Lessons Learned From Gram

I’m sure it will come as no surprise to my family, friends, and those of you who follow me on social media that I’ve been thinking about my grandmother a lot over the past month. My grandmother was, to say the least, extraordinary. She didn’t win any awards. Gram wasn’t known outside of her hometown. She didn’t do great things or travel to faraway places or lead protests or discover a new star. She didn’t do anything special at all unless you count every single little thing she did with extraordinary love, and she taught me so much.

There are many lessons I learned from my grandmother, but there is little that she taught me through words or preaching or admonishments. Almost everything I learned from her, I leaned by watching her, and I try my best to emulate all that she taught me.

These are the things I will always cherish and strive to uphold.

Gram began every day in prayer. She loved novenas and prayed them constantly. Whenever I was undergoing a struggle or facing something unbearable or even when something wonderful was about to take place, Gram’s response was always, “I’ll pray a novena for you.” Those simple words, in my mind’s translation, were always the equivalent of “I love you,” for my grandmother knew that the best thing you could do for those you love is to pray for them. Among my most prized possessions are the statue Gram’s cousin brought her from Fatima and my grandmother’s prayer books. When I go to Adoration, those books go with me.

I, too, begin every day with prayer. I have come to love novenas and look for opportunities to say them. I love being friends with priests and other religious. These are just a few of the beautiful lessons Gram taught me about faith.

After prayer, Gram took the time to check in with everyone. She called her sisters, her cousins, her children, and her neighbors. She made sure everyone was okay and determined who needed a ride to the grocery store or to church. Gram often checked on the local priest and whether he needed a meal that week. She made her doctor’s appointments and called anyone and everyone she needed to contact for this reason or that. When her calls were done, she finished her morning chores or went to the store or visited friends and family, often stopping to care for someone in need.

Those precious moments spent reaching out to friends and family made such an impression on me and taught me that it’s important to keep those connections, to check on those you love, and to always make time to see what needs others might have that you can fill.

Gram did a load of laundry every morning. Every single morning. At her house, at Mom’s house, at our house, it didn’t matter. Rather than let it all pile up until it was unmanageable, she did one small load every day. Then she hung it out to dry. The scent of freshly washed, line-dried sheets remains my all-time favorite smell. Each time I crawl into my bed between sheets that spent the day being brightened by the sun, I close my eyes, inhale deeply, and feel my grandmother’s goodnight kiss on my cheek.

Gram made sure we all learned that the best way to keep up with your chores is too tackle them little by little every day. I also learned that, often, the old-fashioned ways are still the best ways. I’d trade in my fancy dryer for a clothesline any day.

When my great-grandparents were alive, my grandmother went to see them every day. I remember watching her help her younger sister to feed and bathe their mother, who lived as an invalid for over twenty years after a stroke. Those were the days when loved ones were cared for at home by their families. Gram had so much patience, so much time to give (even when she didn’t have time to spare), and so much love for her family. There was nothing, absolutely noting, more important to her than taking care of the ones she loved.

In a world where families are torn apart by distance or by self-inflicted wounds, I won’t lose sight of the importance of taking care of each other, of being patient with each other, of loving each other no matter the circumstances.

Gram’s house was the house. It was the house where the family gathered to celebrate every holiday and every special occasion, but it was also the house where the family went on every ordinary Sunday afternoon for fried chicken and mashed potatoes (the lumpier the better). It was the house where I spent many, many weekends, where I spent weeks at a time every summer (because there was no other place I wanted to be), and where I took every friend I had who meant anything to me. It’s where I learned that you don’t have to be constantly doing something and that it’s okay to just be. It was where I learned to wake up early, get your work done, and spend the rest of the day doing whatever comes your way. It’s where I learned how to pick hard crabs (a very, very important lesson for a Marylander) and how to grow grapes (which I’m still determined to try someday).

Most of all, Gram’s house was where I learned that love is demonstrated in words and actions. It was everything I have always wanted my house to be.

