by Nathalie Bowman
Last week my grandmother passed away peacefully in her sleep. She was almost 92 years old. Grandmothers have wonderful life lessons to share.
The wisdom of Grandma Nielsen:
- Gambling is NOT allowed. One year, when I was 16 or 17, one of my favorite cousins was surprised I didn’t know how to play poker, so he arranged a game. But we needed something to bet with. hhhmmmm…… There was a new convenience store across the highway, and several of us cool teenagers walked across the busy highway and stocked up on penny candy as our poker chips. We got swedish fish, sour patch kids, gummy berries and I can’t even remember what else. But it was awesome. We were all ready to play. Our family cabin had lots of open space, but we managed to find a quiet, secluded corner for our game. We knew face cards were forbidden, so we used a deck of Rook cards for our game. My cousin got us all situated and gave out some of the candy to start. Just as he began explaining how to play, we hear grandma’s voice screeching, “Are you playing POKER?!?” Yes, we had to admit sheepishly. How did we think we could get away with that? Grandma says No Gambling. Even with penny candy. We were foiled.
- Families ties are important! Grandma had a dream that someday she would have a cabin for her children and grandchildren to gather every year for a family reunion. That dream came true in 1981 when we built our family cabin. Grandma even gave it a name: NielsenHaven. This cabin became a haven where we made many happy memories. Grandma’s highest priority during her life was her family. She and grandpa had 8 children, 44 grandchildren, 147 great-grandchildren, and 11 great-great grandchildren at the time of her death. And her greatest legacy is that we enjoy being together.
- Make everyone feel special. I was never personally very close to Grandma. We lived about 40 minutes away, and we mostly visited her during family events, so there were many people around. However, even with the lack of personal time with her, I always knew I was very important to her. She loved all of us, I could tell, but whenever I talked to her, she made me feel like the most important person on the planet. She had a wonderful ability to be interested in each of her family members and remembered details of her 44 grandchildren. I always felt special with her.
- Tell Family Stories. Grandma always wanted to make sure we knew about her parents and grandparents as well as my grandpa’s family. They were our family, and she wanted us to know these wonderful people who were a part of her life. She put together an amazing book of stories and history about our family. By telling these stories to us of our pioneer ancestors she helped create a sense of pride in who we are and a feeling of belonging that has spanned over the many many years.
- “You can create your own…” When I first heard of my grandma’s passing last week, I was surprised at how much it affected me. She was told by her doctors that she only had 2 months to live, and she kept going for 4 more years! She had gone downhill recently and the family knew she wouldn’t last much longer. The news that she had finally gone shook me to the core. I realized that because of my parent’s divorce and my dad’s subsequent remarriage, the little-girl self inside me didn’t feel like she ever belonged in a family. Then I realized that the only time I truly felt like I was a part of any family was when I was at those family reunions at our cabin. I knew I belonged there! And now the creator of that family legacy was gone. What would happen now? We would all drift apart, and that would be the end. It felt so final. Then I felt a thought come into my head….I could create my own family heritage with my children and their families. I can teach them about who they are and why their family ties are important just like my grandma did! I can create happy memories and fun times with my family even if we’re struggling at times. I can do what she did!
Although I didn’t used to believe it, I now know that family ties and happy family relationships are possible for all of us! Start by following grandma’s advice – the advice of your grandma, or mine, it doesn’t matter. Just begin. and enjoy the fruits of wonderful family relationships!