Thursday, December 26, 2013

The Wisdom of Our Elders: 5 Lessons That I've Learned

I love listening to the elderly. I believe there is so much we can learn by just spending time with them.

Over the past year, my family and I have spent every Saturday morning enjoying breakfast with my 93 year old grandfather (my mother's father). He is still extremely healthy and independent. This Christmas I also spent time with my 90 year old grandmother (my father's mother). She's lived alone for many years, and is voraciously independent. I admire both of my grandparents, because in their 90's they are still vibrant and strong. The following is a few of the lessons I've learned from them.

Lesson One: They both have a strong commitment to God, and put their faith as a top priority. My grandparents still go to church every week. My grandfather still goes to a weekly Bible study. My grandmother told me this week, "I know the one Sunday I wake up and think, 'Oh, it's just too hard. I don't want to go.' That is the day it will all be over. You've got to get up and keep moving. The day you stop is the day it's all over." How many of us already think that? How easy is it for any of us to get lazy, and keep God from being our central focus.

Lesson Two: They always put family first, even if it meant sacrificing their own desires or needs. Throughout their lives, my grandparents made choices so their families stayed together. It doesn't mean that either spouse was always happy about the decisions, but they did the hard work, and it always worked out. Also, they both took care of their spouses who both needed great care until they passed on. Neither one of them allowed their spouses to be placed in a retirement home. I admire them for their demonstrations of love and commitment even when it wasn't easy.

Lesson Three: They never slow down. Both of my grandparents have always been known as "busy bees". After my grandfather retired as an airline pilot, he went straight into a second career as a cattle farmer. In his sixties, he was out in the pasture for hours everyday. He didn't sit around doing crossword puzzles. He was active. My grandmother is still known for her impeccable house keeping skills. My father says that he always remembers her with a dust rag in her hand hopping around the house cleaning with fury. Today, she continues to walk straight as an arrow, full of vibrant energy.

Lesson Four: They care about what they eat. My grandfather drinks a lot of water. He hates soda, and will offer great insights into how bad it is for you. He's always been pretty aware of his sugar intake more than anything. He doesn't worry about the fat count as much as the sugar count. On the other hand, my grandmother loves sugar, but she stays away from soda and alcohol. All in all, they've always eaten healthy meals with plenty of fresh veggies. My grandmother still plants her own garden, and eats her own vegetables.

Lesson Five: They are mentally strong and face their fears. My grandfather is a very scheduled routine person. Every Saturday, he took my grandmother to the local Waffle House for breakfast. My grandmother took her last breathe one Saturday morning over breakfast. The very next Saturday, my grandfather returned to the restaurant alone. I believe he did this as a test of will power. He had to keep going.

My grandmother continues to live on the tobacco farm that belonged to my great grandfather in North Carolina. She lives alone on the farm. She is not afraid. She'll say, "I just pray for God to protect me when I go to sleep at night, and I don't worry about it."

In closing, I would encourage anyone to speak with a relative or neighbor who has lived to their 90th year. Both of my grandparents have lived through trials as well as joys. But, they keep going strong. What a great example for all of us!

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