15 Life Lessons only my Grandma Kaye could have taught me

IMG_3153The passing of someone you care for and love unconditionally will always be difficult. And, saying goodbye to my Grandma hasn’t been easy. But, what gives me the most comfort is not only having a bigger perspective of the life and what’s after death, but reminiscing on our relationship together and the moments we were able to share.

We had an unusually close relationship for a grandson and grandmother (I am not the only one in my family that she was exceptionally close to either). We were always able to share a laugh together no matter the occasion, but also able to connect on a deeper level.

We’d exchange gifts and cards that could sometimes be deemed inappropriate, but most of the time it really didn’t matter what the gift was, it always came from the heart. This was the only reason I was EVER able to coax her into wearing a Wrestling Championship Belt, two cat shirts and numerous other odd but endearing gifts. And, she always gave me pickles or band-aids as a gift.

Though we were always able to find MANY times to laugh and joke around, we also (shockingly) had a serious side. We would often talk about the current events and try to solve the problems of the world over cheese and pickles. We loved to call these “sermons” because our conversations were always uplifting.

There really are countless, countless memories, stories and the such that I could share. And, that I want to share! But, I think more than anything I want to you to also understand how extraordinary my Grandma was, not just in my life, but any one who came into contact with her.

I thought I would share 15 lessons I learned from my Grandma. I am afraid even 15 lessons won’t be enough, but for a blog post 15 lessons are pushing the limits of keeping your attention.

Soooooo …without further adieu here’s my list …

LESSON #1: “You gotta do what you gotta do, when you gotta do it”

My Grandma said this a lot and for very good reason. She was ALWAYS generous with her time when family needed assistance. She showed this a lot in cooking. If she wasn’t cooking Hamburger Helper for my aunt and her family or avgolemeno when a cold or illness swept through a family she was also making Jell-O, banana bread or muffins just “because.”

She never complained when she cooked even though I know as she aged it got somewhat labor-some for her. But, she always would repeat to herself, “you gotta do what you gotta do, when you gotta do it.” I am not sure where she picked it up, but I’ve tried to take it to heart.

There are many things in life that may inconvenient, but when you are in a situation where you can help someone who needs your help … you do it. You find the time for it and you do what you need to do. But, more importantly you do it with a smile and a good attitude. My Grandma was a pro at at and I hope to emulate her throughout my life.

LESSON #2: Being a good Christian has no limits.

One thing that my Grandparents taught my Dad and aunts was tolerance. Especially, religious and cultural tolerance. My grandparents knew very first hand what that meant, especially my Grandma who was Greek Orthodox living here in Utah. She would always remind me that we are all on the same path home and we need to respect that and encourage ALL along the way.

LESSON #3: Look for others’ strengths and build them up.

My Grandma was and is one of my biggest fans. She has ALWAYS loved my writing and always looked forward to receiving birthday and Christmas cards that resembled novels more than they did a card. She’s always told me that I have a gift to write from the heart and communicate how I feel to other people.

She always encouraged me to write and one of the last things she said to me audibly was, “you keep writing Bitty Buddy (one of many nicknames from her) or I’ll beat you up (always a valid threat).” She has always encouraged to write and I am saddened that I haven’t completed my book before her passing. Because, I really, the reason I write and blog is because she always encouraged me.

And, I know that I am not the only one she encouraged along the way. She’s mentored neighborhood kids, been pen pals with family around the country and even in Greece. She always, always, always looked to their strengths and built them up.


LESSON #4: We are all children of God.

One story that my Grandma would relate to me a lot was the first time she interacted with blacks. Growing up mainly in Helper and Salt Lake City she didn’t interact much with people of color, because there just weren’t a lot around. It didn’t mean that she avoided them, she just never really interacted with much diversity.

But, she talked often talked about working with ladies from an Ogden church who were black. She admits she went into opportunity apprehensive, because she didn’t know what to expect. But, she always told me that once we started all preparing a meal, talking and laughing it erased all doubts I had that they were different from her.

She taught me that, that experience showed to her that we are ALL children of God and looks, culture and differences had nothing to do with how we should treat each other.

LESSON #5: Don’t be a “chickenshit”

My Grandma called me a “chickenshit” quite a bit. I think … it was out of love? I think? Her brother Bill called her a chickenshit as a kid and I guess that never left her vocabulary? She was a kid who didn’t take many risks which would frustrate her brothers, especially when they would find shortcuts to school through the woods, train tracks or makeshift bridges. Whenever she balked, she was automatically called a chickenshit by her brother Bill.

Whenever she relied that story about her and Bill, she always looked me in the eyes and said, “don’t be a chickenshit take risks”

Duly noted Grandma.

