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Grandma: She Taught By Example

Updated on September 3, 2012
Ada Lillian Simmons Sanders
Ada Lillian Simmons Sanders

I was 19 years old when I ventured alone and drove 3 hours to spend a week with my Grandma, Ada Lillian Simmons Sanders. I was old enough to appreciate the treaure of spending time with her, but not wise enough to capture her stories with a tape recorder. I only remember bits and pieces of the stories she told me. Mostly the funny ones, like the time she painted the toilet seat, forgot about it, and sat on it when it wasn't yet dry. But what I remember, more than anything else, is the life she lived and the example she set before me. This is what she taught me.

1. Never Give Up

My Grandma had been told that you marry the first man that asks you. So at 16 years of age she married a much older man. Unfortunately, he had ill intentions, and took her out to the woods to kill her. Somehow he got distracted and she was able to run for her life. Shortly thereafter she got the marriage annulled. She didn’t give up on love though, and she married again to an amazing man, my Grandfather, John Wiley Sanders.

Grandma was widowed at age 45, and for the first time, she had to go out and get a job to provide for her family. She started working at Ford Motor Company doing janitorial work, and then worked her way up to a seamstress sewing seat covers. Her hard work paid off, and she ended up retiring and receiving a pension from Ford.

2. Family is a Priority

While in her teens, my Grandma lost her dad to alcoholism. Later her mother met and married another man; only this man didn’t want the children that came with the marriage. My grandma and her siblings were sent to live with other relatives. As one can only imagine, this was difficult for her and her siblings. Then when my grandma was in her mid 40’s she lost her husband to pneumonia. She had 7 children, and my mother, the youngest, was only 3 years old. She would never marry again, because she wanted to keep her family together. I heard her say time and time again, “I kept my family together.” She took great pride in this accomplishment.

Grandma, Grandpa, and my mom
Grandma, Grandpa, and my mom

3. Faith is Foundational

After she was widowed, Grandma struggled more than most families to make ends meet. She had a strong faith in God, and He supplied her needs in miraculous ways. Many times she would run out of coal to heat her home, but mysteriously a basket full of it would appear on the porch. This same thing would happen when she was running out of food.

Grandma got Parkinson’s disease in her later years, but that didn’t stop her from reading her Bible. One of the memories indelibly etched in my mind is when I would see her in her room, her hands shaking, as she strained to read her Bible.

Grandma, My Mom, and My Daughter
Grandma, My Mom, and My Daughter

4. Don't Complain and Truth is Important

Grandma was 90 years old and I was 22 when she fell and broke her hip. This took her on a road of gradual decline until her death 2 years later. I would come to see her and say, “Hey Gram how are you feeling today.” She would always respond and say, “Well, I don’t want to complain; but I don’t want to lie and tell you I’m feeling good.”

5. Don't Gossip

I was fortunate to be able to spend quite a bit of time with my Grandma. When I was a young child she would accompany us on family vacations, and during the summer my siblings and I would take turns spending a few days with her. During the last 4 years of her life I would see her at least 2 or 3 times per week. I never once, and I mean never once, heard her say an unkind word about anyone, and I never heard her gossip. Oh, I’m sure she had her opinions, as she was a very strong woman, but she chose to keep them to herself.

6. Give

Grandma didn’t have a lot materially, but she was always giving. She gave of herself and her time. She was the only one who would take the time to get the big knots out of my long hair.

7. You Don't Have to Fear Death

At one point, after breaking her hip, my Grandma went into a coma. She lived with my parents, and all the family that could, gathered in her room as we thought she was going to die. She didn’t pass on that day, but she said she saw the gates of heaven, her husband John, and the 2 children she had lost as babies. She had no fear of death, because she knew her final destination. In fact, she would always say, “I’m ready to go when the Good Lord is ready to take me.”

It was a fall day in south Florida when my mom needed me to watch Grandma because the nurse couldn’t come in that day. She was bone thin, frail, and had gotten a huge bed sore on her back. I gave her Ensure to drink, but she could only take a few sips. I prayed that day that God would take her home. She had lived a good life with faith, integrity, and strength. I didn't want to see her suffer anymore. The next morning, when the nurses from hospice came in, they turned her on her side to bathe her, and she took her last breath here on earth to be united with her family in heaven.

Yolanda Ada and Israel John - 8 years old
Yolanda Ada and Israel John - 8 years old

Her Spirit Lives On

I wrote a tribute to my Grandma that was read at her funeral. The tribute ended with these words:

You have meant so much to those whose lives you have touched. I pray that we will not be content to just hold the memories in our hearts, but that we would let them become an inspiration and a reminder of how we should live. Then as we act upon the things you have shown us with your life; your spirit will live on through our lives.

It has been 27 years ago that my Grandma passed away, and I do believe her spirit lives on through her family. I often feel her spirit with me, and I never felt it stronger than when I adopted my 8 year-old Guatemalan twins, Yolanda and Israel: who officially ,at the time of the adoption, became Yolanda Ada and Israel John. I know she is smiling down on me.


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