10 Life Lessons I Learned From My Grandmother

1. Never let another person dictate how you feel

I remember several occasions when my grandmother, Nanny, was spoken to abruptly and harshly. Raised voices, undeserved criticism and mean words intended to hurt were flung at her, a scenario which would reduce many others to tears — but not Nanny. She would brush it off, smile and then offer the other party a cup of tea. She taught me that your feelings are yours and it is your choice whether to allow others to create or change them, so simply choose not to.

2. It is always a good time to have a good time

I can’t recall a point in time where I was ever around Nanny and not smiling. In 15 years of living under the same roof and countless interactions since, I have never had a frown on my face because of her. More than happiness though, she was just so much fun to be with. Whether it was dancing in the aisles at an Elvis Presley impersonator concert, checking out cute guys or going for a musical, Nanny proved to me that with the right company and the right attitude, everything is fun. I’ll miss her cheeky smile when she knew she was up to her mischief, but I will continue to keep her legacy alive by trying to have as much fun with others as I did with her and endeavor to be that much fun to be around too.

3. Never underestimate the impact of a small gesture

It was 2009 and I was in a dark, dark place. I was hospitalized and having a particularly rough time. I remember the nurse coming in and giving me a cupcake from Millie’s, my absolute favorite. She had told me that my grandmother had come to give it to me and so I asked her where my grandmother was so that I could thank her. After all, the hospital was an hour and a half by train from her house and at that point, Nanny walked with a cane. It was a huge effort for her to come all the way to see me. Informing me that she had left, I called Nanny.

“Nanny, where are you?”

“I’m on my way home dear. I came to drop off your favorite cupcake because your dad told me that you weren’t doing well. I left because I didn’t want to disturb you. I hope you feel better soon.”

Needless to say, with every bite of that cupcake I felt better and that one act of kindness is one of my most precious of many lovely memories that I have of Nanny.

4. A simple phone call is all it takes to show someone you care

There’s nothing worse than being wrapped up in a warm duvet in a cozy bed when you’re sick and then having to jump up and run downstairs to answer the phone call before it goes to voice mail. Unless, of course, the phone call is from Nanny.

“Hello darling, your dad told me you’ve got a cold. I was just calling to see how you are doing.”


“Hello Mariya, your dad told me that you didn’t sleep too well, I just wanted to make sure you are okay.”

Every single time I was sick, without fail, I would get a phone call. Every time I will be sick, I’ll hear that phone call in my head and remember the healing feeling of knowing that someone cares that much for you, knowing that she always will.

5. Make the most of life

Nanny’s father, my great-grandfather, Albert, fought for England in both wars. During the Great War his knee was hit by shrapnel resulting in him having a limp. In the second, nerve gas left him with a chronic cough for the remainder of his life. Nanny was 9 when the war ended and she would often tell me about how she was sent to the countryside during the war to keep her safe. I believe that witnessing the war gave Nanny an appreciation of life that she carried with her and lived by for the remainder of her time here. Always looking on the bright side, enjoying each moment, pampering herself and selflessly devoting herself to her loved ones is how I will always remember her and how I aspire to live. There was a silver lining in every cloud for her and whenever I would get upset, she would tell me to “never mind. You can’t go back and change the past.” She would just move on, forgive, forget and be happy.

Along with life, Nanny had a refreshing outlook on death. “When I’m gone Mariya, I’m going to come back and haunt you. I’ll flicker all the lights and scare you!” After she passed away, the lights in the house flickered daily for over a week. I smiled and said “Hello Nanny.”

A couple of Christmases ago Nanny gave me a pendant with a beautiful poem on it. I read it and said “Nanny, you’re not dead yet!” Upon which, my mother scolded me. Now, I’m going to make a plaque for her grave with them poem that she gave me and I wear the necklace all the time.

It reads:

“Those we love don’t go away,
They walk beside us every day.
Unseen, unheard, but always near,
Still loved, still missed and always dear.”

