A couple of years ago my brother and I flew back to Montenegro to say goodbye to our 95 year grandmother Kona who after falling ill with pneumonia ended up catching a superbug, Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), at the local hospital.
When we arrived she was very weak and fragile looking with little hope of surviving both pneumonia and MRSA according to the doctors. Little did we know then that two and a half years later we would be celebrating her 98 birthday today!
What inspires me the most about my grandma is her faith and incredible will for life! Despite the hardships and pain this small in stature lady, has seen in her lifetime, she remains faithful, grateful, and hopeful.
Every night at bedtime my grandma prays for every single member of her family. And they are so many of us, great-grand kids too! And although her own children and grandkids had had cancers, heart attacks, and strokes, all of them remain alive.
More in her rituals and practices you can read in my blog “10 Common Habits of The Longest Living People”.
My grandma Kona’s happy childhood vanished before her eyes in an instant when she witnessed her father’s untimely death by falling out of a mulberry tree and impaling himself on a picket fence. In the same year, she witnessed her young mother remarry and start a new family nearby while leaving her and her baby brother behind.
Missing her mother, she would often sneak behind bushes to watch her interact with her new children. As painful as it was, seeing her with other children was still better than not seeing her at all. Left alone with her baby brother, she had to assume a role of a mother herself, feeding and bathing him, and ultimately sacrificing her own schooling to educate him. That baby brother later became a world-renowned gynecologist.
At sixteen years of age, her uncles forced her to marry an older local farmer, my grandfather. And although he was an honest and hard-working man, he was what you might call “rough around the edges.” She vividly remembers her first morning at the farm when he woke her before the rooster’s call. She put on one of her six new dresses (her only clothes) that she received as a dowry. Naturally, working in the pig pen, feeding and cleaning the livestock, took its toll and destroyed her dress, not to mention her innocence and still not finished childhood.
But the chores did not stop there, she had to help feed and learn how to milk cows, goats, and sheep, how to avoid being kicked by the animals, how to collect eggs, how to catch, behead, clean and cook adult chickens, boil milk, knead dough and bake bread… the list goes on.
Not having running water in the house made washing clothes and dishes a time-consuming chore. She had to fetch it from a nearby well, boil it over afire stove, take the clothes and dishes and use old ashes from the fire as dish and laundry detergent.
And if this doesn’t sound like a lot, wait until you hear how the rest of her day went. After breakfast, my grandfather would take her to local fields where she would help him pile up hay until lunchtime. Then she would return to the farm, tend the garden, pick the ripe vegetables and prepare them for lunch along, with the chicken she killed only hours earlier.
Then, as the youngest and the newest member of the family, she had to help prepare lunch for not only her husband, but for his extended family too. Then, more dishes, followed by washing clothes by hand, hanging them on a line… And just when she felt exhausted, she had to go back to the animals, feed them, milk them, and clean under them, all over again.
The next day and the rest of her married days resembled that very first one, only to get harder by addition of three young children and numerous dirty cloth diapers she washed by hand…She survived three wars, suffered many tragedies, including losing a father before her second birthday, a newborn, her beloved brother, mother and a husband. Although small in stature, she is very strong and tough. While not formally educated, she fought for family financial support to send away and educate all of her three children. All of her five grandchildren have college degrees, three of them doctors of mathematics and medicine. All that thanks to her strong influence.
One of most pleasant memories from my childhood was remembering how my grandma used to take breakfast orders from all of the grandkids. She would ask each of us what we wanted for breakfast, and, of course, we all wanted different things! Some wanted eggs and bacon, others crepes, French toast or doughnuts. You might think she would take a vote and make only one dish to make it easier for her. But no, she would fulfill all of our requests happily, without complaining!
My grandma is a truly remarkable woman - always loving, always giving, always honest and always positive. Her words are measured and kind, and her heart pure. She accepted the unfathomable hardship of her destiny, and instead of allowing it to make her bitter or cynical, used it to sharpen her character and strengthen her resolve. Her great wisdom is an inspiration for all of those who know her. I often remember my grandmother when I feel overwhelmed with chores like cleaning, cooking, grocery shopping, training, teaching, keeping up with my boys, helping them with homework, running a business, attending board meetings, organizing and hosting tournaments and galas and attending and hosting dinner parties.
Thinking about her keeps me going in those tough times. And even to this day -- yes, she is still alive at 95! -- you won’t hear her complain. She is still helping out, cleaning, washing dishes and babysitting her great-grandchildren (she has seven).So, the next time you feel overwhelmed with dishes, thank God for running water in your house, detergent and a dishwasher. Or the next time you feel tired from cooking and cleaning up, thank God you don’t have to chase down, behead, pluck and clean the chickens and start a fire by yourself!
Think of her, or somebody similar from your own experience, the next time you feel like complaining about the pile of laundry that you need to do and thank God you don’t have to boil water and wash, drain and hang your clothes by hand. I won’t even mention diapers, because you can only imagine what it was like to wash soiled cloth diapers!
Or the next time you feel tired from work, which for some of us involves a lot of sitting, thank God you don’t have to clean under animals,milk cows, chase sheep and chickens, dig in a garden, bale hay, clean and cook three times -- all in a single day!! Most of all, the next time you feel angry and impatient towards your children and family members, thank God you have them in your life.
And when you face challenges, as we all will at times, be at peace, for challenges represent opportunities for us to grow. We find new strength and hope ever time we overcome adversity. We gain new perspective which builds our faith and gives us courage to face new challenges.
So, chin up and take courage. Live every moment as it is your last, by being fully present and grateful. And get rid of bitterness and grudge by allowing yourself to forgive and love again.”