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Lessons From My 103 Year Old Grandmother

Grandmother's Wisdom

A couple of nights ago I had the most beautiful and soul-stirring dream.

It was as a regular day and I was with my kids and husband. We were playing outside, laughing and running around.

I turned around and out of nowhere a door appeared. It was suspended in thin air and as the door opened, out walked my beloved departed grandmothers, Abuela Mercedes and Abuelita Lilia, as well as my Tia Tillie, someone who had been like a surrogate grandmother to me since I was young child.

They were all laughing and talking animatedly to each other.

I was beyond ecstatic and shocked to see them (of note, I have never had a dream where they have all visited me together).

We hugged and I even swooped up my Abuela Mercedes and carried her around in my arms for a few minutes.
They were so happy to be face to face with me – they were happy to see me with my family and happy to see me fulfilled in my life and work.

I felt so much love and connection being in their presence.

Then one of my dogs barked and I woke up startled and disappointed that I had been pulled out of my dream.

I tried to go back to sleep but just couldn’t, so I lay in bed savoring the memory of those fleeting moments together, longing to be with those sage and loving women again.

I’ve been thinking about that dream a lot in the last few days, and beyond the love and connection I felt from being in their presence again, I have been reflecting on the many things that they taught me while they were here on earth.

They say that when an elder dies, a library is lost forever, and I believe that to be true.

My Abuela Mercedes, Abuelita Lilia, and Tia Tillie taught me a lot about how to live.

We are so consumed with leading productive lives that we forget the simplest, most profound, and most compelling ways to live. My grandmothers showed me a different way through their example and their memory serves as a reminder for me to seek the simpler path.

When my Abuela Mercedes passed away 3 years ago (at the ripe age of 103!), I wrote a tribute to her, and I wanted to share it with you.

1. Follow your bliss. 

My Abuela Mercedes was born into a large, hardworking family in Cuba. Her father was a tobacco farmer and her mother raised and cared for seven children. At a young age, my grandmother decided that she wanted to become a teacher, and she pursued an education in the face of severe economic adversity, numerous dictatorships, and at a time when women were not encouraged to work outside of the home. She earned a PhD in adult education in 1945, and dedicated herself to teaching adults until she left Cuba in 1966.

2. Eat simply and mindfully. 

My grandmother always ate simply and in small quantities. Her diet consisted mainly of Cuban staples, like cassava, ñame and malanga, rice and beans, small amounts of meat and an abundance of fruits and vegetables.   She hardly ate any sugar (except after her 100th birthday she decided to have ice-cream every evening after dinner!)

She always stayed away from sauces and sugary treats and ate mindfully at every meal, chewing thoroughly, and savoring each bite. Even at her 103rd birthday, she only ate a few bites of her cake, chewed it slowly, and proclaimed “Esta divino!” which means “This is divine!”

3. Serve others. 

After emigrating from Cuba and coming to the United States at the age of 57, my grandmother wholeheartedly jumped into a life of service. She volunteered at a senior center every single day until the ripe age of 95. She found value in her new life and shared her gifts even with all of the challenges that immigrating to a new country and leaving a behind beloved homeland brought with it.

4. Marvel at the miraculous. 

My grandmother often stopped to marvel at the beauty of a flower, the brilliance of a leaf, and the magnificence of the sunset. This was a daily practice – and I would even venture to say an hourly practice.  I remember her  always pointing out the beauty all around – “just look at how beautiful that flower is” or “that butterfly is absolutely breathtaking.”  She recognized the miracle in the tiniest seed and she continued to marvel at the wonder of the world until the very end.

5. Walk as much as possible. 

My grandmother has spent her life walking. She never owned a car or learned how to drive. She walked everywhere – to the bank and grocery store, and used public transportation when traveling longer distances.

6. Engage your mind. 

Even after her 100th birthday, my grandmother spent her days reading literary masterpieces, writing, and doing handiwork. She read two to three books per week, wrote beautiful, thoughtful poetry, and at 96 years of age, crocheted her own bedspread!

7. Keep a song in your heart. 

When we celebrated my grandmother’s 103rd birthday 3 years ago, she was quick to burst into song.   She was always like that – I remember watching her sing as she did the dishes, washed her clothes, and swam in the ocean.  She used songs to lift her spirits, cultivate joy, and as a tool help her to relish the mundane.  And when I catch myself humming, I always smile to myself because I know that I have a song alive in my heart, too.