6. Always take pride in your appearance

I look at a lot of my peers and their relationships with their grandmothers and I realize just how incredibly lucky I am to have had the relationship with Nanny that I did have. While other grandmothers had grey hair for years, my Nanny was experimenting with her hair color. Red, light brown, auburn, blonde, Nanny was always up for a change. We had mani-pedis together, haircuts, shopping trips…I felt like I was with my best friend and not my grandmother, but then Nanny filled both of those roles. Her hair was always done, her nails were always painted and she always had her rouge and red lipstick on. She was confident and beautiful, up until her last breath and beyond.

7. Leave voice mails

Since caller ID, voicemail have become a thing of the past.

When I came home the day that Nanny passed away, there were new messages on the machine. People had heard and were calling to give their condolences. 38 messages, some old and some new. An alert told us that there was only 2 minutes of recording time left and we would have to delete some of the messages, after all, we were sure many more people would call and they did.

Message after message was from Nanny.

“Hello, just calling to see how you are.”

“Hello Mariya, can you call me back please dear? Thank you.”

“It’s nice to hear Mariya’s voice on the machine, miss her, love her heart.”

And my ultimate favorite:

“Hello. Guess who?!”

It’s so comforting to know that I have Nanny’s voice recorded to keep forever and I can listen to her whenever I want. Each message reflects her personality, caring, kind, thoughtful, funny, mischievous…and each time I hear it, I feel like I’m talking to her again. So from now on, no more simple missed calls, I’m going to leave a message.

8. Pets enrich your life

Nanny loved cats and surprise surprise, so do I. We grew up with Leo and then Tommy, the former a ginger cat and the latter a black and white cat. I have so many fond memories with them, petting them and playing with them. I resolved a long time ago to have a cat when I get my own house and have my own children, so that they too can learn how comforting and fun a pet can be. Both of our next door neighbor have cats and every time I pet them, I remember my childhood and my many memories with Nanny’s cats.

9. There’s nothing better than the written word

I remember my dad coming home one day and telling me that Nanny had given a card to me. That’s odd, I thought. It wasn’t my birthday or Christmas, the two occasions when I would, without fail, receive a card from Nanny. Perplexed, I opened the card.

“Dear Mariya,
I just wanted to tell you that I love you and that I’m always here for you. I hope you have a happy life and that all your dreams come true.
Lots of hugs and kisses,
Nanny xxx”

All these years later, I still have this card in my memory box.

10. Life is sweet

At the end of each meal, Nanny would say “What’s for sweet?” No meal could go without dessert. The last time I saw Nanny, a week before she passed, my brother and I had taken her out for lunch.

“Where do you want to go for lunch Nanny?”

“That place with the good sweets!”

My brother tried, in vain, to convince her otherwise. The restaurant was 10 minutes from our house and half an hour from Nanny. It meant I had to drive all the way back to the restaurant, then all the way back to drop Nanny and go all the way back home again…an extra hour of driving. Nanny was adamant — she wanted that dessert!

We ordered Nanny’s usual, a bun-less lamb burger and we had our burgers.

“I can’t eat any more”, Nanny said half way through her lamb.

My brother and I finished eating, looked at each other and gave each other that mischievous grin that we both learnt from Nanny.

“Ok, let’s go home Nanny. If we leave now we can beat traffic, otherwise we’ll hit rush hour.”

“But what about dessert?”

“Nanny, you said you’re full.”

With her finger, Nanny outlined a little circle on her belly and said “I left a little space for dessert, right there!”

Nanny finished a sundae meant to be shared by 2–3 people so I think the space she saved wasn’t quite as little as she claimed it was.

My brother and I have both inherited her sweet tooth, much to the dismay of our future cardiologists I’m sure. However, Nanny taught us to always keep space for the things that you love!

Originally published at www.mariyaali.com on April 13, 2015.

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