What’s Really Important: 3 Things I Realized When I Lost My Grandmother

“We forget what we want to remember and remember what we want to forget.” ~The Road

“Okay grandma, we’re going to run away!” I wheeled my grandma Jeanne in her wheelchair into the sunlight, through the courtyard, after we exited her nursing home. She knew though that she couldn’t leave, but she went along with the game. She knew she was stuck there. But we had fun with it, nonetheless.

I really did want to run away with her. I’d had a dream the night before that she told me, “I’m at the end of my life. You will be judged for how you take care of me.” That shocked me. I felt fear and worry about the potential of losing her and not doing a good enough job at helping her through her last days. She’d had a stroke and then was diagnosed with dementia. I wanted to care for her and make her proud of me.

“Do you work here?” My grandma looked at me, and suddenly I felt like I was failing her. It wasn’t my fault she didn’t recognize me. But I still felt like it was, like I wasn’t doing enough, especially due to that dream.

“No, it’s me. Your granddaughter, Sarah.” I pleaded in my heart that she would recognize me. She looked confused then said, “Oh.” I knew she felt ashamed she didn’t know it was me.

It was bittersweet when I left her. We had so much silly fun together. I knew I brightened her day. But it was darkened by her dementia and not knowing who I was at the end. It made me feel sad and defeated. Life’s unfairness hit me. Why did it have to be so hard for so many?

Losing your memories seems like the worst thing to happen, and that was at times her reality. She could only escape it with me so much.

If I could go back in time, I would visit her every day. I had already lost my other grandparents. She was the one who was there through to adulthood. I missed her so much after she passed.

It made me think of what would happen to me as I got older. Would I look back and be proud of myself? What would my future self say to me now? Who would I become?

Would I be an old woman wheeled around in a wheelchair by her granddaughter in a silly way? Was that success? That moment of love we shared was everything.

And like that, it was also gone. Little moments like this can be so fleeting. Happiness can be so hard to hold onto. But her spirit stayed with me.

That was also a time when I truly let go. I’d had a guard against love all my life due to the trauma of abusive boyfriends and more. I didn’t know how to truly feel it. But my grandma’s love sent me wisdom.

Her love made me realize that I was special, worthy, and enough. I didn’t have to try to become someone. I was already someone. I was loved by her, and it was the type of love that changes you.

I may have lost her to dementia and then death, but she taught me my value when I couldn’t see it myself. Even when she didn’t recognize me in the end, I knew that she was guiding me in this realization.

That day with my grandmother made me think about life and what was really important. Here’s what I found.

Life is a Gift

And one day, you have to give it back. You’ve heard this a thousand times, but it’s short too. It goes by fast. This makes you think you have to hold on tighter, fight harder, and become better. What you should be doing is the opposite of that: letting go.

Let go of the reasons you are afraid to be real in a relationship, go somewhere new, or be happy with yourself.

Embrace the fleetingness of it all so you can make the most of your life while you have the chance. It’s okay to feel like things are not in your control. None of us can truly control anything or the outcome of a life.

I couldn’t control my grandma losing her memories, but I made each moment with her count. That’s all I could do.

Instead of trying harder, try softer. Release and surrender to the fact that you can’t make everything last. But some things do. The most important things do.

Love is what stays when everything else has left us. Love is what we know even when we lose our memories of the past. The feeling remains even when the knowledge of it is lost. At least, that’s what happened with my grandma. I knew she felt my love even if she didn’t remember me. And that’s why I was able to see the impact of our time together anyway.

You Are Enough

When we look back at our lives, we will not say, “I should have had more achievements, greater wealth, more popularity, higher status, or a perfect body.”

So why do we focus on these things?

Society makes us feel like we have to be a celebrity or a massive success to be important. It makes us feel like we have to have a huge Instagram following to be an influencer. It makes us feel like we have to perform at all times on social media, only showing the highlight reel of our best moments. It makes us feel like we have to be thinner, richer, younger, more successful…

Where is authenticity in all of this? Where are the poets, the artists, the ones that heal a hurting world?

That’s what it really means to be important: to embrace our authentic selves so we can make a genuine difference in our sphere of influence, however big it may be. We don’t need to reach millions. We just need to reach into the hearts of the people we encounter knowing that truly is enough.

Don’t feel like that’s enough—or that you’re enough?

Do it anyway.

Love anyway.

Risk being yourself anyway.

Forgive anyway.

Show kindness (despite having experienced cruelty) anyway.

Choose happiness anyway.

Surrender anyway.

That’s what saves the world. It’s not about being known and admired by everyone. It’s about being authentic in a world that makes us think we are not enough. Because authenticity connects us. And genuine connection is what heals.

Very Little Matters in the Grand Scheme of Things (and That’s Okay)

The missed opportunities, the exes you had to leave behind, that perfect situation you thought you had to maintain… none of it matters. I’m not saying these things didn’t matter to you, or that they shouldn’t have mattered. Just that in the grand scheme of things, our circumstances aren’t as important as our character.

What really matters is who you are in those moments in between waiting for the next best thing to happen to you. It’s how you treat the people in your own little world when you’re wishing your world would change.

What really matters is your attitude when you feel lost and confused. It’s letting yourself find reasons to smile even though you’re not sure where you’re going or what you’re even doing. It’s being happy with what you have, even if you aren’t where you want to be. And it’s loving life even when you don’t know what to live for.

Cherish each second you are alive. Muster the strength to comfort and to be comforted. Inspire and lead whoever you can, help others through shared problems, and remember to talk about that which is hardest to talk about.

Forgive who you can, most of all yourself, and remember that it is the small moments that make up our lives. It’s the little joys we share with the people who take up the biggest place in our hearts. I may not remember everything at the end of my life, but I know I’ll remember I loved, and that I was loved in return.

About Sarah Jeanne Browne

Sarah Jeanne Browne is a speaker, writer, and activist. She is a self-help writer published on Forbes, Bella Grace, Lifehack, Tiny Buddha, Elephant Journal, Thrive Global, Raise Center, and more. She spoke at The Peal Center’s Transition Conference 2010, Pennsylvania Youth Leadership Network, The Woodlands Foundation, Reimagine, and various podcasts. She is an activist for human and animal rights. She volunteers for Tiny Buddha. She has bipolar, dyscalculia, and AuDHD. She/They Her website is www.sarahjeannebrowne.com and you can follow her on Facebook @sarahjsocialjustice.

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