Keeping the Faith and Gratitude Alive All Yearlong

In keeping with last month’s sentiment of gratitude, I found myself writing what turned out to be a tribute to my grandmother, who my family affectionately called, “GooGoo.” It was the introduction to my newsletter, something I pen every month, and after it was done, I moved on to the next dozen or so tasks I had to accomplish that particular day. 

That deep feeling of gratitude and the desire and willingness to share it with others doesn’t need to be left to only one month a year.

The curious thing about it is, you never know when what you write will resonate more deeply with people. I wrote that intro on a weekend, a few days before the newsletter was sent. What had been front and center and laser-focused had moved away from the forefront — until I started receiving emails from readers. What I had written about GooGoo’s life, and the impact it had on me, struck a chord with many people.

That deep feeling of gratitude and the desire and willingness to share it with others doesn’t need to be left to only one month a year. For those of you who may not have read the newsletter, here’s why I am so grateful for her…

GooGoo was a hero to my brother, two sisters, and me. She was full of hugs and giggles, and each of us felt like she loved us the most, because of the singular attention we received from her. In my case, when I was feeling like a failure, GooGoo would remind me that I was a child of God and was just as good as everyone else. She loved me to the point of helping me believe in myself.

GooGoo didn’t have an easy life. Her husband, my mother’s father and my grandfather, died in a car accident when my mother was two. Later, when she remarried, she had a child with Down’s Syndrome. Still later, she would care for her mother as she declined with dementia. After that, she would lose a son, my 31-year-old uncle, to brain cancer. Yet through it all, she remained devoted to her faith. I remember asking her once how she could possibly believe in God after having suffered through so much in life. She was surprised by my question and said, “Are you kidding me? How do you think I got through all that. Keep the faith!”

The entire time I knew GooGoo, she lived in a two-bedroom apartment, most of the time by herself. On weekends, my siblings and I would fight about who got to sleep at GooGoo’s. On weekends when I was the winner, I loved indulging in conspiracy theories with her, most of which were drawn from her subscription to The National Enquirer. She’d also let me stay up late and watch Johnny Carson. But most of all, we would laugh at old stories and silly jokes.

Ours was a beautiful relationship coming to the only end it could, full of grace, love, and gratitude.

While in college, GooGoo and I kept up a regular correspondence, her notes were always full of encouragement and optimism. After college, I moved to Atlanta where the economy was booming. It was there that I learned GooGoo, like her son, had developed brain cancer. While I called her often, eventually, my mom encouraged me to come home to say my goodbyes. I thought hard about what I wanted to say to this wonderful, independent, optimistic, and deeply faithful woman. The only words that came to mind were simply, “Thank you.” I flew up to my home in New York and headed to New Rochelle Hospital, where GooGoo was being treated.

After spending time reminiscing, I got ready to leave. As I did, GooGoo took my hands, looked me deep in the eyes, and said, “Thank you, Billy. You’ve been a wonderful grandson, and I love you very much.” I could hardly move. The person who had affected my character more than any other was thanking me

That moment wasn’t about saying our peace — nothing had remained unsaid. It was about confirming our love before a long voyage of separation. After I walked a few steps outside the hospital room, I stood against the wall and wept like a child. Ours was a beautiful relationship coming to the only end it could, full of grace, love, and gratitude. Our shared moment of gratitude remains one of my most cherished memories.

There were so many character-shaping lessons I learned from GooGoo that it’s hard to catalog them all. One thing stands out, though, and that is to be grateful for everything life gives you – the joys and the tragedies. Giving thanks, GooGoo taught me, isn’t a seasonal decision, it’s a way of living. Don’t take anything or anyone for granted. Say “thank you” and mean it. Count your blessings and share them when you can. Remember to keep the faith. You’ll have a much better chance of finding peace and joy if you do. 

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