Lessons from my 95 year old Grandma

My grandma, Nurbanu or Nuru as all her siblings called her, passed away February 15th, 2018. Of all the people I have lost in my life, losing her was the hardest, as we were really close. My parents worked a ton (they still do) and Dadi was at home taking care of us instead of my sister and I being in a daycare. I know a second language fluently because she didn’t speak English (or at least pretended not to).

Dadi, as we called her, lived to the wise old age of 95. Battling dementia the last year of her life, I can’t seem to think that she had a pretty good run and it was because of her habits that she did so well, until her mind finally had hit its breaking point. A fall that left Dadi with a broken hip and immobile proved to be the defining factor in her decline.

Elders are amazing in so many ways, but for the purpose of this post, I will focus on the lessons she taught by examining her actual lifestyle. It’s funny when you look back on what you have learned from someone and the things that stick are those that have been hammered into your brain from either repetition or foundational layering into your subconscious through actually witnessing someone’s actions. With Dadi, it was a bit of both.

I believe she lived a long, happy and fulfilled life. She was a very humble woman who really appreciated the “simple things” and in today’s whirlwind culture of notifications, fads, catchy headlines — I look to her as an example of how by living in the moment and by creating healthy habits, one can lead a life of happiness as well.

Here is what I remember about how she spent most of her days:

1.Waking up and having a routine

Water her plants every morning. She started her day off by taking care of something else that was living first.

Praising a higher power. By lighting an incense, she would give thanks for another day. She would also start her morning off with gratitude.

2. Exercising daily

Walking around the house with her walker, 15 times a day. I wish I had put a fitbit on her — she would crush the 10,000 step goal easily.

Breathing exercises to help regulate gas. This was just hilarious and we would laugh together as burps were substituted for toots.

3. Fostering real social connections

Daily phone calls from everyone that was important to her. If we missed a day, we would hear about it.

Sharing stories and laughing as much as possible!

Eating dinner as a family. Nothing more was asked except for sharing a meal. It was an opportunity for her to really chat with you, while sometimes sneaking her food onto our plate.

Visiting her sister once a week. Until she no longer could, a weekly visit to her last living sibling, her closest sister would have to be on the list. Face to face interaction, sitting, even quietly, feeling someone’s presence and energy was important.

4. Living a life in her means

Financial literacy. Even as she grew older and had a tough time remembering where she left things, she knew to the cent how much money she had in her accounts. She loved to give to the community, help out at home when there was a big purchase that would be beneficial for the entire family. Dadi would often tell us stories about how she and my grandpa had to share meals at the cinema because money was so tight. She was proud to not buy dresses or purses as it was seen as unnecessary. She did, however, love flowery perfumes…lavender particularly.

5. Meditating

Dadi found power and a sense of calmness through meditation. You could always find a rosary in her hand. The only thing that I see in people’s hands at all times today are their phones. The same anxiety we feel when our phone dies or is on another table, is how she felt when her prayer beads weren’t in her hands or pocket.

It feels like yesterday I was holding her tiny hand and walking her to the front door from the car. I wish that for whoever reads this that you hug your family and friends, tell them how important they are and encourage each other. Do not overestimate social connection.

My grandma never told me to do any of these things, she just did them. Every. Single. Day. Until she no longer could…Take the time to enjoy the sweet things in life. For Dadi, she loved chocolates, a fresh piece of cake and a hot chai.

As we forge ahead using technology to achieve greater things, it’s important to not forget the “simple” things that are now not the norm. As loneliness and depression increase at rampant rates, taking a step back and learning from past generations can provide some guidance into the wellbeing of our future.

With love,

Hafiz