LESSON #6: “You can’t win them all!”

I always admired my Grandma’s attitude when things didn’t work out the way they were planned. Usually she’d shrug her shoulders and say, “well, you can’t win them all!”

One story that I will ALWAYS remember that exhibits this belief was when I ran for student body office while at Salt Lake Community College. I felt confident that I was going to win. I was fairly popular within student government and I was involved in a number of organizations on campus. And, my campaigning felt strong.

When the election results were announced … I didn’t win. It was crushing for me. This was something I really wanted to do and knew I would be good at. Feeling dejected I called my family to tell them of the results, sympathies were made and I think my Mom even bought me a sympathy cake from Costco.

But, when I called my Grandma to tell her, her response still cracks me up to this day. She bluntly said, “Well, you think you had a shitty day? At least you didn’t get a colonoscopy today!? So who had the worst day?”

It’s all about perspective.

Life isn’t about the triumphs or victories, it’s also about the lessons that we learn in defeat. It’s about always keeping the perspective that things will work out in the … dare I say? … end.

LESSON #7: We all have belly buttons so why do we all have to go around showing them off?

During our MANY lunch dates one common theme that would come up is belly buttons. Yes, belly buttons. More often then not our lunch dates consisted of us sitting and commenting on the news or some other program on TV. But, no matter what the topic was, we’d always somehow come to the topic of women showing off their belly buttons.

Of course this was my Grandma’s way of expressing her disgust on the state of modesty in society. This disgust was usually targeted towards Britney Spears or Christina Aguilar and she couldn’t understand WHY the focus was on their bodies and not their talents.

And, as much as I tried to explain to her it’s because sex sells in today’s society, she wouldn’t have none of that. And, while she might have seemed a TAD naive compared to today’s “standards,” I see the wisdom in her thinking.

We do live in a society that oversells sex. Sensuality is pervasive more than ever. The focus is hardly on talent or skill unless that individual meets a predetermined “standard” of appeal. I could go on and on and on (just like my Grandma could) why this “standard” doesn’t make sense.

But, my Grandma always acknowledged and loved talent. She never missed a Lawrence Welk variety show and loved any good music that reminded her of my Grandpa or her younger years.

I’ve tried to emulate that belief and standard to what I watch, listen and read. Talent is talent and a someone with a persuasive belly button probably is a smoke screen.

LESSON #8: Friendship trumps any family relational connection.

My Grandma was one of the best friends. Like, legitimately, one of my best friends. I could come to her with anything good or bad and she’d offer support or sage advice. We spent many afternoons together talking over cheese, pickles and orange Jell-O.

We would talk about our struggles, triumphs or silly complaints. No matter the matter of the conversation somehow modesty always got into the conversation. She never could understand why women were so fascinated showing off their belly buttons. The aim for this was usually directed towards Britney Spears and it always made me laugh, now to the point that whenever I see a woman’s belly button I’ll always have my Grandma etched in my mind questioning her choice of attire.

But, those times we spent really bonded us. And, she would often comment how sad she felt that other ladies she knew could care less about their grandchildren. Like, they were too good for them.

My Grandma no matter how often she saw them ALWAYS sent a card for birthdays if not with some candy. That connection was important to her and she always wanted to let her family know she cared about them not just as a mother or grandmother, but as a friend as well.

LESSON #9: Forgiveness is mandatory.

When I was a kid and staying at my Grandma’s overnight, I had said something to her that actually quite rude. I can’t remember exactly what I said, but I remember I got in trouble with my Grandpa and parents for what I said.

I was told by my Mom that I needed to apologize to Grandma for what I said, so when she came over to our house for a family party I went outside to great her in the driveway to deliver my apology. After apologizing to her, her reaction stunned me. She simply said to me, “Josh, I don’t know what you’re talking about. I forgave you already.”

That lesson and words have stuck with me ever since. It taught me that if someone gives offense we don’t need or should wait until they apologize to us. We should let it go and forgive them. If they don’t forgive that’s up to them and on their own conscious.

I’ve tried to emulate that lesson and I can tell you, it is one of the simplest ways we can gain peace in our lives.

LESSON #10: Happiness is acknowledging ALL emotions.

I hardly ever saw my Grandma cry. But, I know she did. The same can be said about anger, disappointment, loneliness, etc., etc. I know because she always told me it was important to acknowledge your emotions.

I remember tears coming to her after learning of my aunt’s passing and my Mom’s cancer diagnosis. But, additionally, I know simple things that reminded her of my Grandpa could bring her to tears as well.

Being Greek she also had that Greek temper and she knew it. But, she learned how to control it and express those feelings in other ways or other places. I know her Christian faith helped temper a lot of that and she even acknowledged that.

