Posted by Jennifer on Feb 29, 2016
“Jen, dear, you should try writing, it might be interesting.”Those were some of the last words my Nana ever wrote to me.  Ironically years later, I began writing and it has blessed me ever since.

(Nana and us kids. I'm in the middle-- aren't we cute!?)

My Nana passed away February 29th 1992, a loss many have never recovered from. I especially was radically transformed by her death. She was the first person I knew who had died. I was going through a life-threatening situation myself and because of her passing, I became aware of my own mortality. I realized that I had to change my situation or I would die too. I truly believe my Nana gave me her strength when she went to heaven.  In fact, I know without a doubt that she breathed life back into me with her last breath. I know this because I was at a desperately low point in my life and going down fast. When Nana died, I suddenly found the will to live and began to make changes that would allow me to heal. I had never been able to find such power until she was gone.  I have felt my Nana’s spirit with me from that day forward. She is with me now and guides me daily….I can bet some of you have a “Nana” in your life too.

(Nana and I)

I know many of you have lost a loved one, or have known someone who has been devastated by the passing of another. I do not believe time heals, but I believe time opens us to celebrate a life gone too soon and softens the sting of  pain. Time allows us perspective and the ability to reach into the soul of the person who has died, and discover gifts and life lessons that  only can be understood  once someone is gone.

 Today is the anniversary of my Nana’s death. She died on leap year.  Although you may have never known Ellen Wilson Burt, her story and simple wisdom is an inspiration for us all.  My mom Sydney Goodwin (her daughter) said that Nana was her role model, mentor, and friend. She was a beautiful, intelligent, athletic, quiet, thoughtful, artistic and caring person. My mom believed that all of her kids had some of Nana within them and that made her so grateful.


In this Rise Up Well, I want to pay tribute to my amazing Nana whose life lessons are timeless.  She lived and died with such faith, grace, honor and surrounded by love. I know that you will be inspired by her wisdom and how she moved through life. Throughout this article are quotes and pictures that remind me of her.   I also would like to take this time to pay tribute to any loss you have had in your life. May we never forget the ones who have gone before.  

Simple Wisdom I learned from Nana:
  • Hand write thank you notes and ALWAYS send thank you notes
  • When and elder come to the dinner table, STAND UP
  • Maintain excellent  posture
  • Make sports a part of your life
  • Take time to walk in the woods
  • Have lots of friends
  • Express your creativity…she was an amazing artist
  • Be confident enough to live on your own and truly love it
  • Celebrate often
  • Have hobbies
  • Know the power of nature
  • Never forget the written word…and check your grammar
  • Whatever space you have, make it bright, beautiful and clean
  • It's okay to have bacon and eggs and coffee for breakfast sometimes….but moderation is the key
  • Always leave the person you are speaking with feeling better about themselves
  • Use more descriptive rich adjectives in life
  • Say I love you and I miss you… a lot!
  • Acknowledge others efforts
  • Explore your inner most thoughts
  • Write letters often…handwritten….
  • Always offer to help
  • A sense of humor is essential
  • Use the word Whoopie more….that was one of her favorite words. How can you have a bad day when you yell Whoopie!!!!!! Try it now! We need more Whoopie in this world.
My Nana always use to tell me “I hope and pray you don’t waste your inherent potential. “ We all need to hear that.  What are your dreams in life? Take action to bring them into reality…now!
My Nana also knew how important it was take time for activity.  She often asked me to remind my mom to take time for her sports. She believed it was important for one’s health and slowing the aging process…a point well taken.

My Mom said Nana’s top life lessons were:
  1. Stay positive
  2. Make the most of every day
  3. Stay organized
  4. Always keep learning
  5. Help those less fortunate
  6. Find humor in tough situations
  7. Never take yourself too seriously
  8. Balance time with people and time alone
  9. Stay connected to family
  10. Surround yourself with nature
  11. Make lasting friends
  12. Find a peaceful hobby
  13. Pray
  14. Balanced diet
  15. Always eat a good breakfast
  16. Walk and stay fit
  17. Use your creativity to dress well…keep it simple and elegant
  18. Serve others and your community
Nana’s daily routine: ( Sounds a lot like me)
  • Healthy breakfast…always sitting at the table
  • Up early
  • Exercise…walking around Forest Hills ( her neighborhood) or playing golf…used to ice skate
  • Meet friends for bridge or lunch
  • Took courses….kept learning
  • When older, sometimes napped in the afternoon
  • Balanced dinner, again at the table
  • Got books from the local library and read herself to sleep every night
Nana knew the basic elements to a life well lived.  In today’s culture, we have lost so much of the  fundamentals that keep us well …take some time to think about how you can incorporate LESSONS FROM NANA in your life….I guarantee you will feel the impact long into your future.

People often say one of the worst imaginable experiences is losing a child. Well, I would have to say losing a parent is just as tragic. I have never witnessed a bond so tight, a love so strong and a friendship so close as my mother had with her mom.

When my Nana died, a piece of my mother died too, but I know that they will be together again….they will laugh, play golf, watch tennis and sit on a deck overlooking all of God’s creation while catching up on lost time.

I would like to conclude Rise Up Well with some words from my mother about her mother. I feel so blessed to be a part of this amazing and inspirational heritage. I know where my strength and resiliency comes from.  I call this my “Rise Up Ability”….We all have this in us. My Nana was the true definition of one who Rises Up Well.  I can only hope to leave a legacy as rich and meaningful as they have done. I love you both more than you will ever know.
“ I hope you will always remember her. She was such a strong person with solid values and morals. I never heard her say a swear word except on the day she died. She didn’t want to die and she knew she was. Her father taught her to be frugal and thrifty which truly saved her after her divorce. She was left with nothing.  Her family believed that humor could see one through the toughest of times, and believe me Nana was witness to many tough times. From 1959 through 1963 she lost her beloved brother, her mother, and her father, her husband by divorce and her home to fire.  Most everything she had was destroyed. She was devastated but decided to rebuild and redesign her house. She had wonderful friends who pulled her through and was a “saver” of money. She told me,
“If you stand tall and hold your head high and walk with confidence, people would not notice whether or not you were wearing designer clothes.” She was not but was always considered to be “a fashion plate”. She shopped at bargain basement sales and never told anyone. She loved to read and educated herself by reading most of the 10,000 volumes her father had collected for his library.  Due to  The Great Depression she was forced to give up her dream to attend college. She loved sports..Equestrian, swimmer, tennis player, hunter and fisherman. She always took classes, especially art and writing.  She even wrote a book about a Hungarian King not long before she died. She loved to converse and I would sit on the back deck with her and talk for hours. She did enjoy cocktails but never more than two and did not tolerate inebriation. She has seen too much of that in her life and it hurt her terribly. Most of all she loved her grandchildren. Her greatest joy was spending time with them.”

Throughout Ellen Wilson Burt’s life was a theme of Rising Up Well…time and time again. She was full of the spirit of joy, peace, resiliency, faith, humor, moderation, activity, quiet, education, creativity enthusiasm, optimism….but most of all love. I believe if we lived a bit more like my Nana, our lives would be elevated in ways we cannot even imagine.

Thank you for allowing me to share my Nana with you….May her life’s message be an inspiration to  all.   Let us always hold close those that are gone, but know that they are never really gone… they have become our guardian angel. All we need to do is close our eyes, reach into our heart and we will find them there.  
With Love and Hope,