The Most Important Lesson My Grandma Ever Taught Me

“Life goes on forever,” Grandma told me a few months ago. “You pass on it on. Your genes, your stories, everything. And it never gets lost.” I remember her disposition when she said this. She was at peace. “Nobody dies, because a part of you lives.”

Two weeks ago, I walked into my Grandma’s house and sat down next to her. “Your hair looks nice,” I said softly before taking her freshly manicured hand in mine. Grandma opened her eyes. “You came just in time,” she said, “For the Oscars.” She was somewhere between here and a dream. She was wearing white. For the last month, she insisted on wearing white. We held hands and I showed her photos from the wedding I had been to the night before. She liked my dress. As the minutes fell away, I knew I would soon have to say goodbye. I had said goodbye many times before, left her house for the airport many times before. This time was different. When I said goodbye, it would not only be for now, but forever. I knew it, and she knew it too. I turned my face because I couldn’t control the tears. I never wanted her to see me cry. “I have to go to the airport. I’ll be back soon,” I said, using all of my strength to keep my voice and face neutral. She looked at me and nodded, then, “I love you, Nicole. Love yourself.” I felt a tightness in my throat and heart, “I love you, Grandma.” We locked eyes, then she said, “I know.”

I was back in New York a week later. At her funeral, I stood at the podium and looked out into the sea of people. It was packed. She touched so many lives. “I am standing here today with a tremendous amount of sadness, but absolutely no regret.” I said to the ‘standing room only’ crowd. “I know exactly who my Grandma was, because she told me. She shared her stories with me, and I in turn, shared them with others in a weekly column entitled, ‘Things I Am Learning From My Grandma’.” This was her gift to me. It was our gift to each other.

This final piece has been excruciating to write. I don’t know what to say, exactly. I want to encapsulate everything. I want to have some big, final lesson that I learned. For days, I have sat at my computer and just cried. I miss her. I hate that I can’t call her. I wish she were still here. Worse still is that the sadness kind of creeps up on you. I’ll think I’m doing okay, and then all of a sudden I am that girl crying at a gas station. In my defense, ‘Solsbury Hill’ came on the radio and my Grandma just died.

So. I don’t have that earth-shattering lesson to share with you all. I wish I did. I think that when someone you love passes, you continue to learn from them for the rest of your life. I can’t help thinking of The Little Prince, by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. This book is one of my favorites, and if you haven’t read it yet, do so immediately. One of the lessons The Little Prince learns on his journey is that, “One sees clearly only with the heart. Anything essential is invisible to the eyes.” Or, as my Grandma said, “Nobody dies, because a part of you lives.” I know that every time I see a beautiful bouquet of flowers, I will think of her. When I witness a quiet act of kindness, she’ll be there. Whenever I put on a comfortable pair of flats, and then change into a more glamorous pair of heels, it will be because of her. I am so sad, but also incredibly grateful. She’s gone, but the love is still here. People die, but love lives. For this moment, I can find solace in that. Thanks for reading, and being on this journey with me. It has meant so much.

*** The featured photo is the final image from The Little Prince. I won’t spoil it for those who aren’t yet experienced.

  • Karoline Onsrud

    This broke my heart! I’m so sorry for your loss! But if it’s ant consolation your grandma seemed like a hell of a lady and I’ve really learned a lot form her and your column.

    • Nicole Shabtai

      Thanks so much, Karoline.

  • Anna Dobben

    I am so sorry for your loss. Thank you for sharing your grandmother’s lessons with us.

    • Nicole Shabtai

      Thanks for reading, Anna.

  • Thash Nathan

    Dear Nicole, my condolences. Reading your posts about your Grandma has been an inspiring experience in itself. I’ve always wondered what it would be like to have a close relationship with a grandparent, and your columns have painted that picture so beautifully for me. She will always be a part of you, and her lessons will certainly live on. I know I’ve certainly been enriched with her insights that you’ve shared.

    • Nicole Shabtai

      Thank you, Thash. That means a lot to me.

  • Linda Goodman

    I’m so sorry for your loss. I’ve come to love and admire your Grandmother through your posts. Thank you for sharing her with us <3

    • Nicole Shabtai

      Thank you, Linda.

  • Amy Taylor Valencia

    Wow, I too just lost my Grandma 3 weeks ago. I feel the same as you extremely sad and extremely blessed. It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever gone through. My condolences and thank you for writing this.

    • Nicole Shabtai

      I am so sorry for your loss, Amy. Thank you for reading.

  • Amy Addington

    This was beautiful…and maybe the big life lesson is,that there is no big life lesson. Just do like your grandmother others, love yourself, and remember that that life goes on forever, and we never forget the ones we love. All my condolences for your loss..But thanks so much for being brave enough to write this.

    • Nicole Shabtai

      Thank you so much, Amy. I think you’re right. Thank you for your words and kindness.

  • Melissa Lapp

    Thank you so much for sharing your stories. Grandmothers are so, so special. I’m so sorry for your loss… she sounds like a fantastic woman.

    • Nicole Shabtai

      Thanks so much, Melissa.

  • Aimée Faloppa

    Nicole I’m so sorry! I lost my Gram 3 months ago (that’s her in my pic) and hate that I can’t call her, or go hang out with her. I’ve loved reading your column since part 1. <3 <3

    • Nicole Shabtai

      Than you Aimee. I am so sorry for your loss. Your Gram is beautiful. Thanks for reading.

  • Elizabeth Polit

    I’ve loved this entire series and the final installment is such perfect. Your grandma sounded like quite the woman and through these stories she has continued to inspire.

