Jana Says

Living life from cover to cover

Grandpa’s life lessons

My grandpa, 6/24/15-12/31/12, on Thanksgiving at my aunt's house.

My grandpa, 6/24/15-12/31/12, on Thanksgiving at my aunt’s house.

On December 31, 2012–New Year’s Eve–my grandfather passed away. Although he was 97, his death came as quite a surprise. After all, he didn’t look 97. He didn’t act 97. And he sure as hell didn’t think like you would expect a 97 year old to think. My grandfather was a sharp as a person gets, even from his hospital bed, hooked up to machines helping him breathe and keep his kidneys functioning. He was a fascinating man, always sharing stories about growing up in Montreal or his early years in business or his thoughts on politics, economics, sports–everything. We all joked at having to suffer through his lectures but really, they were a way of him getting to know us and us getting to know him.

Looking back, those lectures really were special (even if they were a little tedious at times).

While I learned a lot, intellectually, from my grandfather, what I’ll always keep with me are not the facts and figures he taught me (including the rules of hockey. Those left my brain the minute they went in) but the life lessons that he never intended to share but did anyway. Although he told a cardiologist that his key to longevity was dark chocolate (amen!), there really were other elements that helped:

Exercise. As a kid, I remember Nanny and Grandpa putting on their sneakers and going for their daily walks. Mostly to the post office, but anywhere would do. This was a practice that he maintained until just a few months ago. Yes, his walks were shorter in distance but he still took the time to do something for his body. This is a habit I’ve recently incorporated and I’ve never felt better. No wonder he made it to 97!

Keep a sense of humor. Not only did he have one of the biggest smiles I’ve ever seen, but my grandfather enjoyed laughing. He wasn’t a big fan of “low-brow” humor (he did not pass this on to me. I still think farts are funny) but he loved his puns and he was quick to come up with them, too. And I recently found out, Grandpa was also kind of a wise-ass.  At least now I know the start of that genetic trait.

Find a community. After my Nanny died (and to say that my grandfather loved her would be an understatement), Grandpa found solace in his friends at the Suffolk County Y-JCC. He went there often, to talk with friends, listen to lectures, give talks and forge relationships. He continued to engage himself and find a place where he belonged. That engagement, that activity, that something to look forward to–I believe this is what helped keep him going for so long.

Never stop learning. If you asked my grandfather for his most sage piece of advice, he’d probably tell you to always learn. He was always encouraging all of us to further our formal education, to read, to research, to expand our minds. He practiced what he preached, too. Grandpa read voraciously. He was inquisitive. He loved learning new information and then passing that information along.

Love your family. Nothing—and I mean nothing—meant more to my grandfather than his family. He adored his wife, children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. His brothers were his best friends. He attended bar mitzvahs and weddings of children of distant relatives just to be able to spend time with them.  And the way he cared about every member of the family was genuine, not “hey, we’re hanging out because we’re related and we have to”. I wish I could be that nice.

Live financially modestly. My grandfather did well, financially, but he never felt the need to show it off. He lived in a modest apartment in Queens for most of his time in the United States and then spent the last part of his life (after my Nanny passed away in 1997) living with my aunt and uncle. He didn’t have flashy clothes, cars, or take expensive vacations. He was generous, sure, but he never felt that he had to flaunt his money. I think we can all learn from that.

Have a passion. Grandpa liked a lot of things. But one of the things he loved most was words. And he was so good with them. And he appreciated others who were good with them. Up until a week before his death, he was still writing poems and doing the NYT crossword puzzle. He wrote acrostics and a column for the Y-JCC’s newsletter and thinking pieces. He even composed a song that was recorded. Writing might not have been his career but he always had a love for it. His life was brighter because of this passion. All of our lives should be enriched by something we love that much.

Be eclectic. My grandfather’s interests ran the gamut. He loved books, sports, politics, economics, philosophy, Jewish culture (I’m Jewish, for those who don’t know), movies, music (especially opera)—you name it, Grandpa probably knew something about it. And would take the time to talk to you, too. It’s what made him so likeable and interesting to talk to. Plus, being eclectic is fun. Who wants to just like one thing?

Find words that inspire you. At his bedside in the hospital, one of my cousins, one of my sisters, my father and I read to my grandfather his favorite poem, Invictus, by William Ernest Henley. I’ve never been one for poems but Grandpa loved them, and when we were done reading, he, through very labored breaths, explained why the poem was so meaningful to him. It was a powerful moment for a number of reasons but these words will inspire me the rest of my life:

I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.

Those words capture the essence of my grandfather. I hope that I, too, can live that way and honor his memory.

And Grandpa, if you’re reading this, I hope Nanny enjoyed the jelly beans.


