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September 16th, 2009
Granny’s Secret

sophomore year



I’ve heard people say that a smile counts more than anyone knows. I’ve heard that being cheerful about everything can change your life for the better. I never paid very much attention to this until I saw an example of one of the most beautiful lives I have ever known: The life of my grandmother, Ann S. Granny’s example of how to live your life was right in front of my nose for fourteen years and I never realized it. It all started with a phone call.

I was in my parent’s room last November, joking and laughing with my dad in his room when the phone rang.

“It’s Granny and Papa!” My brother called out, as he usually does when he looks at the caller ID. My mom picked up the phone.

“Hello? Hi Papa. Is she okay? Yes, here is Patrick.”

My stomach dropped. My mom’s face was horror-stricken as she handed the phone to my dad, who quickly grabbed it and went into his office to talk.

“What’s wrong?” I asked quickly. My mom looked over.

“It’s Granny.” She started. “She has the cough your cousins had, but it is much worse and she fainted. I think they’re taking her to the hospital.”

My dad poked his face in the bedroom.

“Bea,” He said, looking at my mom. “I’m going to the hospital to see my mom.”

“I’ll go with you.” My mom answered, snatching up her coat. She turned to me,
“Pauline, go gather your sisters and brothers together and pray for Granny.”

My parents left almost immediately afterwards and I started leading the Rosary with all of my siblings. I hoped she would be okay. I had this feeling that she would come out alright, because she always had. She had gone through so much, from diabetes to back surgery, and she had always fought bravely to stay with us. Granny loved her family and the beautiful life she lived too much to let go. My parents got home late that night. My dad hardly said anything. My mom explained,

“Granny has cancer. She’s going to go through chemotherapy, but it’s pretty bad.” She sighed. “The chemo will only keep her alive temporarily.”
I think we all cried at that point.

The months passed. Granny bravely went through chemo. Even in her pain she cooked and cleaned and bustled around the kitchen for the first few months. Later, she started going in and out of the hospital. She spent Thanksgiving dinner, usually the biggest dinner for the Sullivan family, in the hospital. She was doing well at Christmastime, and we cherished and hugged and cuddled her. When she was in the hospital we all went to visit her. She would always say that there was nothing that cheered her up more than the sight of her grandchildren. The entire wall next to her bed was absolutely covered with “Get Well” cards, sloppily scribble by little grandchildren, or carefully drawn by the older ones. Her nurses declared that there was no person in the hospital with so many beautiful cards, balloons, flowers and pictures. On Easter morning, my family and I drove down to Denver to see her, along with my cousins, for an Easter feast. On the way there we got another phone call. It was my Aunt Erin, saying that Granny had fallen and hurt her hip and shoulder. She was in the hospital again.

We spent most of Easter in the hospital next to her. She was pale and mostly asleep. All of the cousins went down to the Chapel for Easter Mass except my sisters, my dad and I. We sat by her bed and watched the Easter Mass live on Granny’s hospital television. My sisters and I sang all the hymns and she would smile every once in a while. When it was time for all of us to leave, I hugged her and whispered,

“I love you Granny.”

“Oh darlin’, I love you so much.” She whispered back.

I am so glad that I spent her last Easter Mass with her and sang to her, because that was the last time I saw Granny.

I got home from French class a few days later and my mom, dad and two of my sisters were gone. Instead, Mrs. Silvia, one of our neighbors, walked up to me while I was in the doorway and said,

“Pauline, your grandmother is in her last hours and your parents are at the hospital with her. I’ll be here with you to help you take care of the kids.”

That night a snow storm came in and I got a call from my parents saying they couldn’t come home through the snow. The next day things went from bad to worse. Our power went out because of the storm so I could not contact my parents by the phone. I had no idea how Granny was doing, or if she was even alive. We have an electric water pump, so we had no water. We also had no firewood. This sounds phony but honest and true, every disaster happened at the same time. I closed myself in my room, half crazed at the thought of not knowing if my grandma was alive or not. I stayed there for almost the whole day, lying on my bed, trying not to think about the horror of the situation. Finally, I asked myself, “What would Granny do?”


