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Grandmother Wisdom: Lessons on Life from Gladys on her 99th Birthday

Love yourself first and other grandmother wisdom

You may or may not know that this website is not only dedicated to delivering ‘gladness’ but it’s also named after an amazing woman, my grandmother Gladys, who is celebrating her 99th birthday today. I can tell you, for certain, that this woman knows how to live, and today is a tribute to her, and her strength and wisdom.

Gladys spent most of her life on farms. She had to milk the cows before she went to elementary school, even in the dark cold winter in Wisconsin. On frozen winter mornings, she sometimes stood in fresh cow manure to keep her feet warm.  Many years later, at the age of 96, she shook her new pastor’s hand for the first time and when she cracked his knuckles, he asked her how her hands got so strong, she said ‘milking cows.’  The pastor replied ‘poor cows.’

She may break your ribs when she gives you one of her infamous bear hugs.  She is tough as nails, and sweet as sugar.  In her late teens and early 20′s, she was a live-in nanny for a very wealthy family (Kraft foods heirs) outside of Minneapolis, which is where she met the handsome stable boy, my grandfather.  They have lived a happy life of modest means together for over 70 years, and she can tell you for certain that money can’t buy happiness.

Every single day of her life, she has laid down for ‘siesta’ time. And if you were at her farm home, or her lake cabin, siesta time was required under her roof no matter how old you were. Siesta time means you lie down, close your eyes, and count your blessings. Tell God what you’re grateful for.  ”Siesta” was quite an exotic word growing up in the Midwest. Now, many of us call this time meditation.

I don’t remember her ever gossiping or speaking badly of someone. If she didn’t like your behavior, or thought it wasn’t good for you, she’d just tell you directly.

There’s no doubt that she has a direct line to the angels. Her parents gave her the name “Gladys” because the doctor thought she was stillborn when she came into the world. On that cold January day they wrapped her in blankets and set her tiny body in a box next to the fireplace.  Later, they heard cries coming from the box, and in that miraculous moment, she earned her name. She has been pronounced dead by doctors at least two other times but fooled them all.  One of those times was a car accident that cracked her head open and caused her to live her whole life with severe migraines – which she of course never complained about.

She still lives in her own home, with her ‘younger’ husband, my 98-year-old grandfather.  She has always had more energy than me, but in the last few years, her health has finally started to deteriorate. She has lost her hearing and eyesight, broken her hip, gone into heart arrest, then had her ribs broken by doctors using a defibrillator. She has had a surge in her epileptic seizures, caused by the medication to stop the shingles that covered her eyes and caused more sight loss.  And yet, in every moment, she thanks God for his work, my nurse Aunt for caring for her, and charms everyone in whatever hospital she is in and out of with her grace and gratitude.

To have spent my summers at the lake cabin with her and my grandfather as a young child was indeed one of the biggest blessings of my life. She has always been one of the most present (and pleasant) people I have ever met.  And just to have observed someone who has experienced life so joyfully and fully, and receive her 99-year-old wisdom is a true gift.

I do a lot of reading and spiritual work, and I’m always impressed that the common themes of “being present,”  ”self-love,” “gratitude,” “faith,” and “being of service” repeated by every modern day guru and teacher are the same principles Gladys has lived by and taught.

Below are the words of wisdom that she has repeated to me all of my life. Not in one of those annoying ‘let me tell you what you don’t know’ kind of ways, but in the way that a grandmother tells you, from her heart, what she wants for you because she loves you enough to break your ribs when she hugs you.

Straight from the horse’s mouth (as Gladys would say) – Practical Wisdom to live by:

1)  You can’t love anyone until you love yourself. Mmm – mmm (shake head back and forth.) That’s the most important thing in the world.

2) I wake up everyday and pray that I can be of service to someone. If I can’t be, then what is the point of being here?

3) You can do anything – ANYTHING (she repeats that loudly in case you miss it) if you set your mind to it. And if you don’t believe that, what DO you believe?

4) You’ve got to keep going, because if you don’t then that’s the end, isn’t it?

5) If you can’t find anything to be thankful for, then you haven’t thought about it enough.

6) Every day is a blessing. Every single one. That I know for sure, and that’s how I’ve gotten to 99.  And I plan on counting all the way to 100. And then some.

7) To each, their own. “Well, that’s their business and nobody else’s,” she loves to say.

8) Money can’t buy happiness. I have seen a whole family ruined by it. I would rather have nothing more than a happy healthy family, which I do have, and I thank God for that.

Thanks, grandma, you’re a true heroine.

Gladys herself, 99 and full of gladness.











One reader was so inspired by Glady’s words of wisdom, that they created this art card for their bulletin board, and shared it with us.  We love it!

words of wisdom from grandmothers


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 Have someone special in your life that has shared wisdom with you along the way?  Share it with us please!