the first hundred are the hardest

Apr 30, 2015

 Thoughts on the first hundred years of my grandmother’s life.  She passed at 103.

I remember when she was scheduled to celebrate her 101st birthday in 2013.  The collective perception from those who saw her regularly is that she is slowing down somewhat in recent days. Her body was tiring, less resilient to chronic aches and pains, her mind a little foggier and memory not quite so reliable. At less than half her age, that was 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 had also been known 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.

I remember thinking that 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 called it, is not the stuff of fairy tales or carefully-edited Oprah moments.   She was raw, occasionally obsessive and usually wore a scowl and came with a sharp comment. It is so distinctly her that there was no need to take offense. And even though she so rarely ever left her room in those final years, 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 was 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 continued to write her unique story with the ink of a century of joys, fears, hopes, rejections, loves and disappointments. And, as she prepared to exchange her weighty hundred and three year-old cloak for a lighter one from the fabulous new spring collection, we know that she went just as she lived; with every fiber of her being.

Could any of us aspire to any more than that?

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