I was back home in Pennsylvania for the day yesterday, to celebrate the life of a phenomenal 105 year old woman - my Great Gram. Yep, that's no typo. In fact, my Gram was only one month from her 106th birthday when she passed away last week. And although it was a somber day, Gram really lived a life fuller than many of us can imagine. That picture above was taken about 10 years ago, when I went to visit her for the summer at her home in Cape May, NJ where she lived on her own until she was 101 years old!
If I could pick one word to sum up my Gram it would be this - Independent. Her husband passed away in 1975, so she lived the last 30 years of her life alone, in her cute little home by the shore in New Jersey. She was the kind of person who didn't like asking for help. She didn't really believe in going to the doctor, or taking medication. Heck, I don't think I ever even saw her take an aspirin! She believed in home cooked meals, and doing for yourself as much as possible. She also had an optimistic, easy going attitude; nothing seemed to phase her - one of the many keys, I believe, to her longevity.
I took some trips to Cape May in the summers after I graduated college (circa 2001-2003) to visit my Gram, who was 95 years old at the time. I remember her cooking delicious meals for us during our stay, and she loved when we took her to the casinos in Atlantic City! She also came to the beach with us in the evenings and enjoyed walking and sightseeing, telling us about her seaside town. I will hold those memories in my heart forever.
The minister who delivered her memorial yesterday gave a wonderful speech about her life, highlighting some of the events Gram had lived through, and it was mind-blowing. Here are just a few of things my Gram, who was born in 1907, got to experience first hand:
- The sinking of the Titanic in 1912
- World War I in 1914
- Women getting the vote in 1920
- The Great Depression in 1929
- World War II in 1939
- Rosa Parks refusing to give up her seat in 1955
- Martin Luther King's 'I Have a Dream Speech' in 1963
- The assassination of JFK in 1963
- The Beatles' invasion of America in 1964
- The first man walking on the moon in 1969
- Watergate in 1972
- The explosion of the Challenger in 1986
- The Gulf War in 1991
- The tragedy of September 11, 2001
- The election of the first African American president in 2008
When you lay it all out there, it's amazing how much one human being has seen in her lifetime.
Gram came from a big family; she was one of eight children, all of whom lived into their 90's (except for one of her brothers who died during the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic). Not only did Gram live to see her great-grandchildren grow and thrive, but she also lived to see 9 great-great-grandchildren! When she broke her hip at 101 years old, and was forced to give up her independence, I know it took a toll on her spirit. But, as I was walking out of the cemetery yesterday, a beautiful yellow butterfly flew right past me, and landed on her casket. I knew in an instant it was my Gram, happy once again to have her 'wings' and be on her own! I am sure she is loving the new spring in her step up there :)
I can only hope to live a life as full as she did - and with the genes in our family, perhaps I will!
Here's to you Gram...