WOMEN sit, or move to and fro- some old,
The young are beautiful- but the old are more beautiful than the
young — Walt Whitman
My Grandmother passed away on December 23rd, 2015. She was the love of my life. I vow to practice her values every chance I can. She taught me that being a woman is a powerful, beautiful privilege. So do your greatest to use your privilege wisely.
Here are my favorite lessons I learned from one hell of a woman.
1. You can’t control every aspect in your life.
If you don’t like the situation you’re in: Change your attitude. Change your perspective. Change your position.
Celia “Sylvia” Llewellyn was born in Puntas Arenas, Chile. A small, simple town in the most southern point of the Patagonia region. At a young age, she was sent to boarding school. She was only allowed to see her family annually. A couple months spent at home, then back to school.
At age 14, her family moved to Cedar Falls, Iowa. A primarily Caucasian, small Midwestern community. In boarding school, Grandma felt closer to the other girls than her own family. She spent her whole childhood at that boarding school. Now she was stuck in a foreign country, with her family whom she did not relate to, without the support of her friends.
Her new school was a nightmare. English in Iowa was much different than the English spoke in Chile. To make matters worse, girls made fun of her for her odd South American wardrobe and coarse, curly red hair. If you are not familiar with the harsh environment of the northern midwest, it is cold. I mean COLD. And windy. This tiny woman, walked her ass to and from school, through the wind and snow during the harsh winter months. Sounds cliche but it’s true.
Her solution :
Most people in this situation would hide themselves away, ashamed of who they were. Letting themselves believe the cruel words from their peers. Settling for the shadows, never attempting the spotlight.
Not my Grandma.
Initially, yes.. she pitied herself. She cried and played the victim. Until, she accepted reality. With this new found acceptance, Celia changed her perspective and saw her situation as a personal challenge. She realized, she was different compared to the other students. But who cares? She can learn to be like the other girls.. wait.. better than the other girls.
Celia welcomed the new school year with open arms. She spent the past summer taking speech lessons, eliminating her accent. During the summer, she lurked in the shadows, watching the other girls. Absorbing all the information she could. Noting their interactions, wardrobe, makeup and hairstyles.
The first day of school, she made herself look good. Damn good, actually. She introduced herself as Sylvia, not Celia. She smiled walking through hallways, confidently saying hello to everyone she met.
Students took notice. Especially the guys. Everyone was talking about her.
Not before long, the most popular guy at school asked her out. All of the other girls would have died for the chance to go on a date with this athletic, handsome young man. Not Grandma. With a sassy attitude, she declined.
Bold move, Grandma.
Not only did she deny the most popular guy at school.. she asked out his friend, not a moment later in front of the poor guy. Let’s take a moment to really reflect on this. This was the 1950’s.. women did NOT ask men on dates. Period. Nonetheless, his best friend Jerry said yes.
This was the talk of the school. The girls that once made fun of her, now either scared of her, or wanted to be her best friend. Jerry (who is now my Grandfather) took this opportunity to strut his arm candy around at every chance he could get. They were now the King and Queen of the school. All because of this small, but powerful little woman. Check out my Grandma, Sylvia Denholm (Llewellyn). Look at all the after school activities she forced herself to be involved in that year. Including, Class President.
2. When picking a significant other, don’t settle for anything less than you deserve.
Pick someone who will improve you and let you improve them. Both parties must be equally loyal and equally patient.
Grandma didn’t understand why people think they are automatically “entitled” to certain privileges in life. For example, let’s talk about the concept of “Soulmates”. People seem think their God or whatever, designed a specific being just for them. Do you really believe you are THAT special, that you were designed specifically to one human being?
Grandma gave it to me straight. She let me know from a very early age that I am not that special and neither are you. Your worth is no greater than your neighbor, cousin, dentist, florist or any other person you’ve came across in your life. You know why? Because people change. Who you are today, is not who you might be tomorrow. Judging and comparing others to yourself is a waste of your valuable time. Your environment is constantly evolving and that includes the people surrounding you. Concentrate on improving yourself. Do not believe you are better than anyone else. Look only at others as a gauge to how you could improve yourself.
Don’t wait until you believe you’ve found your soulmate. You are not going to find them. Grandma enforced upon me the great concept of, “you get what you give”. This includes relationships.
The first step in achieving the best possible relationship is to be the best you can be. This means working hard, admit when you fuck up, learn from your mistakes and don’t stay in one place because it’s comfortable. Most importantly, be honest with yourself and others.. even if it means uneasy confrontation.
