The Wheelchair CEO

My grandma, Neena, lived a life that would have broken others. She had a genetic disorder that caused kidney failure. Following a kidney transplant she braved 12 years on dialysis. Most people would consider her life miserable, but not Neena. Why did she endure so much for so long when it would have been so easy to give up? She had a purpose in life.

I called Neena the ‘People’s Consultant for Living a Better Life’ – she was the CEO of a company of one! “People need mentors, Ryan,” Neena would often say. “People need to know they are important, that they play a critical role in life.”

My grandmother pursued me. She didn’t wait for me to call – she called me. She made an intentional effort for me to get to know her. That means the world to me now because it gave me a chance to discover what made her so special.

She taught me not to quit on people or family. (I have had reasons.) She coached me to engage in deep relationships even though they cause pain. She told me not to shy away from other people’s messes even when I saw no way to help. “Get to know them and God will use you.”

In my job I speak to the elderly and often hear, “I don’t know why I am still here.”  I emphatically answer, “You are here because WE NEED YOU! With over half of America divorced, young people are growing up without parents and with no direction. Who will inspire them to live their lives to their full potential? It’s YOU!”  You can help us navigate the problems and curve-balls that life throws at us. We trust you. We love you, and we need you.

One month before Neena died I walked into her room. “I need your help with this problem I have at work.”

“Of course you do,” she grinned. “Sit down!” We talked and we laughed as she offered her thoughts. Reinvigorated after my visit, I kissed her good bye.

“Not done yet?” I asked as I was leaving. With determination, she smiled, “Not done yet.”

On May 1, 2017 she passed away having successfully fulfilled her purposes.


Ryan Petrillo is 27 and spoke at the recent “Do It Grandly” – Grandparents Conference in Maryland.

Copyright © 2018 Grandly: The Strategic Grandparents Club.


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