Count Your Blessings
Grandma “Gigi” Janet
October 9, 1928 - October 24, 2021
Eight years ago, my grandmother had a stroke. Afterwards, I asked her what her life advice would be. What did she want us to know?
She gave two answers: count your blessings, and “God is good, God is great, God is good all the time.”
My grandma Janet lit up a room, she was always in the heart of the crowd, head thrown back laughing with her movie star smile shining. I remember feeling proud to be associated with such a glamorous, kind, generous, sparkling woman. To be her granddaughter made me feel glamorous too.
I remember thinking she was rich, and being so surprised later on in life when I realized - yes, her life was rich, but her riches weren’t in paper money. She was rich in gratitude. She was rich in her belief that God was good all the time regardless of circumstances.
One of the greatest privileges in my life almost didn’t happen. When I found out my grandmother was dying, I went into a tailspin. I didn’t know whether to pick up my daughter from school, or hit the road, or move to Alaska, or join a band. So I called my friend, Nicole, and asked her what to do. She said, “Katie, this happens once - go to Ohio.”
There were no plane tickets to buy, or borders to cross - so I made the short four hour drive. And being there with my hero, with the person I’ve always wanted to be, I was scared. I couldn’t think of what to do. Everything felt surreal. But then I noticed her Bible. The one she bought in 2007 as my grandfather, her husband of over 50 years, was dying of Alzheimer’s.
In her Bible I found her response to the worst of circumstances. I thought my sparkly, positive grandmother was just naturally grateful and sunny - but in the pages of her worn Bible I saw the behind the scenes work - complete with dated entries - of how she made the hard choice to be grateful always, even as her beloved husband passed away from a cruel disease.
A lover of poems, my grandma taped a poem in the very front cover of her Bible:
If God brings you to it, He will bring you through it.
Happy moments, praise God.
Difficult moments, seek God.
Quiet moments, worship God.
Painful moments, trust God.
Every moment, thank God.
And in her handwriting below, she’d written the words “Life now and life eternal are both gifts of love from God - 2007.” The year my grandfather passed away.
Suddenly, I wasn’t scared. The sights, the sounds, they were sad. But I let them feel sad, and then I noticed the gifts in the pain too. The incredible people who came to check on my grandmother as she passed, she wasn’t aware of them, but they treated her with such gentleness and respect reminded me of first responders in an accident. An accident can be a heartbreaking thing, but the first responders fill me with hope.
I’m so thankful for one final lesson from my grandma. Gratitude takes work. It’s a choice. I can’t control what happens, but I can control how I respond. I can choose gratitude, just like my grandmother chose to see life as a gift even when her circumstances were painful.
My grandmother - my hero, my aspiration and inspiration for how I want to live - is now enjoying the gift of eternity. She’s with the love of her life, her precious mom, and so many, many friends who made her laugh her movie star laugh.
I never want to forget what made my grandmother’s life sparkle despite circumstances. I too want to make the choice, even when it’s hard - even now when someone I love very much is gone - to count my blessings. I too want to go to my Bible and remind myself - as she had written in the margins of some of her favorite verses - not to “harden my heart.” After all
- even when I don’t understand all of it - God is good, God is great, and God is good all the time. My grandma taught me that.
Photo of my grandmother at her 90th birthday party. There were so many people who came to celebrate her! I did a charcoal of her high school portrait. What a beauty.