The Most Compelling Life Lesson We Need to Learn Now

Compelling Life Lesson

“What children need most are the essentials that grandparents provide in abundance. They give unconditional love, kindness, patience, humor, comfort, lessons in life. And, most importantly, cookies.” – Rudolph Giuliani

What Unconditional Love Truly Is…

I consider myself truly privileged to have been able to share 36 birthday celebrations with amazing women – one I admired, respected and adored during every stage of my life’s journey.

The woman in question was named Madeline Marie Ruvere (“Maddy” to her family and close friends) – and I was fortunate enough to call her my grandmother for over three decades.

I realize that her lengthy presence in my life was truly extraordinary and is regrettably rare in society today. Perhaps that is why I always cherished our relationship and valued the innumerous memories we created together. Memories that to this day still keep me warm on days when I need a little reminder of what unconditional love truly is.

One such occasion that remains clear in my heart and on my mind was her 88th birthday. While not a milestone birthday typically celebrated with any fanfare, in my grandmother’s case it turned out to be unforgettable.

I’m a firm believer that the older we get, the more difficult, it is to find suitable and meaningful gifts for birthday and holiday celebrations.

After years of buying and giving just about everything imaginable (within reason of course), you come to a point when you’ve exhausted all possible ideas – causing the act of gift giving to be rendered nothing more than a chore.

My grandmother was at that point. Over the course of her 60 plus year marriage to my grandfather, the two had given and received every gift the other could ever want (and then some). Now at the age of 88, there wasn’t much she wanted or needed. At least nothing that could be purchased from a store or ordered through an online retailer.

“I am beginning to learn that it is the sweet, simple things of life which are the real ones after all.” – Laura Ingalls Wilder

And truthfully, something sweet and simple was all my grandmother wanted for her birthday – something to alleviate the loneliness that so many people her age regretfully find themselves afflicted with.

Though no longer an active and viable member of the community she called home for over six decades, age may have slowed down my grandmother’s body, but not her need to connect with people and feel special now and then.

And so, that’s what my wife and I tried to do for her birthday.

My grandparents used to love to walk through shopping malls – where most of their spontaneous purchases came from I’m sure. So I thought if she were able and willing, what better gift to give than spending the day walking around with us. She was only too happy to agree with the suggestion, if for no other reason than to see something more than the four walls she stared at a day in and a day out.

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When we arrived at her house for our birthday celebration, there was my grandmother standing in the doorway. She was elegantly dressed (as always) in a gray tweed pants suit, accented with gold earrings and other pieces of jewelry – appearing more youthful than her new age might suggest. We decided to take her to a modestly sized mall, the same one my grandparents used to always take me to when I was a little boy, and they were babysitting me for the weekend.

When my wife dropped us off at the mall entrance, I noticed grams was walking a little unsteady due to a knee injury from years ago. I told her to wrap her arm around mine for stability, and that’s where it stayed for the rest of the day. I joked that I was glad I wasn’t trying to pick up girls that day because grams would certainly have lessened my chances. She laughed wholeheartedly at that one.

I thought to myself that fifteen years ago I might have been slightly embarrassed walking arm in arm through a crowded mall with my grandmother – but not today. The sheer joy on her face was enough to make me realize that I was glad I could be the one she was holding on to. Glad that I was able to bring her such happiness with nothing more than my time and attention.

One of the reasons my grandparents used to always take me to this particular mall was because of what it featured in the center – a modest carousel ride, and in fact, it was still there on that day.

As we walked by, watching eager children and their parents wait in line for their turn on the amusement ride, I noticed a young mother watching me as I made my way passed with grams on my arm.

She had a big smile on her face, almost as though she was more than approving of my walking partner and me. I guess it’s rare to see a young man taking some time to walk with his grandmother’s arm in arm in public, and when you do this, it causes a bit of a surprise.


Continuing passed the carousel grams whispered to me, “Do you remember me putting you on there?”  Sometimes forgetful, I couldn’t believe she remembered that event from long ago. While it was something I recalled, I wasn’t sure it would be that memorable to her. I guess while she was busy making countless memories for me, I was leaving a little impression on her as well.

The day was rounded out by dinner at an Italian restaurant and then a small surprise party, which was arranged by my grandmother’s wonderful health care aid and her friends.

When we finally left her house at around midnight, after an evening of laughs, birthday cake and even salsa dancing in the living room, she was beaming from ear to ear in a way I hadn’t seen in a long time.

The Greatest Gift You Can Ever Give Another Person is Your Time and Attention…

While 88 doesn’t seem like a special birthday to some, it’s certainly deserving of a celebration, if for no other reason than the reality that people won’t be with us forever…

In the end, we'll all become stories...

And while many of us feel we’re just too busy for those who’ve come before us, those who’ve nurtured and taken care of us, understand that the giving of your time is the perfect gift for those who already have everything.

Sadly, my beloved grandmother passed away several years ago. Her spirits will always live inside my heart, and in the countless memories, she’s blessed my life with over the years.

Her 88th birthday taught me an invaluable lesson – the greatest gift you can ever give another person is your time and attention. It costs you nothing, and the rewards are truly priceless!

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