The Most Important Lesson My Grandma Ever Taught MeNicole Shabtai

“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.

  • Emmell Martin

    awwwww :) that is true the love always lives on I too lost my grandmother we we’re very close as well she died of cancer so I also knew that I would have to say goodbye soon. But Not a single day passes by that I don’t think of her. But always know just because she’s not here physically does not mean that she isn’t here at all. She’s still next to you spiritually and you can believe that she loves you and is watching over you protecting your from harms way. May God bless you and may our Grandmothers R.I.P and watch over us both much love :0

  • Marian Daniel Grigoras

    About an hour ago, reading Part I, I was ignorant enough to consider that I knew exactly what you were talking about.
    I love it when i feel small.
    Thank you!

  • Heather Baker

    My grandmother died December 30, 2010. She was one of my very best friends. She used to tell everyone that she and I were soul mates. I loved her deeply. When I went to visit her in the hospital I took her hand in mine and said, “Grammy, I feel like there are a million things that I need to say to you but at the same time, nothing needs to be said.” She squeezed my hand and said, “You don’t need words when you know each others’ heart.” That is the biggest lesson I learned from my grandmother. She made sure that I knew her heart every single time I saw her and I now strive to do that with the people that I love every day. That is how she lives on through me.

  • Cristina Watkins

    this post totally got to me. i am from ny and live in ca now, and no one wanted to worry me when my grandmother got pancreatic cancer and died only a few weeks later- so i missed seeing her that last time by one day. i thought i was coming home to say goodbye and would come back for her funeral, and instead found out when i landed that she’d died the night before (my birthday). that was a year ago and i still have trouble coming to terms with never having that last moment, last smile, last i love you with the woman who was my first ever best friend. i think the lesson you learned from your grandma that everyone lives on is so special and even though i still get upset thinking of not getting that last moment with her, i also smile alot thinking of how happy she made me over the years and how little things continue to remind me of her or how happy she would have been helping to plan my wedding.

  • Marleen Moll

    I am so sorry for your loss. This post made me cry, and I immediately called my gran. We stayed on the phone for two hours and it was the most special phonecall I ever made. Thank you, for sharing the special bond you and your grandma had. You taught me so much!

  • Alexandra Rae

    Your Grandma taught me to listen to older people and their stories and to ask questions because there is so much more there than they are letting on. I am so sorry for your loss. <3 But I am so happy that you got to have such a wonderful relationship with your Grandma. <3 xoxo

  • Kaylee Acres

    Thank you for the prayers for my grandpa, Nicole. I’m very sorry for your loss, but you are very lucky to have had such wonderful experiences with your grandma. “Always remember there was nothing worth sharing like the love that let us share our name” – Murder in the City, The Avett Brothers. Best wishes to you. You and your grandma have inspired me. :)

  • Kirsty Cameron

    This piece of writing is so beautiful. It’s really inspired me to let my family know just how much they mean to me. Best wishes to you and your family. :) x

  • Mandy March

    Thank you to both your grandmother and you for sharing these beautiful lessons. They have reminded me so much of my grandmother and how much I live my life following the lessons she taught me. My heart goes out to you and your family. Thank you.

    • Nicole Shabtai

      Thanks so much, Mandy.

  • Vivien Alabado Rivera

    My grandma on my father’s side and I never had a chance to know each other well before she died while my mother’s mother died before I was even born. You’re so blessed to have experienced all these things with your grandma.

    Btw, I love The Little Prince too. I always have.

    • Nicole Shabtai

      Thanks Vivien. I am blessed. Thanks so much for reading!

  • Elizabeth Michelle

    I too, came upon this series and read it all at once! It’s very beautifully written and your Grandma was an amazing woman. I only have one Grandma, and she died when I was 8, so I read your entries with wistfulness as I wish I could have had a relationship like you did with your grandma. You were blessed with an amazing woman. Thank you for sharing your story with us!

