My grandmother, Ruth Gallo, is 90. Recently, we’ve been spending more time together.
She’s my only grandparent left. Both of my grandfathers died when I was young. I was very close to my mom’s mother, who passed more recently. Over the years, I’ve had less time with my dad’s mother because she travels between here and Colombia.
So I’ve treasured our recent time together. My Grandma is witty and very smart. Her face can seem serious, but she’s so sweet to me. And she’s in very good health.
I just love to ask her questions, and I’ve been recording her answers. Listening to someone who has lived 90 years on this earth is so interesting.
My Grandma still owns the house in Colombia that my father grew up in. I have vivid memories of visiting that house when I was little.
Recently, I asked her: How did you guys end up in that house? She began telling me the story of her family in the 1950s. She explained how they worked the land, how she made her own chocolate from scratch.
During a period of political unrest, they were run off of their land and ended up at that house where she lives now. The abrupt move is how she met my grandfather.
I also love listening to my Grandma’s wisdom. She likes to quote an old saying: “God writes straight with crooked lines.”
My grandmother was raised with faith values but developed a personal connection to the Lord later in life. She didn’t get serious about reading her Bible until she was in her 70s. My father baptized her, actually.
It’s an honor to listen to her tell stories and share spiritual advice.
Life in view of death
Why am I telling you about these special moments with my grandmother? I’ve been thinking recently of how important it is to cherish time with loved ones.
Unfortunately, I’ve been way too familiar with death in my life. I first experienced it — up close and personal — when I was asked to officiate a funeral as a youth pastor in my early 20s.
Part of my job was to stand near the body and shake hands after people said their goodbyes to the deceased. I was uncomfortable standing right next to the head of this poor lady, who was the great-grandmother of some of the youth students I ministered to. However, I was also told I should be prepared to catch people if they fainted or were overwhelmed with emotion.
After that, death was a regular theme in my life. I’ve officiated funerals and been at people’s bedside as they died in the hospital. I’ve literally seen a guy die at work.
Death has hit my own family. This January marked 10 years since my sister, who was my best friend, died at age 32. My mom’s death last year was more in line with the usual order of things. You expect parents to die before their kids. But she was so young and so healthy up until that moment.
Regret can’t help you
Through the tragedies, what I’ve learned from my dad — and even from my mom — is to live life without regret.
Before my sister died, she was in a coma for 14 days. Hundreds of people came to see her in the hospital during that time. So many that security came by because they thought something was going on.
I remember a childhood friend who walked into my sister’s room and started to cry. She threw herself on top of my sister, apologizing for all this stuff she ever felt she did wrong, for all the arguments they ever had as teenagers.
A nurse reprimanded her: “You need to stop. She can hear everything you’re saying, and regret is not going to help you now.”
As we said goodbye to my sister, I watched people who live in regret. But even their regret was short-lived. I had people tell me, “Juan, we’ve got to keep in touch because life is too short.”
A week or two went by, and I didn’t really hear from those people.
Flowers on an empty grave
The one thing that gives me peace is that I don’t live with regret. My sister and I were a year and a half apart. We argued and fought as much as you might expect siblings to. But we also shared a lot of life together as we grew up, got married and had kids about the same time.
It’s so important to do what you want to do while someone’s alive. Don’t bring flowers to an empty grave. That’s been the ongoing thought for my dad and me, now that it’s just us left.
So many people brought flowers to my sister’s funeral. So many people brought flowers to my mom’s funeral. And I’m not devaluing that gesture. I get that sometimes it helps bring people peace.
But if you’re spending money on flowers because there’s regret, don’t. Instead, do better. Do better with the people who are in front of you and alive.
I feel like we dismiss that too easily. It’s so important to value the moments with family and friends now, while we have the chance.
What will you do to cherish every moment you have left with your loved ones?