Estimated reading time: 5 minutes
You know in the end, all any of us really ever want is to look back and see a life well-lived with no regrets and a lot of great stories and memories spent with the people we love. We will be remembered for how we made people feel; the way we made them smile, laugh out loud, gave them hope when they were down, encouragement when they needed it, held their hand when they were lonely, loved when they felt unlovable and respected and admired in our actions. Thoughts are nice and kind words gas us up but what really matters is not what people say in their lifetime but what they do with the one life they are given. I want to be remembered for making others feel loved, cared for and like they mattered. I want my funeral to be a celebration of all the good I put into the world, of the life I lived not crying and sadness. I want people to laugh and smile through tears retelling funny and endearing stories of a life well lived.
We just lost my husband’s grandmother, she was 92 years old. Her sister, Maxine, is 95. These are two of the most vivacious women I’ve ever had the pleasure of knowing. They’ve inspired me to suck every last ounce of marrow out of life because whether you are 50, 75 or 95, the consensus is that we always feel young in our hearts so why should we stop living to our fullest when our hearts and minds are still all in? That’s why we need to take care of ourselves so that we can enjoy the time we have with the people we love.
Colleen, known to us as GiGi, was my husband’s grandmother. I met her when I was 25 years old. She was almost 70 when I met her but she will always be one of the most animated, big personalities I’ve ever known. She laughed at her own jokes, and loved to dance and sip cocktails while telling stories. She traveled the world. She was a mom, a wife, a grandmother, a great grandmother and yes, in her lifetime, a great-great-grandmother. She had lots of friends and did lots of things that most people only dream of. She knew, probably after she lost her first husband in her 40s, that life is not guaranteed and why put off until tomorrow what you can do today?
She was never afraid to say what was on her mind. Things were not left unsaid. She was kind to me and welcoming and her smile cut through whatever confusion and bullshit that might have been happening at the moment. She really didn’t sweat the small stuff at all. That was someone else’s problem. I sort of envied her that because I always seem to be wrapped up in the minutia, the day-to-day triviality of life sometimes so much so that I can’t see clear of the noise; making it almost impossible to breathe and be present.
She could be so vivacious and elegant but when my girls were around, there was nothing she wouldn’t do. I can’t tell you how my heart filled when I watched as she and her older sister (in their 80s at the time) would casually and without hesitation dress up as princesses and play with my toddlers. It was like a time machine back and forth simultaneously and it was beautiful and meaningful in ways that we don’t often get to experience. But I only had 25 short years with her. There was a lifetime of living before she came into my life.
In the end, she battled dementia and failing health. The last time I saw her was in the spring for her birthday. We all went to a local Mexican restaurant (her favorite) and as she sat there in her wheelchair with her frail 90-pound body, holding a margarita that was almost as big as her head, in and out of lucidity, she smiled and I saw her, that familiar, just out of reach face of the woman I met that Christmas 25 years ago.
My emotions are mixed because while we are all sad to no longer have her with us, Alzheimer’s had started pulling her away from us years ago. There were good days and there were bad days. Some days she remembered who we were and some days she was confused and afraid because we were strangers in her room. All the days she loved us, in photos and memories she just couldn’t always recognize us in the now because depending on the day, she remembered us differently. It was hard to watch her disappear. It was heartbreaking to see the woman who was once so big and full of life, so frail, meek and tiny. And while our hearts are breaking, we take comfort in knowing that she is somewhere laughing, dancing, sipping a margarita, regaling the love of her life with all the stories he missed of her life well lived.