Life lessons taught by example

Everything is acceptable at your grandparents’ house, whether staying up later than usual, eating thirty-seven homemade cookies a day, or spilling every minute detail of your life without someone’s eyes glazing over.

I was fortunate to grow up living less than an hour away from my grandparents, a real gift to my childhood. But when my eighty-five-year-old grandmother recently relocated from Pennsylvania to my current home of Raleigh, North Carolina, I realized that I gleaned more from the collective years I spent with her than just knowing it was okay to eat sugar from time to time and that she never tired of my endless stories.

My grandmother taught me things I never even realized she was teaching me—until now. And all of her lessons have deeply impacted every area of my life, from how I perceive my most important relationships to how I choose to spend my time.

01. Value and prioritize your marriage.

My grandparents were married for fifty-one years, parted only by my grandfather’s death. I was twenty-two when he passed away. In my life up to that point, I couldn’t remember hearing either of my grandparents speak an unkind word to one another.

I am sure that at some point or another they argued, that they said things they wished they hadn’t. After all, we’re all human. But in observing the kindness, respect, and admiration with which they addressed each other each day, I learned how important it is to treat those who are closest to us better than we treat anyone else.

Although my grandfather passed away a few years before I married my husband, I still look to my grandparents’ marriage as a model for my own: the kindness, the companionship, the patience, the respect, and the comfort found in simply spending time with someone. It is an example to me of how I should treat my husband and how we should value our time together, since it is a foundation for the family we will eventually build and the legacy we want to leave behind.

02. If at all possible, live near family.

Growing up, my family lived in the same city as my grandparents, and it was wonderful to live close enough for semi-regular dinners and impromptu weekend visits. This gave me the opportunity to share my life with them in a day-to-day sense rather than just catching up once a year during holiday visits. Both of my grandparents lived in the same city their entire lives and had spent a lifetime nurturing relationships with their own siblings, cousins, nieces, and nephews. Their decision to lay roots in a place taught me firsthand the value of presence. Having your family within a twenty-minute drive is so different from relying on long-distance phone calls and emails. Physical presence is powerful in a way that sporadic communication is not.

When my family relocated to North Carolina when I was fourteen, I realized just how much I missed the closeness and community I’d previously enjoyed with my extended family, most especially, my grandparents. Thankfully, I had some extended family in Raleigh when I moved here, and now, things have come full circle as my grandmother has settled just ten minutes away from my husband and me. But the privilege of having family so close by, and the pain of having once left that behind, encourage me to remain rooted where I live: within a ten-mile radius of parents, in-laws, grandparents, aunts and uncles, and siblings-in-law.

03. Small stressors truly are small, and they won’t matter in the long run.

In spending time with someone who’s lived a much longer life than I have, I realize anew the sheer insignificance of so many of the things that bother me on a daily basis. Keeping company with older people imbues us with a sense of what really matters—and the message is always the same: time. Time with people who are most significant in our lives, time spent on things that bring more joy, peace, gentleness, and kindness to the world—these are what carry the most weight.

This lesson comes to mind when I spend time with my grandmother or my husband’s grandparents: Life simply moves at a different pace. These are people who have been retired for decades and who have already conquered the same struggles and fought the same battles we are currently fighting. They show us, by their existence alone, that it is possible. That the things that bother us won’t kill us, and the things that stress us out have little weight in the fabric of our lives as a whole. True, our grandparents shoulder their own burdens—different burdens—but they are the burdens afforded to those who’ve lived full lives. And it is beautiful to bear witness to that.

Now, when I spend time at my grandmother’s place, I enjoy making every small part of the day, from taking a walk to having a cup of coffee, intentional and measured rather than just an item to check off a list before rushing from one thing to the next. The time we spend together is grounding and soothing, and it reminds me—as it did so many years ago when I was a young child—that everything really is going to be okay.

Spending time with my grandmother is about more than just sharing stories and memories. It simply makes me a more thoughtful, grounded person. I hope to continually reflect on these lessons in the coming years as I work to find my place in my family, community, and the world.