Lessons From Thelma

Erika Petrelli
Erika Petrelli
Lessons From Thelma

The woman who has been “granny” for nearly 14 years died last week at the age of 97. She was my grandpa’s girlfriend for five years before he passed away, and we kept her in our family for nine additional years. It’s interesting to think of, but she was the only “grandparent” of mine to meet either of my two children. Thelma pretty much died on her own terms. While cancers and other ailments had begun to betray her body over the past few years, last week she essentially declared herself ready to die, and died. This, after making her final Meals-On-Wheels delivery, a commitment she’d been keeping twice weekly for decades. (Yes, I said delivering, not receiving.)

At the funeral this past weekend, we spoke to one of her dearest friends, a fellow 90-something year old—a classy, sharp, funny woman who talked of how beautiful it was to watch Thelma and my grandpa discover love so late in life—both of them in their 80s. “And we all watched,” she laughed, speaking of the church community that both Thelma and my grandpa had spent years with (in Thelma’s case, more than 65 years). My mom has picture after picture of Thelma and my grandpa clutching each other and giggling in the way only young lovers do.

How beautiful is that?

I love the idea that it is never too late in life for anything, including love. The relationship that Thelma and my grandpa shared was a reminder that there is no “proper” way to pass the decades of your life. There is no actual boundary that says “oh you can only do this in your 20s and that in your 50s.” Our lives are open for us to create, whether we are blessed to be here and healthy for a very long time, or whether we only have a short go of it.

I think too often we close ourselves off from possibilities, saying “I guess I’ve missed my chance to…” or “I guess it’s time for me to stop…” Thelma could have easily decided to stop delivering Meals-On-Wheels two times a week because, oh, I don’t know, she was in her 90s? But instead she said “Why should I stop? Those people need those meals.”

So… have you convinced yourself that it’s too late to go back to school? Expand your family? Find true love? Travel the world? Learn to dance? Get on TV? Write a book? Lose weight? Say you’re sorry? Learn to drive? Ride a bike? Move to a new town? Make more money?  Have you told yourself you're too old to wear red leather or too young to go for that promotion?   Have you created boundaries for what's possible in your life before you've actually tested them?

Well, pull a Thelma and let yourself be open to the idea that it might not actually be too late. Not everything will work and not everything will be easy, but let her be a reminder that it’s certainly never too late to try.

 How can you “pull a Thelma” today?  


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Erika Petrelli

By Erika Petrelli

Erika Petrelli is the Senior Vice President of Leadership Development (and self-declared Minister of Mischief) for The Leadership Program, a New York City-based organization. With a Masters degree in Secondary Education, Erika has been in the field of teaching and training for decades, and has been with The Leadership Program since 1999. There she has the opportunity to nurture the individual leadership spirit in both students and adults across the country, through training, coaching, keynotes, and writing. The legacy Erika strives daily to create is to be the runway upon which others take flight. If you enjoy these blogs, you should check out her interactive journal, On Wings & Whimsy: Finding the Extraordinary Within the Ordinary, now available for sale on Amazon. While her work takes her all around the country, Erika calls Indiana home.