  1. L Bee and the Money Tree

    What a beautiful post Jana-I’m sorry to hear about your grandpa, but it appears he led an amazing, full life, and left behind so much wisdom to you. Thanks for sharing with us!
    L Bee and the Money Tree recently posted…Do you suffer from Shopping Bulimia?My Profile

  2. Sean @ One Smart Dollar

    Really good post Jana. So sorry to hear about your grandpa 🙁
    Sean @ One Smart Dollar recently posted…How to Deal with Debt Collection AgenciesMy Profile

  3. Shovellicious

    Jana, I’m so sorry to read this news. He seems to be very special person and I can’t even imagine how you miss him but I’m sure he’s happy now to take another walk with Nanny.
    Shovellicious recently posted…Goals for 2013My Profile

  4. Tanya

    I’m so sorry for your loss. Your grandpa sounded like a great man. I’m glad that you can look back and have these life lesson to try to incorperate into your own life.
    Tanya recently posted…The Best WordPress Anti-Spam Plugins for 2012-2013My Profile

  5. Mackenzie

    Sorry to hear about your grandfather Jana. Sounds like he was a wonderful person.
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  6. Canadianbudgetbinder

    Sorry for your loss. We can learn alot by listening to others. Learning is so important and once we stop we give up on life IMO. As for walking and keeping healthy I do it every day as well and it’s a great feeling and takes hardly any time. We have to look out for ourselves. Brilliant man was your grandpa. Keep smiling.. he’d want that I bet! Mr.CBB
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  7. Money Beagle

    Sorry about your loss. I miss all of my grandparents all the time. My last grandparent died in December 2009 and it’s still hard to believe she isn’t around. Of course now my wife and I get to see the joy that our kids bring to their grandparents (our parents).
    Money Beagle recently posted…Why Most People Will Fail At Their New Years ResolutionsMy Profile

  8. Tushar@EverythingFinance

    Very Inspiring Jana. We should all aim at living along those lines.

  9. krantcents

    Sorry to hear about your loss. He sounds like a fascinating person. I lost my mother 7 years ago. She was a few weeks shy of 99 years old. he last few years of her life were not good thank to Dementia. I learned a great deal from her and I use those memories to keep her in my heart.
    krantcents recently posted…My 2013 New Year’s ResolutionsMy Profile

  10. 101 Centavos

    We should all live that well and that long.
    Brings to mind the closing scene from The Last Samurai:
    Emperor Meiji: Tell me how he died.
    Algren: I will tell you how he LIVED.

    And sure, farts *are* funny!
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  11. Mrs. Pop @ Planting Our Pennies

    Makes me think of my own grandpa who died this time of year in 2007. He was 92. I don’t know how many countless people remembered him kindly and said how lucky we were to have such a loving man in our lives.
    I’m so glad that you were able to absorb your grandfather’s lessons (however unintended).
    Mrs. Pop @ Planting Our Pennies recently posted…$520 To Restore A Piece of HistoryMy Profile

  12. SMD @ Life According to Steph

    Wonderful post, important lessons. I’m so sorry about your Grandfather. My Grandmom died on 12/21, something about it happening in December seems to make things harder.
    SMD @ Life According to Steph recently posted…It’s in the bagMy Profile

  13. Andrew @ Listen Money Matters

    Sorry to hear about your Grandpa 🙁

    Mine is sick right now, might be flying out to Cali this week to visit. Sucks getting old 🙁
    Andrew @ Listen Money Matters recently posted…Budgeting for Dummies, the Complete GuideMy Profile

  14. Jill

    So sorry Jana!

  15. Pauline

    I am very sorry for your loss Jana, your grandfather sounds like an extraordinary person. It is a blessing that you got to have him around for so long and that your daughter is old enough to get to remember him as well. I think exercise and mind exercise mixed with love and social life are the secret for a long life, my grandfather still rides a bicycle, does crosswords and reads natgeo every month in English, that constant thirst of knowledge keeps him sharp and is inspiring.
    Pauline recently posted…It happens to the best!My Profile

  16. KK @ Student Debt Survivor

    Your grandfather sounds like an amazing man. I’m sure he’d be proud of everything you’ve learned from his example. I’m sorry for your loss.
    KK @ Student Debt Survivor recently posted…Reasons You Didn’t Get Hired-Part IIMy Profile

  17. Another Housewife

    I love this post so much. Beautifully done. {{Hugs}} to you. Sounds you like lost an amazing man. I had the honor of living with my grandfather for five years before he died and he mirrored many of the same attributes. I miss him so much but know that living in his example is a great way to honor him.
    Another Housewife recently posted…Operation NewtownMy Profile

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  19. rnd technologies

    Your thought is useful and nice.


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