My grandfather, a giant of man, passed away when I was eighteen. I thought my world would end, and for a time, it did (but that’s another story for another day). It was October when we lost him, and that winter dragged on and on, remaining still the worst period of my life. I truly didn’t know how to go on. That summer, when I spent my week with Gram, I saw the pain, the despair, and the loneliness that mirrored my own. That week was a week of healing for me, and I think, for her, too. From that time on, the two of us were closer than we’d ever been.

It’s not an easy lesson to learn–how to go on without someone you love. I will be forever grateful that Gram and I were able to lean on each other. She taught me that you can’t stop living, no matter how much it hurts. There are still calls to make, chores to do, errands to run, and people to care for. Moreover, the love that is lost doesn’t go away; it transforms.

When I got married, my father and grandmother made the Southern Maryland Stuffed Ham that we served to three-hundred people at our wedding. That was after Gram and Ken’s grandmother spent the summer picking crabs then making and freezing crab balls for our appetizers. Gram stood by me as we cut up vegetables and prepared platters and decorated the church hall the day before the wedding. I continue to thank God that my grandmother could be there on that special day.

Resilience. That’s an important lesson to learn, but it’s a more important lesson to teach. I pray that I can teach my children resilience in the fact of loss and hardship. From a depression-era childhood to a young marriage during wartime through the loss of loved ones, resilience and faith are the most important tools you can have. Life goes on, and you need to continue to live and love and be there for others.

When Rebecca was born, Gram was here for two weeks helping me navigate the course of motherhood. She knew when to pick the baby up and when to let her cry. She knew the best way to put on the diapers so that they didn’t leak and how to swaddle her just right. It was from Gram that I learned the most valuable lessons of those early baby and toddler years. When the baby sleeps, you sleep, and you can never hold a baby too much or too often.

The elderly hold so little value in the eyes of modern-day society. they are dispensable, often ridiculed and ignored. Even with all the marvels of the computer age, the wisdom and advice of our parents and grandparents cannot be surpassed. “Wisdom is with the aged, and understanding in length of days” (Job 12:12).

My youngest daughter, Morgan, is Gram’s namesake, and she shares with her great-grandmother many traits. They both have a fierce loyalty to family and friends. Like Gram, Morgan never lets anyone push her around and always aids those unable to help or defend themselves. They both grew up knowing how and when to use a shotgun (an important thing when you live in the country). Morgan shares Gram’s caring and loving heart and her simple love of giving. When I watched Morgan feed and care for her grandfather in the last weeks of his life, I saw visions of Gram doing the same for her parents. Though my grandmother never went to college, she truly was the family nurse, and I believe that’s where Morgan inherited her desire to take care of others. Though she was only a little girl when Gram had her stroke, I like to think that Morgan learned from her great-grandmother how to love and care for others.

I know that Gram was not only my role model, but my mother’s, my aunt’s, and my daughters’. I thank God that we had her as our teacher. “Listen to advice and accept instruction, that you may gain wisdom in the future” (Proverbs 19:20).

It was because of the love I saw shared between my own mother and hers that I learned what true motherly love and devotion is. My own experiences and relationship with my grandmother inspired me to ensure that my children have that same relationship with their grandmothers. There is no greater thing we can give our daughters than a strong relationship with the women who came before them.

It breaks my heart when I hear of grandchildren who don’t know their grandparents. We learn to love properly by observing loving relationships. Never let anything stop you from letting your children witness that type of love.

When I received the call from my mother that Gram had left us, I was in my car, on my way to volunteer at the girls’ school. I hung up the phone and did the most important thing my my grandmother taught me to do. I prayed. Through her example, I learned to turn to God for every need, in every hardship, on every occasion. I prayed that my grandmother was at peace. I prayed that she would continue to watch over me and my girls. I prayed that she was with my grandfather and that she was seated in her place at God’s Heavenly banquet. I thanked God for all the years I had with her. With just five minutes left until I arrived at the girls’ school, I wiped my tears and took a deep breath, trying to quiet my heart and mind. I reached for the radio, hoping that some music would calm me. My tears of mourning turned to tears of joy when I immediately heard the DJ announce that the next artist to be played would be Vince Gill, Gram’s favorite. The tears flowed as Vince sang the words, “Go rest high on that mountain…your work on earth is done.” I had been given the best gift I could have asked for–assurance that Gram was where she was meant to be.

