My grandma passed away last week. She was 90 years old, and until very recently mostly healthy and extremely sharp minded. She was diagnosed with cancer some 2 months ago and the decline was swift and painful.
Putting aside the pain and the longings, I got to thinking about what my beloved Grandma taught me about life, and which of these lessons can be applied to Owntrepreneurship. We’ll, taught is not the right word. She never “Told” me or “taught” me anything, but by observing her life and her behavior I’ve learned many important lessons about what’s really important in life:
- Resiliency- we tend to forget this, but Europeans living through the first half of the 20th century, and especially Jews, have had much harder lives than we will ever have and had to overcome many obstacles that later generations don’t have to face- like war, immigration and economic crises.
My Grandma was born in Sambur- then Galicia, Part of Poland (today in the Ukraine), immigrated to Argentina when she was 10 with her family. She started elementary school in Rosario without knowing a single word in Spanish, but quickly overcame this obstacle and led a happy lives in the thriving local Jewish community. She married my Grandfather, a young doctor and had her first daughter, and then decided to immigrate to Israel. Arriving in Israel in the 50s must have been a big shock- made worst by the fact they settled in a Kibutz (a communal settlements), living in tents and sheds and forgoing all luxury of middle-high society she enjoyed in Argentina. She was a trained optometrist, but that was not a required profession at the new settlement, so she worked whenever she was needed- at the communal kitchen, tending babies and finally settled on a job as a seamstress, where she worked for many many years, mending the clothes of dozens. Since my grandfather was a doctor who worked travelled often she was also tasked with raising my mother and her younger brother. And yet, through all the hardship she remained optimistic, and adjusted quickly to the new, oftentimes worse situation. Perhaps that was the trait of many people living in harder times (I’m guessing one might even call her lucky- had her parents not left Poland the entire family would likely have perished in the holocaust), but to this is one thing I will always admire about her- the ability to adjust, bounce back and keep a smile on the face while doing so.
- Ability to re-invent (or pivot)- having been the “Doctor’s wife” for most of her life, when my Grandfather died at 68, she was left with a big hole in her life. But she kept going and re-invented herself as the ultimate grandma. She was the driving force behind our family and always made sure we were together on holiday and family occasions. She became more independent and started to travel the world, go to concerts, movies and shows and never had a dull moment until her recent decline. Even a broken hip in recent years did not hold her back. She was truly another person, no more the shy, appeasing, small women, but a strong, appointed and fun loving.
- The power of a supportive network – research shows that one of the crucial elements in longevity is the existence of an embracing community. My Grandmother had just that- a group of friends who were together from their 20’s and stayed together through good and bad, living in a small, protected community. Several of her close friends attended her funeral – all about her same age (90). The ability to create and maintain such a network is crucial in achieving long and happy life. But her network was not limited to her friends- she also cultivated an extended family-like network, of many, many “adopted” children she took care of when they arrived at a young age to the kibbutz (as a result of Israel facing many immigration waves in the 50’s, many kids from large families were sent to more established families since their parents were unable to support them having just arrived in a foreign country with no job or knowledge of the language). These kids grew up, had kids and grandkids and they all referred to her as “Grandma”. Until her very last days she would remember who was doing what, where everyone was living and even kept a small notepad with names, addresses and phone numbers, just in case she would forget someone’s contact details. This large supportive network was evident in her last days when people from all over the country came to pay her a last visit, and the many people who came to her funeral.
- The currency of Love- my Grandmother was never rich. Whatever she had, she would always give away, and what she couldn’t in terms of money or physical means, she passed on in the form of the most powerful currency available. That of love. And people loved her back, and respected her for it. By always helping others and being truly empathic, she was able to create such a powerful following, of people who would gladly help her, should she ever ask (she almost never asked anything).
I loved my grandma dearly and already miss her. But thinking about what I’ve learned from her gives me comfort, and also serves as a reminder- she would not want me to feel sad or sorry after her demise, but she did wanted me to apply the lessons I’ve learned in my life, and help other just like she did.