the first hundred are the hardest


In a few short weeks, my maternal grandmother is scheduled to celebrate her 101st birthday. But the collective perception from those who see her regularly is that she is slowing down somewhat in recent days. Her body is tiring, less resilient to chronic aches and pains, her mind is foggier and memory not quite so reliable. At less than half her age, that’s just a typical Friday night for me.

Grandma will likely not be remembered by thousands nor memorialized for an iconic contribution to our nation or to the world. In fact, she may not even be remembered particularly by anyone outside her extended family and friends circle. But should she be?

Against all odds, this woman has survived two world wars, the Great Depression, the loss of her chosen life partner thirty years ago, witnessed death taking all her siblings and friends, and had three close encounters with cancer. Not only that, she has also been know to strip and ‘repair’ electrical cords on her small appliances and stick forks in her toaster, all while still plugged in. Like I said, against all odds.

After the exhausting task of clearing the hundred year path, you’d think she’d just want to rest and to go gently into that good night. But not Grandma. Her ‘spunk’, as her healthcare workers affectionately call it, is not the stuff of fairly tales or carefully-edited Oprah moments. It is raw, occasionally obsessive and usually accompanied by a scowl, a curled upper lip and sharp comment. It is so distinctly her that there’s no need to take offense. And even though she so rarely ever leaves her room, she still insists on having her hair done daily presumably to be prepared for the day of purpose ahead of her.

Perhaps Grandma’s most valuable contribution is her utter refusal to ever give in, to give up and to insistently demand that she be able to live her life on her own terms. And, for better or worse, I cannot look around at any Christmas or Thanksgiving family dinner without seeing that stubborn yet glorious trait in spades in my mother and in every single one of my siblings.

Grandma continues to write her unique story with the ink of a century of joys, fears, hopes, rejections, loves and disappointments. And, as she prepares to exchange her weighty hundred year-old cloak for a lighter one from the fabulous new spring collection, we know that she will go just as she lived; with every fiber of her being.

Could any of us aspire to any more than that?