Last Saturday, I lost my incredible grandmother at the age of 96, and while her death was incredibly sad, it was also a celebration of a truly amazing life. Her name was Barbara, and she literally spent almost every waking of moment of her 96 years smiling, laughing, and bringing joy to everyone who had the pleasure of meeting her. I often referred to her as a “walking Hallmark greeting card” and I know she is responsible for my writer brain and kind spirit, among other things. There was rarely a week that went by in my adult life that I didn’t receive a phone call or loving voicemail from my grandmother, and I cherished every single one of them. If she wasn’t calling to remind me how much she loved me, she was writing it in hand-written letters that were usually accompanied by newspaper clippings about my favorite Michigan sports teams. I know how truly blessed I was to have had such a loving and supportive grandmother, so I thought the least I could do was share stories of her kindness with others in the hopes that she can continue being a positive influence on others, even though she is no longer with us. Love you, grandma. And as she would always say back, “I love you too, dear.”
Barbara having dinner at her favorite restaurant last year with my father (left) and my uncle (right)
Barbara was born on August 20, 1921 in Grand Rapids, Michigan and was soon adopted by my extremely loving great grandparents. She attended Grand Rapids Central High School and graduated from the Business College before working for Old Kent Bank during World War II and for Jacobson’s Children’s Department for many years. Barbara was a lifetime member of the Central Reformed Church, serving as elder and deacon on several occasions, and in the Chancel Choir for over 66 years. My dad would often joke about how his mother would sing at the top of her lungs in the shower almost every morning to make sure her sons were waking up and getting ready for school or church. And when she wasn’t singing or working, Barbara was always cooking up a storm in the kitchen, including her famous “almond banket,” which is seriously one of the most delicious desserts on the planet.
Barbara’s first day at the beach in Grand Haven, Michigan in 1924
Barbara had an incredible knack for storytelling. She was born with the gift of making even the most mundane things in life sound interesting. One of her favorite things to do was sit on the back porch with my grandfather and watch birds taking a bath in the fountain in their backyard while they each read a book or The New Yorker. She spent the first 15 years of my life trying to convince me that the fictional character Peter Rabbit actually lived in her backyard, and I always made sure to go along it. Well, until I was 20. 🙂
Barbara with my incredibly awesome sister at her 96th birthday party in August.
Barbara always referred to everyone as “dear” and she’d always make sure to tell everyone in her life how they always had a special place in her heart. She even went as far as to explain exactly where your position was in her heart and who you were next to. She was so beloved in her hometown of Grand Rapids, Michigan that her neighborhood rented a golf cart for her 95th birthday and drove her around for hours like it was her own personal parade. Barbara also never had to enter an assisted living home because she had so many friends and neighbors that would come over to her house and check on her literally every single day after my grandfather passed over 10 years ago. When Barbara wasn’t entertaining guests she lovingly referred to as “The Ladies of Lawndale,” or her dear friends Jeff and Shelly, she was talking to someone of the phone all day, every day. Up until about a month ago, Barbara literally never lost a step mentally, calling me to complain about the dirty play of the New York Giants when they were playing my Detroit Lions on Monday Night Football in early September.
Barbara, my grandfather, and sister at my high school graduation in 1994
Barbara was married to my equally kind and giving grandfather, William for 66 years. They were married shortly before he left for World War II and I recently found out that my grandfather was supposed to fight in D-Day, but ended up staying behind to get his teeth fixed. They were quite literally the perfect couple who loved each other so deeply and respected each other every single day. Every family holiday at their house was special, and it always included non-stop laughter, great food, and lots of ping pong in the basement.
Barbara with my grandfather the day before he left to be a tank gunner in World War II
If you take anything from this article, I hope it’s that Barbara was a shining example of how to live a long and happy life. I firmly believe this was due to her relentless happiness and endless positivity. She taught me everything I know about how to treat people with kindness and respect, and knowing that if you do, you’ll get a lot of love in return. Oh, and don’t forget to sing in the shower every morning and never stop believing that talking rabbits live in your backyard. And seriously, Google the almond banket recipe. You can thank me later.