My Grandma is crazy. Which is why everyone loves her so much. Last weekend she hosted an Easter dinner family gathering at her home near Philadelphia. My wife Min and I arrived early, and Grandma greeted us by saying, “You won’t believe what I did yesterday.”
My grandmother, Dora DiMarco Vito, is 80 years young. Although she maintains boundless energy and continued good health, she is at the age where many of her peers have since passed or will not be around much longer. This includes her husband Dominic, my grandfather, whose casket I carried at the age of 14. Oak is heavy, but it was the only thing I could do to distract myself from falling apart. It didn’t work. But I’d like to pretend that it did. When Grandma first started saying goodbye to friends and family members it really rattled her. She has been through enough of these experiences that she now has the drill down, and can put on a stoic, exterior shell, but I am guessing that some anxiety persists somewhere below the surface.
One of her neighbors, Marion, recently passed away. As Marion’s health declined Grandma spent increasing amounts of time with her, whether in person or on the phone. This was not for any specific function, but simply to keep Marion talking and help her maintain some sense of normalcy as the end approached. Saturday, the day before Easter, was Marion’s funeral. As Grandma was preparing to leave for the service in the morning, my cousin Tom called, announcing that he had an extra ticket for the Phillies preseason game, and asking if she would like to go. He knew he didn’t really need to ask, so this was just a formality. Since it was a morning funeral service, she figured she would have plenty of time to accommodate both. They agreed he would pick her up directly from the church and head into the city.
It was a wonderful service, with the only exception that it appeared to be going on much longer than planned. Marion’s sister Jillian had apparently asked just about everyone who had recently spent time with Marion to speak during the service. Grandma wasn’t planning to speak, but now she had a bigger problem, figuring out how to surreptitiously leave the service early without causing distraction. Like a covert ops special agent, she surveyed the crowd and scanned for exits. As she was about to make her move, one of the three children of her next door neighbor was speaking and mentioned that, “Grandma Vito was so nice and spent a lot of time talking with Marion, right to the end. I think Marion really appreciated that.” Eyes began looking around to locate said Grandma. Crap. When Jillian was preparing to call the next speaker, Grandma, staring nervously at her watch, finally stood up and interjected, “Jillan, wait!” She looked up at the ceiling and pleaded, “Marion please forgive me, but I have to go to the baseball game!” The entire church erupted in uproarious laughter. Grandma, now completely red in the face, scampered down the aisle with all eyes upon her. She crawled into Tom’s waiting car and told him how embarrassed she was at what had just transpired. Tom assured her that Marion would probably have been thrilled to know that she was continuing to do all the things she enjoyed. Grandma was not convinced, but like a true diehard enjoyed the game anyway, enchanting those around her with her enthusiasm and borderline obscene language (I think she learned that from Grandpa).
As a side note, we as a family have a lifelong obsession with the Phillies. Lest any question the longevity of my allegiance, I have baby photos with the Philly Phanatic, and a baseball signed by all members of the 1980 team which my father and I collected one-by-one, including the inscription, “Best wishes Michael, Mike Schmidt.” This makes living in northern New Jersey particularly challenging.
The next morning Grandma called Jillian to apologize and make amends. Jillian replied, “Are you kidding? That was absolutely the best part of the whole day!”
When a company embarks on a lifelong pursuit of sustainability, one of the most important factors to consider is stakeholder engagement. This includes both being aware that you have interested parties beyond your shareholders, as well as finding out what each group needs and wants. By focusing only on herself, Grandma did not recognize that there were others around her with varying needs, and therefore could not begin to see things from their points of view. She did not think that Marion would want to remember not a Dora in mourning, but a Dora living life as only she knows how. She definitely did not anticipate that her antics would provide a much needed pressure relief valve for those in the church, many likely near-paralyzed with grief.
Last weekend, many around the world observed and contemplated the death and resurrection of Christ, which occurred so that they could know a rich life with the love of God. Those at Marion’s funeral memorialized her life and their attendance represented the first step in getting on with theirs. For everyone, spring represents a time of rebirth when the cycle of life begins anew. Whatever your belief, I hope that you take advantage of this time to consider what new things (or continuation of existing things) will enrich your life, as I will do for mine. Let’s play ball.