90 Years Young: 4 Life Lessons I Learned From My Beloved Grandmother's Death

by Ilana Fromm

Death sucks and there aren’t many other ways to say it. You can’t prepare for it and even though we know we’ll experience it at least once in our lives, that doesn’t make it any easier. We cry, we mourn, we feel, we remember.

But, I like to think that most things — maybe even death —, happen for a reason. We may not be able to explain, understand or internalize this reason in the moment, but it’s there, somewhere.

Often, lessons emerge from bad experiences. People come into our lives to teach us lessons and sometimes, when they leave, they teach us even more.

When my mother told me that my grandmother was in the hospital and offered no additional information, I wasn’t thinking about reasons or lessons why.

I wasn’t thinking of the deeper meaning to all of this or to life as we rushed to the hospital. I was half expecting my grandmother to greet us in the ER with a smile and tell us we really shouldn’t have come all this way.

When I woke up that morning, I never imagined the day to become a frame of reference; I never realized my memories would be marked by time either before or after my grandmother passed.

I never imagined that after that day, what I’d be left with would be lessons.

You’re only as old as you feel

My grandmother passed away just two and a half months shy of her 90th birthday. Ninety is pretty old. Ninety is a little old lady with a walker, who needs you to scream so she can hear what you’re saying.

Who says 90 has to be old? My grandmother was often assumed to be years her junior, yet I never heard her lie about her age. Her only age-related request was never to call her Nana, because nanas were old and she was not.

I’ll be content if I can age half as gracefully as she did. If 90 means attending two college graduations in one weekend and being able to walk a mile plus without breaking a sweat, I’ll gladly see you there.

Why let a number define who we are or how we feel? Why dread the next birthday or even the next decade? More importantly, just because I’m almost 23 (help) and maybe even considered an adult by some, why is it ridiculous that I still sleep with a stuffed animal?

There’s more to life than things

As we cleaned out my grandmother’s house in the days and weeks following her passing, we realized she didn’t have much that was worth saving.

Though she loved clothes and costume jewelry, she never indulged in extravagant material things. Instead, she threw herself into a vibrant social life and filled her date book, not her closet.

Upon graduating college and moving home, I often joked that my grandmother went out more than I did.

Between Wednesday morning bingo, museum visits, her volunteer work at a local hospital and family events that she never missed no matter how small, she always surrounded herself with loved ones.

She was busy up until her very last day, which taught me that richness in life comes from people, not things.

Be grateful for what you have

When I went off to college, I realized just how lucky I was to be part of my (sometimes absolutely insane) family.

For 22 years, I had three grandparents who attended every dance recital, birthday party, soccer game (which were few because I sucked) and holiday gatherings.

I spoke to my grandparents at least once a week and saw them each time I was home on break, no matter if it was for a weekend or a month.

When you lose a loved one, it’s easy to focus on all the things they won’t be present for in the coming years. I always assumed my grandma would be at my wedding and would live to see her great-grandchildren.

But what’s important, and what I am more than grateful for, is the 22 years that I had her in my life.

Live in the moment

My grandma had exactly one rule her grandchildren had to follow — something that came about in the last 10 years: No cellphones at the dinner table.

For someone who refused to buy a computer, my grandmother (rightfully so) believed that cell phones took away from the moments when our whole family was together.

One weekend each summer, our family would drive out to Montauk where we would spend four days driving each other a little crazy, laying in the sun and trying to find sneaky ways to send texts at the dinner table.

This year, my grandma went so far as to tell the man at the table next to ours — who may or may not have been an aging rock star –, to put away his cell phone and enjoy his guests’ company.

We get so caught up in technology and social media that sometimes, we don’t realize that the best things in life are sitting right in front of us.