    • Nicole Shabtai

      Than you, Elizabeth. <3

  • Christina Mc Bride

    I’m sorry for your loss, and grateful that you shared your grandmother’s wisdom and spirit with us :)

    • Nicole Shabtai

      Thanks so much, Christina.

  • Maria Jose Araya

    Nicole, I am so sorry for your tremendous loss. My sincerest condolences go out to you and your family during this difficult time. I think that all of us know how amazing your grandma was and that’s because you were kind and generous enough to share her with us. Thank you for that.

    When your columns didn’t arrive recently, I secretly feared it was because of this. I looked forward to this column, your words, her wisdom, and her amazing spirit for living life to the fullest. She was an inspiration to many, myself included, and will be truly missed.

    • Nicole Shabtai

      Thanks so much Maria. Your kind words are much appreciated. Thanks for reading. <3

  • Jena Evans-Turnbull

    So sorry for your loss. Your grandmother seemed like the most incredible woman, I know you have inspired many to get to know the people around them, while they have them, you have taught the importance of being grateful for every single moment you have with someone. This column has been an inspiration for me, and I am positive I am not alone on this. Like I said, your grandmother seemed like a tremendous woman – and she is right, life DOES go on forever, and you are proof of that, you are also tremendous!

    • Nicole Shabtai

      Thank you so much Jena. Your words mean a lot to me.

    • Nicole Shabtai

      From the bottom of my heart, thank you. xox

  • Bobbi Jean Garcia

    Nicole, I am so sorry for your lost. Your grandmother sounded like a wonderful woman and I loved reading your column on her. The relationship you and her shared was beautiful to read about. Thank you for writing this column. My condolences. <3

    • Nicole Shabtai

      Thanks so much, and thanks for reading.

  • Patricia Flores Aguilera

    Goodbye, Grandma. You have inspired som many of us through your wonderful granddaughter!

    • Nicole Shabtai

      Thank you <3

  • Merrie Leininger

    Nicole, I almost didn’t start to read these columns of yours because I knew this day would come and it would be too sad. Thank you for sharing your grandma and her sweet, wonderful, thoughtful, fun lessons with us.

    • Nicole Shabtai

      Thanks for reading, Merrie.

  • Paula M. Moncho Esteve

    aww this was heartbreaking and really hard to read because I recently lost my grandma too and I can’t begin to say how much it hurts, how much I miss her! So I’m really sorry for your loss, and you are totally right, she is still here with me couse I still love her and always will, and I have all of her stories in my heart! Thank you for sharing your wonderful grandma with us, now she is in my heart too :) (and so is the little prince)

    • Nicole Shabtai

      I am so sorry for your loss. Thank you for your words, and for reading.

  • Sílvia Juncà

    My greatgrandmother died 5 years ago, she was 104 years old and the most lively and loving person in the world. our words made me think of her, I know she would have smiled. I too know the love is still there, and it will always be.

    I’m sure your grandmother smiled at you the whole time you were writing.

    • Nicole Shabtai

      Thank you so much Silvia. What a beautiful thought. :)

  • Constantina Hadjizacharia

    I was thinking about you the last weeks and your grandma wondering if she is doing better ; I love reading this column, and i just read the last piece of it and it truly breaks my heart.. i am crying now as am i writing, thinking of you, your words and also my own grandma that on Sunday it will be 3 months without her!
    Grief is the most painful experience and also the most strange. You will find yourself crying in the weirdest times and locations during the day. Just seeing an elegant old woman, or like last night while I was driving back home and it started to rain, do you know the first thing that came on my mind? – Is she afraid now that she is all alone and its raining? Strange, silly, weird thought but it was the first that came to my mind and yes. I started to cry thinking of her!
    What i am trying to say.. even after 3 months i am still crying.. but not all day like i used. I miss her, she is the first person on my thoughts when i wake up and the last in my prayers when I am going to sleep! Its not easy, BUT somehow you are learning to live with this unfortunate fact! Maybe i am feeling more calm than i used to because i am feeling that she is alive but i just haven’t see her for a while. And you know what? She is “alive”, she will always be alive through me, my family- our memories with her! If you never forgot the persons that you love after their death, they will continue to live through you.
    Remember that you will always be a part of her, and through your stories, your love for her -she will always be alive in your heart. You can talk to her, she is listening, i know that she can’t answer and this, yes, its the most painful but she will always be with you. You are lucky that you had her in your life. And you are lucky that you said goodbye to her.
    My favourite lesson of my grandmother: No matter what happens in life, be good to people. Being good to people is a wonderful legacy to leave behind..
    Take care..
    Constantina from Cyprus

    • Nicole Shabtai

      Constantina. Thank you so much. You are amazing. Your words have meant so much to me. Thank you for sharing. With time, maybe it will get easier for us. But I know that we are lucky. <3

  • Constantina Hadjizacharia

    And i forgot the most important thing.. your grandmother should be proud of you that you had the power to share the above story. Thank you for sharing all these stories with us, it was a quite a journey!

  • Lauren Nespoli

    I’m so sorry about your grandma. :( Thank you for sharing some of her lessons with us. My grandma died 3 years ago and every once in a while I’ll randomly remember something she said that’ll make me laugh or some piece of advice that will help me feel better about something. So, parts of her will still live with you and her lessons will still help!

    • Nicole Shabtai

      Thanks so much, Lauren. I am so sorry for your loss. But that is extremely comforting. Thanks for reading.

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