If you are truly the best you can be, or at least striving for the best, you feel happy. I mean truly happy. When you feel good about your actions, your happiness inspires others close to you work just as hard. Once you achieve happiness you learn it takes hard work to earn self respect.
Once self respect is earned, you will want the best for yourself. Are you seeing where Grandma is going with this? When you reach this level of self achievement, now you are ready to find your significant other. At this point, you will expect nothing less than you deserve. That means, finding someone who is just as committed to self growth as you are.
“Marriage is not for lazy people” — Sylvia Llewellyn
You have to work HARD to earn that level of “true” love. And once you earn it, you have to KEEP earning it. Everyday you need to push yourself and your partner to strive for better. If you stop, you WILL become unhappy.
Don’t let your stubborn pride ruin a relationship. Let yourself take criticism from your partner. Learn you are not always right. You will fuck up. As a team, communicate your feelings and overcome challenges together. Pass these behaviors to your children and their children. That’s what my Grandma did and I can’t begin to tell your how strong my family is.
My Grandma and Grandpa were married for over 50 years. He was a Fire Chief and she was a typist. They raised 3 boys together. Together they faced many good times and may hard times. But they faced life’s lessons as strong team, with as much love, hard work and patience as humanly possible.
After my Grandpa passed, I was concerned my Grandma would be lonely. I asked her a simple question and I will never forget her response.
Me — “Grandma, would you ever consider getting remarried”?
Sylvia — “Why would I”? (she chuckles) “I already had the best, Jordan. I had so much love, it will last me the rest of my lifetime”.
Now that is the true meaning of life. Real. Love.
3. Never say the dreaded phrase, “I’m bored”.
I was completely elated when I first heard the famous, “I’m Bored” quote by Louis C.K. Grandma has been shoving this anti-bored mentality into my brain since the day I was born. My cousin, sister and I spent the summers at my Grandparents house. She let us know early on we were NEVER to say the “word”. That word was bored.
I am not kidding you. Saying shit or damn, was more acceptable than,“i’m bored”, in Grandma’s house. I can clearly remember being ten years old, flipping through channels, complaining I was bored to my cousin. Big mistake. Grandma came storming into the room. How in the world she even heard me from the kitchen with the volume blaring, is something i’ll never understand. There she stood, mad as i’ve ever seen her, blocking the view of the T.V.
I always knew she hated the word bored, but I’d never said it in her house before. At home, I said it all the time. It just slipped out. Just blurted it, out of dumb habit.
I was screwed.
First thing she said was the common quote, “If you are bored, you must be a boring person”. Okay.. I guess?
She turned off the T.V. and told me to go outside and pick up sticks around the yard. I was extremely mad. I didn’t do anything wrong, I’d thought. All the other parents and grandparents I knew would never punish me just because I said I’m bored. I stomped my feet and slammed the door dramatically.
After sticks, was cleaning the pond. After the pond, we cleaned the garage. After the garage, it was time for dinner. So i’d thought…
No dinner for this girl. I got to clean everyone’s dishes, though.
Obviously, as a child I did not understand why complaining about your situation was such a bad thing. You are just expressing yourself, right? Wrong. It wasn’t necessarily the phrase, “I’m bored” that set her off, as it was just complaining about life in general.
As I grew older, Grandma further explained her frustration over complaints and whining. She was so adamant to raise her children and grandchildren to be honorable and strong. When you complain or whine you are only hurting yourself. You make yourself seem weak to the people around you. You are placing yourself in a helpless position. Eventually after enough complaining, you will subconsciously consider yourself weak as well.
She would have no weak soldiers under her reign.
4. Honor the loved ones you’ve lost in your life. Celebrate their Birthday with loved ones, even after they passed.
Use the day to cherish the life they lead and share fun and memorable stories. It will bring you closer to the ones you love.
April 28th was my Grandpa’s birthday. He was a great man. I mean it. I’m not saying this because he is my Grandpa. I am saying this because he was. He was so kind for such a large man. The definition of a gentle giant. You could hear his booming laugh a mile away. During his career as Fire Chief, he saved many lives. Grandma could not have been more proud of her husband. Every news paper clipping of her hero she saved. If you needed anything, Big Papa Lou was there instantly.
September 20th, 2004 Jerrold Llewellyn took his own life. He had been dying of cancer and he did not want to burden his family anymore. Emotionally or financially.
After the funeral we had a large party at the Amvets Post 49, celebrating the life of my Grandpa. Once again, Grandma and Grandpa Llewellyn were not big on feeling sorry for yourself.. So instead we celebrated the life of a great man. Friends an family gathered around telling hilarious and influential stories about their times with Grandpa. We honored his name and the life he lived.
