My granddad, Vladimir Kravos, sadly passed away last month. He would have been 92 in May. He outlived his wife (she died in her forties from cancer), my dad (his son), my mum, his sister and some of his friends. Everyone says he reached a good age and until he died he was able to walk and look after himself; he also had a good long term memory (short term not that great). He died in his sleep they said but they found him with his inhalator in his hands indicating he was trying to use it at night. It was his heart, the doctor said and I believe he had a heart attack or something and nothing could have been done.
Me and my two sisters were very sadden by his death as he was the last Kravos and now we don’t have anybody apart from uncle and auntie from my mum’s side (my dad was an only child) and some distant relatives. But this post is not about how we felt after his death, it’s about his life and the way he lived (from what I know). Is there anything I can learn from him about healthy living? He reached a good age so there must be something he was doing right. In this post I look at his life and lifestyle to see what this could have be. Maybe I can draw some conclusions which would help us to improve our lives and reach a decent age too?
I don’t know everything about his life but I am sure I will learn more once we go through his papers and memorabilia. For now I will just mention things that I know.
My granddad has grown up in a countryside in a family of farmers. They had a couple of pieces of land where they grew crops and vegetables they needed for living, but they also kept some farm animals such as chickens. I don’t know much about his early childhood and teens, but I know that at some point he trained in school to become a mechanic.
As a young man he had to then fight in World War II – he fought as a part of Italian army first in North Africa but when the Italian army fell apart he joined British army. I remember him telling us a story when he was a young soldier and he spent one Christmas in England recovering from malaria which he caught in Africa. He was telling us his experience in English hospital with a smile on his face. The nurses were kind and for Christmas everybody got something little like oranges and they also sang Christmas Carols. He told us that Christmas was a big thing in England, but when the New Year came, the celebrations weren’t anything special. In Slovenia, New Year’s Eve celebrations are quite big and there is probably more emphasis on New Year than Christmas, or at least it used to be.
When he came back from England he then served as a part of Yugoslavian army and once the war was over he found an office job in Slovenia. However, this wasn’t the right job for him. This wasn’t something he liked and loved doing, so he found another job which was in another town in Slovenia, Postojna. He started working there as an ambulance driver and first aider. At that time, in Postojna and surrounding areas there wasn’t many ambulances, actually just one which my granddad and a man with a nickname Balon drove. It wasn’t an easy job. When they got a call, they had to go, no matter what. It could be that they were eating their lunch or sleeping. They had to leave everything and go and help people. That’s how it was.
One of the stories granddad told us when he was as an ambulance driver was about a pregnant lady who they were transporting to the hospital. Unfortunately, the labour was in advanced stages and they had to deliver the baby in the ambulance. At that time, there wasn’t any heating in the ambulance and it was cold, granddad told us. He also told us that the woman gave birth and the baby just flew out and he caught him. He was telling us this story with an excitement and all smiles. He definitely had an exciting job, that’s for sure! He helped so many people.
After he retired this was only a beginning of another chapter of his life. He remained very active and still occasionally worked. He used to work as a first aider at the ski resort near Postojna and he also worked in Postojna cave amongst some other casual work he was offered. On top of all this he loved his fishing and he was a member of different fishing clubs and participated in many fishing competitions. Over many years he won numerous medals, awards and trophies.
One thing to mention is that he lived on his own for a long time until last year when he agreed to go to the care home where he would be better looked after. He never got used to it though as it never felt like home to him.
As mentioned above he loved fishing, this was his hobby and relaxation which for him also meant meeting new people and hanging out with old friends. He would fish until he was able to, even in his late 80s, but then it came the time when he didn’t always feel well and sometimes he would have a high blood pressure and decided to stay at home resting rather than risking his health and go out. He definitely looked after himself when it came to that.
After the retirement he continued to work on a piece of land he owned to grow vegetables and he would do this until he was physically able to. Something is for sure, he was a very active person but once he started having more problems with his health he had to slow down and take it easy.
