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How Do You Begin To Encapsulate A Life of 97 Years?

The three ways below will certainly help

My grandmother, who I’d just told you a little bit about recently, died peacefully in her sleep last Saturday morning. We had been expecting it, but it doesn’t make it any easier when that phone call finally comes. My dad asked me if I’d write her obituary, and I considered the request an honor. In piecing it together, I learned things about her that I’d never known before.

I’m not going to include the obituary here, but I did come away with three ways to honor a life well-lived, and perhaps you’ve had a similar experience. If not, maybe these sections will be helpful to you someday.

You do it with smiles

To our knowledge, her last words were “hey, sunshine” when the nurse came to check on her about 1:30 AM. When Dad relayed that story to me, I couldn’t help but smile. The last time I saw her, she was sitting in her favorite chair, positioned perfectly between her window, where she could see her birdfeeder and the Tennessee River in the distance, and her small television, where she’d watch Atlanta Braves and Alabama football games. And, you guessed it, she had a smile on her face as I left.

You do it with stories

I could write a few pages in this section alone, but I’m going to limit it to three of my favorites.

At the top of the list is the story about her first date with the man that would become my grandfather. She and a friend were going on a blind date with two guys, and they flipped a coin to determine who they’d be paired with on the date. My grandparents celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary the year my grandfather died, so I’d say it worked out just like it was supposed to (as everything does!).

We still have a picture as proof of this second story. She was in Washington, DC with a cousin and saw President Truman out for a walk by the Tidal Basin. In her quintessential southern accent, she asked if she could take a picture of the president. He obliged, asked his security detail to step aside, and posed for a photo – signature suit, hat and all.

The last one is going to tie back into the “smiles” part, as it makes me laugh every time I think about it. During a visit to our house when I was much younger, my parents were excited to show my grandparents how our new yard sprinkler system worked. Well, as luck would have it, my grandmother happened to be standing in the middle of the yard when my mom went around the house to turn it on. I can still see it now – everywhere she turned was another jet of water, shooting out of the ground. By the time my mom realized it and got back to turn the thing off, my grandmother was drenched. And she was not afraid to let everyone know that she’d just had her hair “fixed”!!

You do it with gratitude

Although life expectancies are growing longer year by year, many of us won’t make it to 97. Life is a gift, and you remember it with gratitude. Sure, we’re sad and we miss her, but we are also extremely grateful knowing that she lived a long, healthy life, and directly influenced the members of all three generations that follow in her footsteps.

We are grateful for her presence in our lives, her nurturing, her wisdom, and her love. As the oldest grandchild, I am grateful for the memories before my brother and cousins came along. Once they came along, I had to share the boiled custard with them and, believe me, that wasn’t something you wanted to share with anyone!

Nothing puts the “finite-ness” of life in perspective quite like the death of a family member. And this is exactly why we need to do a better job of investing our resources in experiences, not things. Spend the money on trips and vacations, instead of a new car or electronic gadget. And I say “invest” intentionally. The memories and stories from the experiences and time together will pay dividends long after we are gone.

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