My Grandma was always a great example for expressing your feelings in the moment. She wasn’t afraid to cry, she wasn’t afraid to laugh, she wasn’t afraid to smile, to love and to tell you what was on her mind. And, I feel that was one of the keys to her living a long and productive life.

LESSON #11: What’s life without having humor?

I blame my Grandma for my sense of humor. Her sense of humor was never sarcastic or demeaning, she just found humor in the everyday mundane things in life. Plus, she always loved putting a smile on other’s face. Something we both fed off of from each other. Once we got rolling if there were other in the room that’d look at us both like we were complete nuts.

Our birthday cards held the same kind of humor. We would exchange cards that usually contained some sort of mooning. Yes, that kind of mooning. That would always provide the humor, but each card was always heartfelt and usually contained some sort of essay for the other person. If we didn’t live 20 feet away I am sure we would have both been faithful pen pals. We never missed an opportunity to express how we felt about each other audibly or in writing.

My siblings and cousins can attest to other humorous things my Grandma would do. She had an affinity for flipping people off. She hardly ever did it in anger. In fact, I don’t think she did it out of anger at all? She just thought it was funny. And, for the recipient of one of her middle digit salutes … it usually was. And, if you’re wondering … yes, I will reminisce fondly of the last time she flipped me off like the last time she told me she loved me.

Somebody with her sense of humor is re irreplaceable and will be missed.

LESSON #12: Small actions can make big impacts.

If my Grandma to do something … anything … to make another person’s life easier or better, she did it. Whether it was making banana bread, soup or her famous pork and beans “just because” or buying a candy bar, package of cookies or a magazine from the store for someone on her mind she always did the small things for those she felt impressed needed to know they were loved.

I’ve tried to be cognizant of the little things as well. Because, I’ve seen how simple thoughtful gifts or recognition can change one’s day. As my Grandma would sometimes say to me, “some people just need to know they’re loved.”

I hope I can live up to that example she set.

LESSON #13: Be proud of who you are and share it with others!

When I was a kid both my Grandma and Grandpa were always willing and wanting to share their passions with not just us grandkids, but our school classes as well. I remember numerous times both of them coming to my class to share something either about my Grandpa’s rock and art collection or about the Greek culture. And, if it was on the Greek culture my Grandma would ALWAYS make her Greek Wedding cookies to share with the class.

My Grandma instilled with all of us kids the love for Greece and our heritage. She spoke often about her parents and their struggles to assimilate in this new country. She talked fondly of her time spent in Greece as a child with her family and numerous cousins. She always talked in detail of traditions the family and the church had. And, being the curious kid I was, I always loved prying for more information.

She loved sharing her passion about Greece and it really has rubbed off on us kids. We all love attending the Greek Fest here in SLC, we have a love for any Greek food (but then again who doesn’t when each dish contains a stick of butter each) and we love discovering the stories that shape the personalities and character of the loved ones we haven’t met.

It’s because of this love of sharing her passions with others, that I want to do the same. This is one reason why I am so open and willing to share my story with others. Life and experiences are meant to be shared, because you never know who can or will benefit from it. I hope I will always be that open and willing to share my life with others like she was.

Because it does make a difference.

LESSON #14: Challenge your comfort zone

My Grandma did a lot of things that challenged her comfort zone. And, it was never easy for her, because she was very much a creature of habit. But, she understood the need for change and embraced it. After my Grandpa died she lived alone in the family home for 9 years before moving in with our family. The family helped her out with the house and upkeep, but she took on a lot of new responsibilities she was unfamiliar with and somewhat apprehensive to do.

But, she did it anyways.

When she moved in with our family it took a lot of getting used to again for her. She hadn’t had children under the same roof in over 30 years and it was an adjustment for her. But, she embraced it and loved it.

She often talked about these challenges, especially when she downsized and move in with us. But, she would always turn it into a lesson, because she would tell me. If I can do hard things like this, anyone can. This belief was a HUGE example for me to start my weight-loss and running journey. I knew if I did it and put in the hard work, I could do hard things too. And, I proved the formula works!

LESSON #15: Never forget to say I love you to those that mean the world to you.

One thing my Grandma and I never forgot to do each night (usually mid-afternoon, because she’d go to bed at 6pm in the winter) before she we went to bed was to say, “I love you.” Every time without fail. Sometimes even in the middle of the day we would express that love to each other just going into the next room.

But, one thing that she would say more often than not and in a lot of letters she wrote to me … “Always remember Josher, you are loved … always have, always will.”

It’s that same love I will always feel towards my Grandma, because it is an unconditional love.




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