In recent years he would spend lots of time at home, but people came to visit him – he had fishing and other friends. An elderly lady would also visit him regularly to bring him meals and to sort out his laundry. I visited him every time I would go to Slovenia for holidays – this was normally twice, sometimes, three times a year. My twin sister would visit him at least twice a month or whenever she could (he was an hour drive away so it wasn’t always easy for her especially in bad weather). Although he did get visitors I still think it must have been lonely for him being on his own most of the time, but I think he was used to it and it was something he never complained about. As long as he had TV, radio and of course cigarettes..
He was known for smoking a lot and he was a heavy smoker, always having a cigarette in his mouth. People actually remember him by this, they told us at the funeral. His fingers turned yellow as he smoked way too much and I believe this really shortened his life – he could have lived much longer if he didn’t smoke. However, he didn’t want to give up, not even after the doctors told him he should otherwise he won’t live much longer – this was after his bypass surgery in his 80s. He did smoke less in the past few years but he never totally gave up.
When it came to technology he didn’t know of Internet, computer games, smartphones and similar. The TV, radio and an old mobile phone was everything he had and this was enough, he didn’t need more. The TV and radio was something to entertain him in an old age, when he wasn’t able to do as much – he could walk fine but not for too long as his joints were aching.
When it came to food he ate, he didn’t know of ready made meals and takeaways. As a child and a teenager he would of course eat home made food cooked from scratch and vegetables straight from the garden. They even baked bread at home. Sometimes food was scarce and he would be hungry, especially in war times. Later in life, for breakfast he would have something simple like pieces of bread soaked in milk which was his favourite I believe. However, once he started living in a care home, the breakfast would be slightly different every day.
When he was still living in his flat in Postojna he had people cooking for him, bringing him meals to his home directly. It would normally be fresh home cooked food, typical Slovenian cuisine with lots of soups, stews, broths, sauerkraut dishes and fresh salads. But he wasn’t a big eater. In the last few years he actually lost weight, this could have been because he didn’t have that much appetite, but I am not sure. What I know of is that he ate little, small portions. He wasn’t overweight. At the end, he actually seemed to be too skinny.
What I remember very well about him when it came to food was that he didn’t eat too much sugary foods and when he did, he only had a little, maybe a biscuit or two and a small piece of cake but never huge portions. He didn’t really have a sweet tooth I believe but he liked to eat fruits from time to time.
He came across as a calm and reserved man who didn’t talk much and he would never discuss his personal or health issues with us. Different people knew different things about him. We later learnt from people that he never discussed his personal life with others. They didn’t even know how many children he had or how many grandchildren. So he kept lots of things for himself, that’s how he was.
He wouldn’t show much emotion either. He rarely got angry in our presence and during our visits we just chatted about a general life but he would also tell us stories from the past which excited him actually. He loved to talk about all the medals he won at the fishing competitions or awards he received for one thing or another. He was a proud man and he wasn’t shy of talking about his achievements in life.
He didn’t talk much about his feelings either and how he felt about a particular thing, but he would worry about us, grandchildren. He did care about us, he just didn’t show it very often. When we wanted to visit him on a few occasions but the weather wasn’t very good, he would ask us not to come and if we still came for a visit he would show signs of disapproval before settling down. He also wanted to make sure we arrived safely home after the visit.
In his life he definitely went through some tough times such as war, wife’s death and death of other people he knew, including his son. I believe tough times like that only made him stronger but he did mention that the day his son was buried was the most difficult day of his life.
My granddad was a one kind of a man and will never be forgotten. I had hoped he would have lived longer but I guess it just wasn’t meant to be (I still feel sad about it although I know he is still around us, only that in another form..)
It’s interesting how some people smoke all their life and actually live long, like my granddad. I believe it’s never one thing which will determine how long you live, it’s a combination of things. My dad also smoked a lot, but he only reached 50 and then died of liver cancer. He was also overweight and had a really bad sweet tooth, he just couldn’t live without sugar.
If there is something I can learn from my granddad about healthy living and longevity is the following:
Stop what you are doing. Take time for yourself. Relax. Do what you love. Be active and this doesn’t necessary mean going to the gym every day. Avoid processed foods and don’t eat too much.
If you follow this it may not mean you will have a long life but it will definitely help to contribute towards your overall well-being and happiness.
Do you have a family member who reached the age of 90+ and what was their life and lifestyle like? What do you think it’s the key to longevity?