We forget, sometimes, the full width and breadth of what a life can encompass. Especially one that’s been long and fruitful.

The oldest people you’re likely to see today, in their late 80s and early 90s, would have been born during or just after the First World War. That’s a useful reference point if only to drive home the enormity of that span: 65 million people fought and 16 million died in that conflict, and there isn’t a single veteran alive today. The last official veteran died this year and the last combat veteran a year ago.

That world had electricity, automobiles, and telephones but still how unspeakably alien it would have been to someone from today raised on wireless networks and instant global communications? And yet it all coexists with living links to the past, people whose earliest memories predate the Wall Street crash and the Roosevelt presidency.

And yet, almost more so than the great events and wars that serve as mileposts of our history, there was the day-to-day, the mundane business of existing. Too often, that’s forgotten. Anyone can talk about a war, but who can tell us what breakfast was like in 1925? History book remember the market crash, but who remembers what was being taught in school that day?

That’s the greatest gift and the greatest tragedy that a long full life brings. It’s a window to the past, but once it is closed there is so much that is lost forever.

When I think of my grandmother, who was born in June 1918 and died this morning 9 months short of 95 years later, I think of all those little moments of the past–the family past, the historic past, the mundane past–now lost forever.

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