La Dolce Vita: 5 Life Lessons From My Grandma
My grandma would have been 91 today. She raised me and taught me about life, and love, and did so through her words and example.
She passed away over 17 years ago. And by each passing year, I realize ever more what an incredible person she was, and her lessons and wisdom ring truer than true.
My Grandma’s life was, by any objective measure, a difficult one. Yet, her way of life left the world a better place and all of us who knew her positively impacted.
In the storms of life, through misfortune, difficult loses, and cursed sadness, to remain authentic, calm, and peaceful is the greatest art.
This was her.
An epitome of "la dolce vita"—a sweet life.
Even as life crumbled, many times over, people died, and suffering ensued, she remained steadfast in living a good life, and contributing to making the life of others better, too.
As you may imagine, lessons from someone so important to me, so wise, so humble, and so beautiful abound. But here are five that particularly resonate in this moment.
1. Audacious Love
This is the kind of love that knows no boundaries. Love that soothes, comforts, and inspires. Love that says, “Lean on me and take on the world.” My Grandma was a genuine example of that love. Her love for me, unconditional and constant as it were, has inspired much of my life. It has inspired me to give of myself, albeit often imperfectly, but to do so freely. It has also taught me to love myself and that I am worthy of love.
Could she have possibly given me a greater gift?
Could we possibly give anything more valuable than this to anyone in our life?
My Grandma lived in the same city for over 50 years. When she died, thousands remembered her as always having a smile on her face and a kind word for everyone. Through her kindness she changed the lives of those around her. Kindness takes so little, but makes an enormous difference. We all have reasons to be frustrated on any given day, and to “not feel like” being kind, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t make the effort. Indeed, kindness is the answer.
“Be kind with everyone,” she’d tell me often.
Grandma lost her mom at the age of 5, her dad at the age of 12, and spent most of World War II hiding in the caves of Podgorica, Montenegro’s capital city. She then lost a daughter, a 27-year-old son, a 22-year-old nephew, and lived through a civil war that threatened all of our lives. She had a lot to be upset about. No one would have blamed her if she had given up on life. Except, she never did. Instead of harboring a victim mentality, she welcomed her fate with poise and grace, till the very end. Never bitter and never lashing out at others; always humble, thoughtful, gentle, and graceful.
She understood that while we cannot control what happens to us, we can decide how we react. We can let fate destroy us, our behavior becoming unhinged, or, we can live gracefully even in the face of enormous pain and suffering. The choice is ours.
Don’t get me wrong; she was a “badass." But being a “badass” does not mean we should lose our poise, grace, or style.
A product of her generation, my grandma spent her life as a homemaker—supporting my grandfather, their children and grandchildren, his siblings, her five sisters and a brother, hundreds of friends and neighbors, and many others throughout her life. Wherever there was a need, she was there. Fascinatingly, she loved doing it all. Her deeds were not a reflection of a “should do that” mentality, but her deep commitment to giving freely and unconditionally, to serving the world and those around her.
During her life, and after, I heard many stories of her good deeds to relatives, friends, neighbors, and strangers alike; she was the favorite neighbor, the most beloved aunt, and the generous benefactor to many.
One of the most touching moments, and proud moments, was when our postman, a man in his 60s, heard that she had passed away.
He wept like a baby.
My Grandma’s devotion to her family was unequivocal and profound. Growing up, I didn’t understand this, but her family went beyond the blood-relations. Also, there was no pride or ego, and her love could be seen in the biggest and the smallest of actions. I’ll always remember her warming up my socks in the morning, taking me to the seaside, playing cards—and letting me win, a lot!—or counting the steps, so that I would eat (one step, one bite).
Never once did I, or anyone else, feel like a burden. She gave selflessly, freely, unconditionally, and always.
She was a Mother to us all.
Writing about someone so important is tough.
Learning about someone so remarkable can feel intimidating.
Could we ever be anything like her?
I can only wish to be a fraction of a person she was.
But I try. Ever day.
I also get to share her story—and her wisdom—in hopes of inspiring and, perhaps, motivating others to believe in and work for goodness.
Goodness is possible.
I hope this story inspires you to choose sweetness, over bitterness, and to not let the world harden you, but stay sweet, joyful, and hopeful.
Before she died, Grandma gave me a ring ... her wedding band, which had been in the family for generations. Hours before she died, she squeezed my hand. I feel that squeeze to this day. And I hold the ring as a symbol of her love; a bond between the two of us.
Also, a reminder that how we live, and how sweetly we live, as my Grandma has shown, is not a matter of circumstance but of choice.