After the funeral was over, a decision was made. Every year his birthday everyone would gather at the Amvets and drink his favorite drink. Unfortunately, he loved Whiskey Sours.
We share his stories and toast to the man who made us. Sometimes there are tears, but mostly laughs. During these moments, any stressful outside life distractions disappear. Our family is whittled down to our core, creating an indestructible bond I can’t explain, only feel.
We’ve come together for almost 14 years now to celebrate the life of my Grandpa. This year, Oct. 11th, will be the first year we celebrate the life of my Grandma. I can’t wait. I have so many stories.
5. Keep your old love letters, notes and artwork from the ones you love.
But be careful of nostalgia.
Grandma loved to keep any form of pure material identity of her loved ones. Letters, drawings, school projects, thank you notes. When dark days surrounded her, she found looking through her boxes of personal treasures helped her become stronger. Reading through old letters from friends and family reminded her who she was and where she came from. They grounded her. They made her feel empowered when she was feeling helpless.
I read a quote once that read, “memories are the architecture of our identity.” This quote has always stuck with me because it made me think of Grandma. She loved keeping memories and keepsakes around the house. She showed them off like medals, proud of the memories and life she had built. And every year she collected more, giving her a stronger sense of who she was.
I loved looking through old photos with Grandma. As I got older, I found sometimes looking through photos made me sad. This was a new feeling for me. I did not understand why I was feeling this way, so I confronted Grandma. At 15 years old, Grandma took the time to explain to me the concept of nostalgia. She explained, there are memories and then there is nostalgia.
In Greek, “nostalgia” means, “the pain from an old wound.” Don’t confuse nostalgia with memory, however. Nostalgia is a yearning for the happiness felt in a previous time of your life.
She said you have to be careful not to believe things used to be better than they seem. This can cause you to be sad or depressed. Too much nostalgia can cause a disruption between today and years past. This will cause your present to seem negative and cause your future to look scary and overwhelming.
Take my Grandma’s advice. Save some of your keepsakes but let them empower you! Let them remind you of who are you and inspire you to keep going forward to create new memories with loved ones new and old!
6. Learn to laugh at yourself and allow others to laugh at you.
Life is funny, people are funny, everything is confusing.. so instead of getting angry, learn to laugh a little.
Having a sense of humor is something I struggle with. As a realist, I find myself taking life too serious sometimes. However, Grandma had a wonderful sense of humor.
The ability to laugh at yourself is earned. It’s comes with years of struggle. When you are trying to constantly control a situation or life in general, you will fail. You will become frustrated, anxious and depressed. Laughing at yourself, is essentially acknowledging the struggle and telling yourself you are okay and you will continue to be okay. Everyone struggles and most of your struggles are smaller than you realize in contrast to life.
Learning to absorb failure in a positive light is one of the most important life lessons you will counter. Laughing at your failures, is accepting your failures and moving on.
Grandma suffered many challenging obstacles during her life. Yes, she had moments of weakness. Feeling despair. But she continued onward. Looking towards a brighter tomorrow. She kept fighting towards the light, taking one step forward, never looking back until she was out of the darkness. Looking back, she could laugh at her struggles. Because her struggles look so ridiculously tiny from her stance now. Her laughter came from confidence. Confidence that she can make it through any hardship.
When you develop that sense of humor, that ability to laugh at yourself.. you continue to laugh at yourself. You are confident that yes, you made a mistake.. but so what? That mistake does not define who you are. It just taught you something and that is a good thing.
7. If you want to look sexy, do it for yourself.
Introducing Queen Sylvia Llewellyn
Sylvia Llewellyn was definitely a girly-girl. This was a woman who loved to look good. She took great pride in her appearance. The most stressful part of her funeral planing wasn’t flowers, or scheduling during a blizzard… it was picking out her wardrobe and jewelry. In fact, the first person we called after her passing (besides family and close friends) was her hair dresser.
Grandma knew the importance of a woman’s beauty. She knew how influential looks can be and she used it to her advantage. She got up every morning and did her hair and makeup first thing. Because she was self-conscious? Hell no. So, she could show off. She embraced her beauty. She wanted everyone to see “what they were missin’.”
As years went by, wrinkles increased.. hair grayed and skin sagged. After Grandpa’s passing, I wondered how her beauty routine would be affected, now that she didn’t have a man to impress.