    • Nicole Shabtai

      Thank you so much for reading, Elizabeth. I was blessed. Thank you for sharing and reading.

  • Cassie Jimenez


    I just fell upon this series today and I read the entire thing in one go. I too had an amazing and special relationship with my grandmother. Although she has been gone for almost a decade now I could not be more grateful for all the things I have learned from her. I continue to live my life by the lessons she has taught me. It’s beautiful to see and well, read, the amazing impact these incredible relationships have on those that are lucky enough to have them. Thank you for sharing these posts. Reading them has made my day. :)

    Way to add in The Little Prince. :)

    • Nicole Shabtai

      Cassie— Thank you so much for reading, and for your kindness. Your words meant a lot to me. I will continue to feel grateful :)

  • Alicia Chavez

    This was a beautiful series Nicole. My grandmother passed away two years ago (this coming Sunday to be exact) and I promise you that with mentality you have (not to mention great memories) it will get easier. Sometimes it’s hard for me to remember that they are still with us in our hearts but I think you are right, “People die, but love lives.” Thank you for reminding me…. and also, I cried myself to sleep listening to Death Cab for Cutie’s Plans CD for a long time (we’re talking months) as my own personal therapy… so crying at a gas station isn’t so bad :)

    • Nicole Shabtai

      Thank you so much for reading, Alicia. And for your kindness. I am so sorry for your loss.

  • Ingrid Haas

    The community misses your Grandma, but she lives on through you Nicole & through HG. I’ve learned so much about you through this, thank you for letting us all get to know you & her so well. Sending love. xo

    • Nicole Shabtai

      Thank you, Igrid. You are wonderful in every way. I love learning about you through “Letters To My Younger Self.” What a special community we are all apart of. xoxox

  • Kaylee Acres

    Thank you. My grandmother passed away four years ago and now my grandfather is having health issues of his own. You’re grandma’s words spoke to me just now. Beautiful.

    • Nicole Shabtai

      Thanks for reading, Kaylee. I am so sorry for your loss, and Im sending prayers to your Grandfather.

  • Camelia Rodriguez

    I spent an hour and a half tonight reading your beautiful blog. Thanks for sharing this with all of us. It’s funny because I feel like your words are exactly what I needed to read right now.

    My condolences to you and your family.

    • Nicole Shabtai

      Thank you so much for reading, Camelia. And for the kind words. xo

  • Natalia Ailatan

    Im so sorry Nicole. you jusy made me cry with this article. Your grandma was an incredible human being. But its part of life and you just have to learn to live with that and be the greatest person she taught u to be. This world needs more people like her. I learned a lot from her too and Ill be sending some prayers for her.

    • Nicole Shabtai

      Thank you so much Natalia. Means a lot.

  • Rebecca Hogan

    Thank you for this – it really means a lot to see somebody else going through this

    • Nicole Shabtai

      Thanks for reading, Rebecca.

  • Simran Hans

    My heart goes out to you. This was exactly what I needed to read – one of my best friends died recently, and the funeral was yesterday. I can identify your description of the waves of sadness as both crippling and unprecedented, but the message at the heart of this post is beautiful and true. People die, but love lives. Thank you for verbalising that for me. I hope you and your family are able to find peace soon. X

    • Nicole Shabtai

      I am so sorry for your loss Simran. I hope the same for you. Thank you for reading.

  • Alexandra Victoria Klint

    This made me sob. I lost my Gramma two and a half years ago on what would have been our first mothers day together as mothers. She was the strongest and most loving woman I have ever known and could ever hope to be. That sadness never goes away, I’ll selfishly always wish she was here beside me or just a phone call away but she is still ever present in my heart, always guiding me in the right direction and now she has the best view as my daughter grows into a beautiful strong willed lady just like her Great Grandmother.
    When you share a love like you and your grandma did they never ever leave you.

    • Nicole Shabtai

      Thanks so much for reading, Alexandra. I am so sorry for your loss. But I think you’re right, they never leave you. Thank you. x

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