Lessons on life from a 102 (and a half) year old

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I’ve decided it’s time to introduce you to my grandmother. Partly because she’s ace, partly because Dad keeps asking me to (and so, for my father, here you go).

But mostly because I feel like there has been a lot of negativity in the world lately. Without ignoring these, sometimes we also need to remember some of the good.

With that in mind, I noticed how my grandmother (with the occasional exception) has been demonstrating a way to think about life, and living this out, which I wanted to share.

No – this is not about healthy living

Now – I could write about her wonderful role modelling in terms of healthy living and how she only moved into the aged care accommodation a year ago (until then, living in her little unit on her own), but I won’t make that the focus.

Many of us have already heard about the success factors that centenarians tend to have in common (if you haven’t, have a look at this site: 5 secrets to living to over 100 years old) and yes, she ticks the five general categories listed in the article.

Many other people also share the same priorities, and they don’t live as long, so there is also a fair bit of luck as well. As Granny says, ‘the main reason I’m over one hundred is just that I haven’t died yet’ (and she doesn’t want us to keep making a fuss about it, because it’s not a great achievement, in her eyes). So I won’t focus on this aspect of her life – with respect to my grandmother.

It’s about mindset – what you focus on, and how you act

What I wanted to share instead is what sort of a person she is. She’s not perfect – who is? – but she’s a pretty good role model.

I noticed, recently, that a key attribute, which comes down to her mindset, and it’s this:

She’s really interested, and cares about, other people. 

It’s as simple as that – but when you see it in action, it’s amazing to watch. I think in a lot of ways this is her  greatest gift to us, and is also part of what keeps her vital and engaged in life.

Her focus on others was really apparent last weekend, when I had afternoon tea with her, and Mum and Dad. During this time, she showed how: 

  • She’s fascinated to hear what everyone in her family is doing.No detail is too insignificant to hear about and delight in. While I was with her, I noticed how she kept referring to her family. As she said: ‘to think we (she and her late husband) started with just the two of you’ (referring to my father and uncle) and now I have all of these wonderful grandchildren and great grandchildren. I count my blessings every day.’)
  • She makes friends.She befriends people within any group she joins, continues to maintain these friendships (although a large number are no longer alive), and she continues to make friends.  She has been living for a year in an aged care home, having decided she was ready to leave her little unit, and she has become a central part of the community in her new home (joining in with prayer groups, social activities, resident feedback forums and the like).
  • She is interested, and she cares.Her move has brought a new vitality to her life – she is making friends with the staff and carers (‘they work so hard, you know’), and many residents. She find them intriguing.  She bubbles over in sharing stories about the very ‘interesting’ (in her words) people in her assisted living community.

    She finds them interesting sometimes because they’ve had such ‘fascinating lives, and have done so much’, and sometimes because they are a bit unpredictable (due to dementia or other reasons). In all cases, she is open to meeting them and learning more, and helping out. And thinking about why people are as they are – she’s expressed a new interest in studying psychology, but jokes about the fact that she actually has an ongoing practical application of it now in her daily life. And we’re seeing this as well as she reflects on her own family, including her upbringing and her parent’s history, and how that has impacted on her.

  • Related to this, she notices anyone missing out.She’s befriended the grumpiest of people, who’ve told her to just ‘go away – I don’t want to talk to you’ by gently (but not too quietly, because they’re all pretty deaf), saying ‘But I’d love to talk with you. I’d really like to know you better – and what a lovely scarf (or book, or whatever it was). She persisted, and over time, she does bring them around.
    She’s even ‘adopted’ the cat within the place she now lives, initially placing it on her walking frame as she goes for a walk (even thought she’s less steady since she broke both hips, she’s got to keep moving – ‘Every day, darling, I make sure I go for a walk – it’s so important to keep moving’). This cat now jumps up in anticipation, also enjoying the company of Granny.

The interesting thing is, she is actually fairly quiet, and not someone who you might pick as having a big influence on others:

  • She’s never been comfortable standing up the front – being the leader, the spokesperson, the front of house.
  • She’s very independent (as I’ve said). She resisted moving for so long, because she likes her independence and her personal space (she is, like most of my family, someone who needs time to herself). 
  • She’s also not someone who likes to talk too much about herself (which is challenging if you are someone who, hypothetically, was trying to write a family history). And she is quite uncomfortable to receive complements of any sort – she’d rather the focus was on others.  

However, she notices what’s going on. And she reaches out to those both who are easy to get along with, and those who are more challenging. It’s not as if she needs a lot of interaction – she just loves to give to others.

 

It takes all kinds of people to change the world

Recognising the way my grandmother thinks and acts reminded me that influence, and significance, come in different forms:

  • Some people have impact through what they do, and how they influence in a very public way.
  • And others influence, without even thinking that that’s what they are doing. They are just prepared to reach out – to see and acknowledge others – and to care.