Not too long after his passing, she announced she wanted to get her eyebrows tattooed. What the hell? I knew she loved makeup but a permanent tattoo? Later that week, I asked her why she wanted to do this, if Grandpa wasn’t around.. Why did it matter at her old age?
Boy, did I get the “look” for that question.. (to you readers that don’t know what Sylvia’s legendary “look” is.. it’s basically as if her eyes shot daggers through your heart then twisted the knife a back and forth just for fun).
She made sure I knew, SHE was the one who looked in the mirror each day, not Grandpa. Also, she DID NOT care if any MAN or ANYONE for that matter, thought she was crazy for tattooing eyebrows on. She was doing this for HER, not anyone else.
I hadn’t realized she was doing this for herself this whole time. I just figured that generation wanted to impress their husbands.. Apparently, not. Sorry Grandma!
Not only did she continue to style her hair, makeup and wardrobe on a daily basis.. she lost weight. A lot of weight! Now that she had a lot of alone time without Grandpa, she decided to make a goal for herself. Get to her goal weight (which I will never know). She decided to join TOPS, is a charitable corporation based in Wisconsin. Members in chapters located worldwide, but the majority live in the United States or Canada.
Not only did she lose the weight, she won the national Queen title in her division. They even flew her to California to accept her award and meet her king! She was so proud of herself and so were we. If an elderly woman can fight to meet her goals so can the rest of us.
8. True friendships are equally important as family.
So treat them so.
As we grow older, people seem to forget how valuable friendships are. You get married, have children and suddenly your college best friend is now barely an acquaintance. They have kids, and you don’t even know all of their kid’s names.
Many times, people end friendships over pity reasons. You dwell over something wrong your friend did, but you forget all the things they did right. Having a true friend takes years to build. You have to invest many hours and work hard to create these long lasting relationships.
Whenever Grandma heard women saying their the man in their life was their, “Best Friend” she would cringe. She let all of her granddaughters know, you should never be best friends with your husband. He is your partner, not your best friend.
At least for women, best friends are there for you to vent about your partner. Get it all out before you say something damaging to your relationship with thus partner.
Grandma kept the same tight-knit group of girls around since high school. They went through many good times and bad times, never leaving each others sides. When life got busy, she MADE time for her friends. They scheduled a time out of each day to go on a walk together or have an phone conversation at the very least.
After 70 years of friendship, her best friend and her talked on the phone, evening between 7 and 9 pm, everyday until the day my Grandma died. Confiding and supporting each other until her last breath.
The best part is.. one of my grandma’s best friend’s son is now my one of my dad’s best friend’s, who’s son is one of my brother’s best friends. Confused? That’s three generations of Best Friends.. all because of my Grandma’s dedication to the women who had her back.
9. Put your damn phone away.
Remember when I said Grandma would give you the “look” earlier.. Well using your phone in front of her was the easiest way to achieve said look.
Even before Smart Phones, Grandma did not like the idea of my Razr sitting out while we were having conversation. Every time I received a text message, it would notify me and I would obviously look or respond back. no big deal, right? Grandma frowned and told me I wasn’t respecting her. I did as I was told and I kept it in my purse from there on.
As technology progressed, smart phones were everywhere. You could do anything at the touch of a device in your hands. I got my first smart phone and I was hooked. I couldn’t help myself. My eyes were glue to the screen constantly.
Initially, I didn’t realize I was damaging the relationships I had with the people in front of me. After rolling her eyes at just about everyone in our family, Grandma snapped. NO CELL PHONES. If you are planing to be in the same room as her, put your cell phones away. That or suffer the silent treatment for a couple months..
It wasn’t just the fact it is rude to half ass a real conversation, especially while you look up memes for no great reason.. Having a phone in your hand creates a wall between you and person in front of you. It is telling them, I am not giving you my full attention and I don’t care entirely what you have to say. Whether you mean it or not, that is the real message you are sending.
Smartphones were slowly destroying the family bond Grandma worked so hard to achieve. She would not have it. From that moment on, I’ve been extremely careful not to use my phone unless I am alone. There is no amount of likes or followers that can replace the bond with the people I love.
10. On your deathbed, all that matters is the love you gave and the people surrounding you.
I am not a religious person. But on the night of my Grandma’s death, I was. The day before my Grandma’s passing, I was packing my bags to travel up north from Dallas to Iowa. About a 14 hour drive, including rest stops. My best friend (Colleen) of 15 years was in Dallas and she planned to travel with my boyfriend (Matt) and I north to see our families.