Our bond was so strong, and I believe that I am the person I am today because of all that I witnessed and learned from Gram. She and I spoke on the phone every day without fail. I turned to her for advice, shared my hopes and worries, and let her be the first person to whom I told everything important and good. Even now, when this year marks the fifteenth since she left us, there isn’t a milestone that I experience when I don’t have the urge to pick up the phone and share the news with her.

Rebecca shares the good news with her grandmother.

This past weekend, I watched my oldest daughter make call after call to relatives to share the news of her impending motherhood. I sat on the couch next to my mother, and I’m sure her thoughts were the same as mine. I wanted to pick up the phone and call my grandmother. I wanted to share with her that this September, I will take for myself the only name I ever called her. I can only hope and pray that my grandchild will learn as much from his or her Gram as I did from mine.

–If you want a glimpse into what my relationship with my grandmother was like, read The Devil’s Fortune. I think you will love Lily as much as we all loved Grandma Lil.–

Come see Amy on one of these dates:

March 9, 2022 – Our Lady of the Assumption Catholic Church, Wayne, PA 7:00PM, Online – Lenten Reflection 
April 9, 2022 – First Landing Wine and Arts Festival, St. Clement’s Island Museum, Clements, MD
June 4, 2022 – Christ Church 350th Anniversary Fair, Broomes Island, MD

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What I was writing about one year ago this week:Hope, Affliction, and Prayer.

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Amy Schisler is an award-winning author of both children’s books and sweet, faith-filled romance novels for readers of all ages. She lives with her husband and three daughters on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. Her books, Picture MeWhispering Vines, and Island of Miracles are all recipients of Illumination Awards, placing them among the top inspirational fiction books of 2015, 2016, and 2017. Whispering Vines was awarded the 2017 LYRA Award for the best romance of 2016. The Good Wine, the sequel to Whispering Vines was released in June of 2021. Island of Miracles has outsold all of Amy’s other books worldwide and ranked as high as 600 on Amazon. Her follow up, Island of Promise is a reader favorite. Amy’s children’s chapter book is The Greatest Gift, and her most recent suspense novel is Summer’s Squall

Amy’s second book in the Chincoteague Island Trilogy, Island of Promise, was awarded First Prize by the Oklahoma Romance Writer’s Association as the best Inspirational Romance of 2018 and was awarded a Gold Medal in the Independent Publisher Book Awards 2019 for Inspirational Fiction. It is the 2019 winner for Best Inspirational Fiction in the RWA Golden Quill Contest, Best Romance in the American Book Awards, and a finalist for the Eric Hoffer Award of Fiction. Amy’s 2019 work, The Devil’s Fortune, a finalist in the Writer’s Digest Self-Publishing Awards and winner of an Illumination Award, is based, in part, on Amy’s family history. The third book in Amy’s Chincoteague Island Trilogy,  Island of Hope, was released in August of 2019. Amy’s book, Desert Fire, Mountain Rain begins her new Buffalo Springs series. Book two, Under the Summer Moon, was released in December of 2021. 

You may follow Amy on Facebook at http://facebook.com/amyschislerauthor, Twitter @AmySchislerAuth, Goodreads at https://www.goodreads.com/amyschisler and at http://amyschislerauthor.com.

Amy’s books: Crabbing With Granddad (2013), A Place to Call Home (2014), Picture Me (2015), Whispering Vines (2016), Island of Miracles (2017), Stations of the Cross Meditations for Moms (2017), The Greatest Gift (2017), Summer’s Squall (2017), Island of Promise (2018), The Devil’s Fortune (2019), Island of Hope (2019), A Devotional Alphabet (2019), Desert Fire, Mountain Rain(2020), The Good Wine (2021), Under the Summer Moon (2021).

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