generous. She may not have a lot in terms of possessions, but she is always happy to share whatever she has. As a child, I remember admiring one of her glass dolls. This was one of her nicest possessions and she freely offered it to me when I told her how much I liked it. Despite how little she has, her first instinct is always to give.

Seeing the aging process of Grandma A, there is no denying how important it is to take care of one’s body, mind and spirit. Muscles have long ago atrophied. Endurance and coordination have disappeared. Speech and brain functions are sluggish. But her big heart is still very much a part of her that she has never lost.

I am so grateful for significant advancements in mental health since my grandma’s day and also for our current society’s acceptance of open conversation about life—the good, bad and ugly. If you have experienced emotional trauma, please work with a trusted therapist, energy worker or physician to let that stuff go. Lean on trusted loved ones. Don’t carry the pain alone. There are so many outlets and treatments available to help work through and release your “stuff.” It doesn’t have to take over your life.

Sophia Lauren said, “There is a fountain of youth: it is your mind, your talents, the creativity you bring to your life and the lives of people you love. When you learn to tap this source, you will truly have defeated age.”

I strive to carry the examples and lessons from my grandmothers into my own life: be grateful for the abundance you’ve been blessed with, be present in the moment, follow your passions, keep your mind, body and spirit active, love without conditions and keep your connections with loved one alive.

I’m not sure where I will be at 90, but I am hoping to be proud of my journey and the person I become along the way.


Author: Valerie Byers

Editor: Catherine Monkman

Photo: Jens karlsson/Flickr

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