As I started to pack and my cousin, Alissa calls me. As soon as she said my name, I knew. I knew something had happened to Grandma. Alissa and I have been tied together since birth. She is another sister to me. I know every tone of her voice. She begins to tell me through severe sobbing that Grandma had a massive stroke. My dad calls during the conversation. I answer. Dad is trying to be strong for me but his voice is shaking. Before he even tells me, I know she isn’t going to make it.
The doctor says she could pass in a matter of a couple minutes to a couple hours. I am not going to see her again. I’ll never hear her voice again. I’ll never get to touch her again.
I completely lost it. My heart broke into a million pieces. For this woman wasn’t just a regular Grandma. Not one of those Grandma’s you see on Holidays, or even once a month. She was my mother, inspiration, friend, protector.. she was my everything. There wasn’t one thing she didn’t know about me. I was as close to her as humanly possible.
I cried in Colleen’s lap until I could breathe again. Matt hurried home and held me tight.
My sister calls. Hearing her voice is bittersweet. I just want to be with her. She tells me the family would be going in the hospital room to say their goodbyes one by one. She puts me on FaceTime. It’s just me, Jenny and Grandma. It’s so hard to see her. She can’t speak. She can’t move. She can’t see. The doctors believe she may be able to hear. I have no idea what to say to a woman this remarkable. How do you wrap up 25 years of pure love and gratitude in a couple sentences?
All I can think of is to say, Thank you. Thank you for everything. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. I love you.
After the Skype call I feel dissatisfied. It wasn’t enough. I keep packing my bags and I am prepared to drive through the night. Matt and Colleen are behind any decision I make.
Dad tells me I need to be safe. Driving without sleep is too dangerous. She won’t be making it through the night anyways. Get some sleep and drive in the morning.
Four hours of restless sleep later, we hit the road. Grandma was still alive, there was a chance I could make it.
The drive wasn’t so bad. Colleen and Matt are making me laugh. Filing me with support. By the time we get back it is late in the evening. Iowa is snowing lightly. I miss Iowa. The snow looks beautiful and is dancing around us playfully. The cold hits my face and I smile. It stings but I missed it so much.
We reach Cedar Falls and for some divine reason, my Grandma is still holding on. Everyone is telling me she is waiting for me and I am starting to believe it as well.
With Matt and Colleen dropped off at home. My little brother, Nate and I race to the hospital. I am so happy to be next to him. He always brings be joy in any situation. I feel stronger with him near me. When we get to the hospital I see my dad and sister. I can’t help but smile. On the drive up, I was so nervous to see Grandma. But with my family now by my side I could feel my courage rising.
As we get closer, the rest of my family is waiting outside her room. I asked for a couple minutes alone.
I see her. She is breathing loudly with a low gurgling noise. The noise concerns me but my sister warned me beforehand.
She looks helpless. Much like a newborn infant. So fragile.
I lean in close. I throw my arms around her and lay my head on her chest. She doesn’t budge. I whispered, “It’s me Jordan..”. A single tear rolled down her cheek. She could hear.
Everyone gathers back in Grandma’s room. In this room is her 3 sons; Jay, Mike and Shawn. Jay’s wife Kim is also in the room. Her three Granddaughters; Alissa, Jenny and I. My little brother Nate, as well as Jenny and Alissa’s boyfriend are there also for support. Grandma’s beloved dog, Gizmo lays by her side. Gizmo never leaving an inch of her body. We hang out in the room, all exhausted but motivated by one another to keep strong and stay supportive.
As hours pass.. Kim, Adam and Cody head home for rest. Now it is just Grandma’s three boys, her Grandchildren and of course Gizmo. Her youngest boy Shawn, hadn’t slept in days. Utterly exhausted, he dozes off on the couch.
Everything is quiet. It is past 11 pm and the halls are still. Alissa and Jenny notice a change in her breathing. Everyone gathers around her. We wake up Shawn and he joins us. Not but seconds later, Gizmo starts to whine. He moves from her legs up to her chest and cries. Everyone starts to cry. She hasn’t passed yet, and there is no clear evidence she is about to leave us.. yet everyone just knew it was time. It was a moment i’ll never be able to describe. A truly divine moment in time.
She is gone.
We hold each other close, sobbing yet trying to comfort each other to the best of our abilities. As a family, we are simultaneously using all of Grandma’s lesson’s of life and love. I feel a sense of heightened unity i’ve never felt to that extent.
It was one of the most beautiful, serene moments i’ll ever experience. It is a feeling most will never experience. And I would have never experience that feeling, if she had never existed in our lives. Her love will never die. It will only be multiplied by generations to come.
That is what life is about. Love. Her greatest lesson of all.