 

Both are important. If I ask my grandmother about herself, she is very self depreciating, and will mutter something about ‘not having had a really exciting life‘ and there being ‘many people more interesting than her‘ (and yes, putting herself down is probably one of her negative traits, which we’ve all taken on board to a greater or lesser degree. Still, as I said, nobody’s perfect).

Granny sees herself as just someone going about her day, and not needing much fuss. But to me, and to all of us who she’s impacted, we know she’s lived her life well, and made an important contribution.

And I find that inspiring.

 

Do you have someone who inspires you – in small ways or big?
Please share – we all need to remember the good people in the world

 

 

 

 

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18 thoughts on “Lessons on life from a 102 (and a half) year old

  1. What a lovely lady! I think it may have something to do with that generation too, as I feel like you could easily have written this about my Nana (who plays bridge on Mondays, goes to church choir on Tuesday’s, goes line dancing in Wednesday’s, has her girlfriends over for Mahjong on Thursdays, has dinner with my dad every Friday, goes to church every weekend and is the President of the residents committee at the retirement village she lives in).

    We have some lovely role models, you and I!

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  2. Lauren, she sounds very similar (different activities, but every Tuesday is her day with my Dad), and yes, I think it might be that generation. And we are so lucky to have them as role models, aren’t we?

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  3. What a beautiful tribute, Helen. Living well indeed – and this must also account for the way she keeps her youthful looks!!

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    1. As my cousin said, she’s actually looking younger and healthier than a year ago (the care she’s now getting, and interactions, is clearly suiting her!) xx

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    1. She really is, Lynette! I was looking for a reason to write about her (as I said, Dad has been keen to see some sort of tribute to his mother, but I wanted a purpose for it). And I thought – well, it’s the attitude she’s been able to maintain (even through a very long period – a couple of decades, really, of pretty solid emotional pain after the death of her husband / my grandfather (before any of us grandkids were born, but we felt his loss through our childhood)

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  4. Your grandmother sounds WONDERFUL and I agree that her connection with others has been a contributing factor to her longevity. She seems so youthful and vibrant. What an inspiring woman to have in your life, Helen. You are so lucky. x

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    1. Look, she really is (except for the hearing – we need to repeat things quite a lot now, which slows the flow of conversation a bit) and the walking frame. But for her age – really very lucky. I actually think she has become more positive with age (the more superfluous worries are being dropped). At the same time, I’m really aware of her privilege (although she worked towards it – she and her husband saved a lot, and were not excessive through their 30s, 40, and 50s – rented until their late 40s, and so on. And she continued that when she was widowed in her 50s. But it has meant she’s been able to have a fairly comfortable life now). But even more so – our own privilege as a family as a result of her influence (and how it unifies us as a family of uncles and aunts, cousins, and then our own spouses and kids). Might write about this – as privilege is often written about, but it comes in different forms x

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  5. Wow! What a beautiful soul she is. I really aspire to being so open to others, and I love making connections (but sometimes I do withdraw for no reason) so I love that reaching out is her default. You’re very lucky to still have her in your life, all my grandparents were gone before I reached 18, and now I lament my children not having the influence and wisdom of an older person in their lives. My in-laws live in England and my Dad is two and half hours away, so we don’t see him very much. And on a brighter note – how wonderful for you to have such longevity in the family!

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    1. I know – we are really fortunate (her husband – my grandfather – died a couple of years before I was born, and I’m the oldest grandchild, and my other grandfather died when I was about 12.) My other grandmother was in her 90s as well – but as she was a bit older, she died in my early 20s. So – longevity with the women on my side. Less so on my husbands -both parents died within a year of each other when my kids were very little (5-6, and 2-3), so, swings and roundabouts in a way. We are lucky to have family, and we’re so lucky in my grandmother’s approach (which, as I think I’ve said in another comment, has become more of her default as she’s aged, which is lovely) x

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  6. I absolutely adored my grandmother, she lived to 102! I still think about her often, I’d love her to have gotten to know my children and I think it’s sad that my kids don’t have a grandparent in their lives who they adore the way I adored my grandmother. Lovely post.

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    1. Really – another one similar age! How lovely you had a beautiful grandmother too. I’ve been so fortunate – my other grandmother was a bit more up and down, emotionally, but I learnt a lot from her (and, in her own way, she had a heart of gold – just a lot of other stuff going on). But Granny is really amazing and it is so special that my cousins and I have kids who’ve been able to know their great grandmother so well. As you say, not everyone has that opportunity (I’ve also written about my daughter’s sadness, one evening, to realise she would never know her other grandparents – my husband’s parents). So – cherish what you do have, I think!

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