I flashed back to everything Granny was and still is to me. Granny was a happy, smiling, blue-eyed, dimpled-cheeked Irish woman. She worked as a nurse. She and my grandpa raised eight children to be the classic, large, Catholic Irish family. She was the dearest, the sweetest, and the most charitable person I have ever known. She was, and still is, an Angel. Our joys were her joys. Our sufferings were her sufferings. No task was too hard for her. She would get off the phone with her sister to get the mailman a glass of water. She would get up at 6:00 am to fix you a delicious breakfast. She always had a hot, homemade meal. Not to mention that she had 42 grandchildren and a special relationship with each and every one of them. No number of children was too many for her to cook for. She loved every child. She loved every baby. She loved every person.

“Stay for dinner! Please?” was Granny’s catchphrase. My dad would always protest that there were too many of us.

“Bologna!” was her answer to every one of my dad’s protests, as she settled all of us down for dinner.

Along with being my ultimate role model, she was also a Children’s book author, something I have always wanted to be. She wrote over thirty children’s books, though only two were published. She wrote because she loved to write and nothing would stop her, no matter how many depressing letters she received from editors. Every time I spent the night I would read one of her un-published stories and wonder at the brains of editors. When asked who my favorite author was when I was little, I always answered “My grandma!” And it was true. Not many people know about Granny’s thirty books hidden in her office, and for me, it was like a room full of buried treasure. I wrote my first full story with her while we were camping. I was nine at the time, and I wrote about two mischievous fairies. It was only thirty pages, and poorly written and spelled, but to Granny it was a masterpiece.

“Keep at it darlin’!” She would tell me. “You’ll be a best selling author someday!”

I wrote and rewrote stories upon stories, always with her encouragement. My friends started coming to her to ask for advice about their stories, and she helped them as well. In fact, she helped everyone, whether it was cooking dinners for friends who had just had babies, or just planning a family brunch. Every night she would watch an old movie with my grandpa until all hours of the morning, and then she would read in a hot bath. She’d joke every morning as she blow-dried the pages to her book.
“I dropped my book in the bath again last night! I can count on my fingers all of the books I own that haven’t been blow-dried.”

Everyone loved her; she had so many friends, and such a happy life. I started asking myself what made her so special to everyone. What was her secret? I closed my eyes and thought hard. Of course! It was her over flowing joy that made her such a wonderful person! No one could enjoy life if they pouted through it. She would certainly not leave all of the little kids upstairs to take care of themselves. She would take care of them and she would do it with a smile. Jumping to my feet, I put a smile on my face and went upstairs.

“Alright munchkins, what do you want for dinner?” I asked the five that were left at home, boiling snow in a pot to melt it into water. My poor little siblings, who had wondered what had come over me, ran up to me.

“Spaghetti! Spaghetti!” They called out, all smiles. I smiled more, knowing that Granny would have wanted me to do just that.

While dinner was cooking I went to the neighbors and asked for some firewood. They immediately became aware of our situation and gave us plenty of wood, which we hauled up to our house bit by bit because of how deep the snow was. Every day for three days the power would go on for one hour. Mrs. Silvia and I filled up the bathtub with water during this hour and I would email my parents telling them that I was all right, because our phones were still dead. Every day for three days I tried to be happy and distract my little siblings from what was going on. On the fourth day, Saturday, April 18th, the power went back on and I went to email my parents. The first new message I had was one from my grandpa. I opened it and realized that it had been sent out to all family and friends saying that my grandma had died the day before. My parents finally came home later that afternoon and we were very happy to be together again. My cousins and I sang our hearts out for her funeral. I knew she was in heaven. I knew she was with the Person she had lived her life for. I knew she was happy. Her life is not over. It is just beginning. She is still living her beautiful life and I am going to try to do the same.

It’s a little sad that the only way for me to realize Granny’s secret was to go through something as hard that week in April. However, I’m glad that my eyes were opened and I can see the beauty and meaning of life. Since April, I have tried to live life the way Granny did and it works! I’m definitely not good at it, and sometimes I just want to quit. But being happy makes life is so much better. And all of my happiness I give to Granny, who is my role model, my heroine and my angel. If you want happiness in life, be happy. This I believe with all my heart.



'Every time you smile at someone, it is an action of love, a gift to that person, a beautiful thing.'~ Mother Theresa





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