Reflecting On What Matters | #192
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I was off last week spending time with family after losing my grandmother. This week’s issue is a short reflection on my time with her. I hop you enjoy it.
#1 Time With Nana
I’ve always been drawn to elders. There’s a certain simplicity that is nice to be around. Less caught up in the drama of the world, less worried about stuff, don’t want to tell you what to do, and a stronger understanding of what really matters.
This past week my grandmother, better known as Nana, passed away after 93 years. I consider myself extremely lucky that I got to know all my grandparents well and didn’t lose any of them until I turned 25. And lucky for me, I had 12 more years after that with my grandmother. At 37, I’ve lost my final grandparent.
Nana meant a lot to me. In my book, I wrote about how she and my grandfather built an incredible environment for my 11 cousins and me to grow up in. We always had a place to go and a place where we were guaranteed to be surrounded by love:
My grandfather was a larger‑than‑life figure, and I loved spending time with him. When I was 13, he bought a house on the lake in my town, and I developed a deeper relationship with him and my grandmother. The house became not only a second home, but a gathering space for friends, family, and acquaintances. The door was open to everyone as long as they agreed to eat my grandfather’s food.
When my grandfather passed in 2010 it was sudden and it was really hard on my family and me. Losing him convinced me that a lot of what I was focused on and worried about in my life - namely my career, and success - was not all that important. I made a silent commitment that I would start to dig deeper and try to figure out others ways of orienting my life.
One of the things that felt important was spending more time with Nana. I didn’t know how much time I had left with her and I wanted to make the best of it. Almost every year after losing my grandfather, I would go out to Arizona and spend a week with her, and then when she was back home in Connecticut, I would cut out of work early and head to her lake house for the weekend.
Every time I spent extended time with her alone, I was able to exist in a state of stillness and connectedness that was hard to experience elsewhere. As a young person in the midst of a consulting career, I had people almost always telling me what I should be doing. She never cared about my performance in the world, she just wanted someone to sit around with her.
It’s kind of crazy but that kind of stillness is hard to find in today’s world. Even the people in our families often just want us to be someone. Be successful. Be a certain kind of way. Nana never wanted me to be anyone and that was always beautiful.
About six or seven years ago, I spent a week staying in her apartment at her senior living community in Arizona. Though the place was 55+ only, no one gave me any issues. I followed her schedule of naps, meals, bingo, and walks. I think this is when we started to have a deeper bond. It wasn’t any sort of deep conversational connection but rather the fact that we liked quiet, reading, and letting other people do their thing. I think this became even more important to me after I decided to leave my job. So many people would ask so many questions that I didn’t have any answers to. All she would ever ask say is, “you should do what makes you happy…but you have enough money, right?”
She started telling me she wanted me to read her eulogy around that time. I never liked when she said this because I didn’t want to imagine she’d be gone.
When she did feel up for talking, I would ask questions:
What’s the key to relationships? “COMMUNICATE” she would say.
Who is your favorite grandchild? “All of them, of course”
What is one piece of advice you have? “If you’re not learning you might as well be dead”
Until her early 90s, she was hosting a weekly meetup at her living center where her fellow residents would reflect on various questions and think about their lives. Each week should we solicit advice from me and others about what questions to ask. She never dropped wisdom like a modern-day Lao Tzu, but I think that’s part of what I liked too. She just went about her days, doing her best, and always letting you know in the simplest ways that you were loved.
The summer before I left for Taiwan, one of my goals was to spend 50 days with her. Part of me probably did this because I felt bad about living abroad but that summer strengthened our bond even further. When I moved abroad, we started doing a weekly video call. I didn’t do a good job of staying in touch with most people but I made sure to stay in touch with her. Despite the distance, she loved hearing what I was up to and was excited to tell everyone she knew that she had a grandchild across the world. It felt like she was my biggest champion. She just wanted me to be happy.
Part of me wonders if my weird path let her dream about alternative lives too. She mentioned once that she wanted to go to college and that her dream job was to be a buyer in Manhattan. But at the time, her father told her, “you can be a nurse, secretary, or teacher.” She chose nurse because it was the most challenging.
When I met Angie, I was excited to introduce her to my grandmother. I remember the first time they met, the summer after we started dating when she came to the US to meet my family. While Angie was still figuring out all the weird US cultural norms and having her first experience with a large white family in the suburbs, she had an instant bond with Nana. I think Nana knew right away that this person was a perfect match for me and it was clear that I had met my person.
So of course when we got married about three months later in Taipei, Nana was the guest of honor.
In the last year, Nana’s energy started to go downhill and she stopped doing many of the things she had done in the past - texting her grandchildren, responding to facetime video calls, and playing various games like dominoes, cards, and Rummikub.
It was really hard to see this and given how many times she bounced back from various ailments over the past twelve years it was hard to imagine she’d ever pass.
But she did and I will move forward trying to be like she was for me for others in the world.
Be at ease, be who you are meant to be. You matter and are loved. That’s what I felt from her and I think so many others deserve to feel too.
She will be missed.
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