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.

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