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3 Ways My Gramma VA Influenced My Life, and Lessons that Might Help You, Too.

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My grandmother - or "Gramma VA" as my sister and I called her - was truly one of my best friends and biggest supporters. Last week was her birthday, and as I might have done when she was alive, I picked up the phone to call her and wish her a happy day. 

Realizing that I couldn’t, I sat down and pondered the profound influence this feisty little Irish woman had on my life. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that while I miss her dearly, the effect she’s had on me means that she lives on in my every moment. I’d like to share a little of her wisdom with you, in the hopes that maybe it hits home for you, too - and a little more of her will be shared with the world. 


Gramma VA-ism #1: Always look good when you go out; you’ll feel better mentally, and that affects everything.


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A few days after she had a mastectomy, there was fluid in my grandma's lungs and we needed to get her back to the hospital to be checked out. Upon reporting this to her, she sat up, put her feet on the ground, and began putting on her pantyhose. 

Now, one would think that going to the ER was not really the kind of occasion that dictated pantyhose, but for my Gramma, it was unthinkable to go anywhere without looking her best. Although we protested that she really didn’t need to get made up to go to the hospital, she ended up dressing in some velvet pants and a cotton blouse before we were allowed to take her out that day.

The truth is, there is something to that kind of thinking. In fact, a recent study showed that women that were sad or depressed tended to wear baggy tops, jeans, or a sweatshirt. Women that were happy were more likely to put on favorite jewelry, a pretty dress, or nice shoes. 

I think there’s more to it than just that, though. I know on days when I feel off, if I take the extra time to dress myself well in a colorful dress with beautiful jewelry, I actually feel better, too. The author of that study agrees with me: “The strong link between clothing and mood state suggests we should put on clothes that we associate with happiness, even when feeling low,” the study states. 

My Gramma beat that bout of cancer. Do I think that her determination to always dress beautifully had something to do with it? You bet I do. She dressed better, and therefore she felt stronger, more resilient, and more capable of taking control over the disease and healing. 

Take a look at the relationship between how you dress every day and how you feel. Did you used to dress better, but find that now you take little care of yourself? What might have caused that change? Could you find ways to dress a bit better, with the understanding that YOU will feel better, and that will impact the quality of care you can give others, too? 

Try it out; take a little more time tomorrow to dress in a way that really makes you feel good. Then come back and let me know if you feel better emotionally, too! 


Gramma VA-ism #2: You are more resilient than you think you are. 

My grandfather died at only 54 years old, leaving my Gramma––who had been a stay-at-home Navy wife for most of her life––all alone. My grandfather had a pension and some life insurance, but it wasn’t enough for her to survive financially for the rest of her life. Worse, she was now alone, without the man that she had loved since her teens.


Rather than giving in to the “hysterics” or “ineptitude” that women of her generation were taught to believe are normal for ladies, she instead gathered herself up, brushed off some old secretarial skills, and went out and got herself a job. I can only imagine that it must have been terrifying for her to have to do that after all those years, but she did it.

Even more impressive, she figured out how to do all those things around the house that were “man’s work”––things my grandfather had always taken care of, like carpentry, plumbing, fixing the garage door, and more. She went down to the basement, opened up my grandfather’s tool box, and started learning how to use all of them. For a woman who had been raised in a generation that felt that women were unsuited for anything but gossiping and having babies, this was pretty impressive.

Fiercely independent, she showed me the possibility that a woman could do just about anything she put her mind to, age or gender be damned. She even mowed her own lawn, shoveled her own snow, and moved her own furniture around until into her 80’s. Believe me, she had plenty of people who thought she couldn’t do it or shouldn’t do it, but she decided she could, and she did. 

To me, she is a reminder of how resilient humans truly are, and how important it is to take personal responsibility for ourselves and the quality of our lives, regardless of our circumstances. Are you too dependent on anything or anyone? What ways could you challenge yourself to step up and do things you haven’t done before? Try a few today; you might just surprise yourself, and inspire someone else along the way.  


Gramma VA-ism #3: Life is short; remember to enjoy yourself.

About a year and a half into my marriage, I was helping to run one business while getting a second business up and running. Being way too serious for my own good and worrying about everything being a “success,” I worked and worked and worked, finally getting really exhausted. 

One night, I called my grandma to check on her, and she asked how I was doing. After rambling off a litany of business projects and things that needed completed, she asked, “And what are you doing for fun?”

It stopped me in my tracks, as I realized that I hadn’t really made time for fun in the process of trying to create a better future life. 

Then she said, “Honey, life is really, really short. You need to stop and have some fun and enjoy yourself now, because you will regret it when you get older.” 

You know how some moments stick out as life changers? That was one of them for me. I cannot tell you how often I get going, totally focused on achieving whatever goal I’ve set out for myself, and suddenly hear my Gramma’s voice in my head, “Life is short, honey.” 

And before all you driven workaholics out there say, “But I won’t get as much done if I take breaks, stop to go to the gym, or actually take a vacation,” stop right there; research refutes that completely. In fact, a recent study shows that even little breaks - a walk around the block, stopping to read a friendly note, or running out for coffee––can make you significantly more productive. In fact, the study’s author proved that, “sustained attention to a thought (leads) to that thought's disappearance from our mind.”


Photo courtesy of NASAAnd hey, they say that Einstein conceived his Theory of Relativity while riding a bike, so you just might end up getting the perfect solution for whatever goal or problem your dealing with while, I don’t know, sipping a margarita poolside or taking a walk on the beach. 

Take my Gramma VA’s advice now; go have a little fun. Let yourself be happy. Don’t work so hard; enjoy the present moment. By doing so, you won’t end up at the end of your life with these common regrets; and you’ll likely live longer, too. 

What can you do this weekend to blow off some steam and enjoy yourself? Put down the computer, turn off the phone, and go do it. Then, come back and let me know how much better you feel on Monday...