on an 86th birthday, or how to live a full life (part 1)

My grandma celebrated her birthday last week. She’s 86 and that alone ought to impress.

Our families impact us, both for better and worse; my grandmas both impacted me for better.

This grandma is my dad’s mom; my mom’s mom is no longer with us and is probably bowling with the angels in Heaven right now. Both grandmas share a birthday, coincidentally.

Both grandmas are treasures, and I’ve learned much from their legacies. Both timelessly beautiful, inside and out. Both inspire me.

From Grandma Koci, I’ve learned much.

Send a thank-you note.

Sometimes reluctantly and sometimes with excitement, I send them on and off. My grandma never forgets them. Thank-you notes are part of manners, she taught me. Part of love and part of relationship-building. A way to say you are great and thanks for being that way. Only today do I begin to fully grasp why these notes matter.


Many grandmas are bling-y characters, right? But my grandma is bling at its most tasteful. The woman is gorgeous on her own, and yet she always seizes the opportunity to dress so well. Had fashion blogs been a thing 60 years ago, she would have had one. At every occasion, she rocks the accessories: a brooch, cocktail ring, statement necklace, earrings. She’s a lady in the truest sense, classy beyond compare.

Stick with it.

My grandma was never a woman at a loss for words. She was delightfully chatty and opinionated and conversationally fantastic, until she lost her voice. No known cause, but her voice box no longer cooperates. The words she does utter are labored and scratchy. But her spirit is vivid and present and she’s lost her speech but not her voice. She’s always said she’s 39, for years. Every birthday her 39th. Not in order to deny age, but in order to celebrate youth. With much strength, she has already endured hip replacements and breast cancer and the general aches and pains that come with growing old. But she’s sticking with it. God love her, she’s sticking with it. 

Stay romantic.

When she still conversed freely, she habitually and adorably referred to her husband as “my boyfriend.” To me, to him, to anyone who’d listen. He’d take her on dates and she’d delight in this romantic, gentleman-and-lady tradition. She’d dress up and revel in her boyfriend treating her for the evening. They’d have a drink and see a movie or a play or eat dinner, sometimes alone and sometimes with friends. Simple and important and worth imitating.

Celebrate the endeavors of those you love.

My grandma keeps her home immaculate, almost incomparably so. And in the corner of her kitchen is a magazine rack filled with only the most recent issues of newspapers and periodicals. Except for this collection of magazines nearing 10 years old: those with my work included. They’re copies of all the high school newsmagazines where I had an article published or was an editor. I think she has a few from college too. This simple act encouraged me. It told me, as a high school student, that I was a real writer and that what I’d worked on was worthy of a real magazine rack and worthy of placement near the Chicago Tribune and National Geographic. It tells me, today, that what I do is still worth celebrating. 

Happy birthday, Grandma. Thanks for all you’ve taught me.

(photo taken at our wedding last year, credit to my talented uncle.)

I’ll share later this week what my other grandma taught me (part 2). What have you learned from your family?

Linking up again with Hitherto & Henceforth for #commit2write.

And, for the first time, with Jen Fergusen and the Soli Deo Gloria Sisterhood.


12 thoughts on “on an 86th birthday, or how to live a full life (part 1)

  1. Oh what a lovely tribute and makes me think of all the attributes I admired in my Grandma too. I still miss her, the one I grew up with. And those magazines she kept with your stories, that got me. Those things change us for life and it is such a simple act. Enjoyed your writing . . .again.

  2. What a beautiful legacy she’s already woven! Both my biological grandmas are with Jesus now, but thankfully I have a “step” grandma that’s as close as you can get to blood relation. I, too, was highly blessed by them all in different ways. My moms mom sounds a lot like yours. Lively jewelry, fantastic taste, a real lady.

    • Love those grandmas, friend. Every time I wear a piece of lively jewelry, I just praise God for the good jewelry-wearing examples He’s gifted us 🙂

    • Thanks, Summer! She doesn’t know I have a blog, and I’m not sure she knows what one is, but I’m considering printing this and mailing it to her.

  3. Aren’t the lessons our grandmothers teach us priceless? It makes me wonder what I’ll teach to my grandchildren one day, if I have any. How to make thumbprint stories? Keep fresh flowers in the house? Or maybe just still write letters, it remains to be seen.

    • Legacies can be left to literal grandchildren and to figurative grandchildren for sure. I need to learn the first two — with the flowers and thumbprint stories.

      My other grandma (who I’ll blog about later this week) taught me these paper dolls that hold hands and then I taught that to a girl I babysat. It was a treasured experience 🙂

  4. Oh, Sarah, what a moving and beautiful tribute to your grandmother and how she believed in you as a writer…what a treasure she is…thanks for sharing 🙂

  5. I’m sorry it’s taken me a bit to get over here, but oh, do you know how much I treasure posts about grandmothers? I lost my grandmother almost 3 years ago and it still feels like yesterday. I don’t mean in the sense that I’m still crying over time, but I guess it just seems impossible that I’ve survived almost 3 years without her. I guess it’s testament to the fact that despite death, God has enabled us to still stay close in memories, thoughts, etc.

    My grandmother taught me what life is like when you are loved unconditionally. A truly priceless lesson.

    So glad you are a part of SDG!

  6. Pingback: on an 86th birthday, or how to live a full life (part 2) « inspiration-driven life

  7. Pingback: giving up on good, the hair edition « inspiration-driven life

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