It’s been a little over a week since my Nana died. I started this blog post in my head back when she was in the hospital, after I visited her and saw she was letting go of this life. It seemed so wild to think, move, and act as if someone you love is dying, and they hadn't yet. My Nana had this look about her that said, “I’m tired and ready to go.” She had chosen not to eat anymore and was rejecting food for a week. There was something about that move of hers, I viewed as a funny stubbornness and the last shred of “choice” my Nana really had. Several people tell me I look like Nana, in her younger years and my dad even remarks on certain facial expressions that are strikingly "Nana." I like to think I am carrying both the stubbornness and the smirks & quirks on. I’m bawling my eyes out now as I write this, and it’s a catharsis that has been a-long-time-comin'. All of this is to say, there are several things my Nana and Papa taught me that are important to put thought to word. This is a written accountability to the two of them and the love they shared with a community of people, some of which I will never meet.
1. Memory is a precious gift
This one is two fold as I lost my papa to dementia, an ugly and ravaging disease. My heart breaks for anyone who watches a loved one become more and more unfamiliar everyday.
In contrast, my Nana was a steel-trap, even in her dying moments. She was someone who could meet you for the first time, and in minutes know your birthday, family-line, how you met your wife, and a laundry list of facts and dates about you. She was a woman who kept a Rolodex to send cards to everyone in that rolling list and call on their special days. She would be the first to start talking in depth about the goings-on of some church-member whom no one in my family even knew. She always remembered detail upon detail of every single person she met. I can barely remember what someone said verbatim, a minute ago, let alone remember their second-cousin's horse's name.
2. Work with your hands; your hands have work to do and love to give
Both my Nana and Papa worked with their hands in different ways, and always with so much love behind the work. Nana was an amazing baker and cook. For years growing up, she would have my dad’s side of the family over for weekly Sunday lunches where she would make chicken & dumplins, key lime pie, and casseroles all from scratch.
Papa was what we call a "tinker-er;” someone who fidgets and messes with things to re-work them (not all the parts make it back into the machine), can build just about anything, and who has mason jars and coffee tins filled with every type of nail, cog, and assorted loose change. Just today, my fiance’ described a quirk of mine as "tinker," and my heart smiled because this trait truly has been passed down from my grandfather, through my father, and on to me; I can’t leave well-enough alone!
My grandparents’ hands would come together both in prayer, and to work in their gorgeous garden, as each of them had faith, patience, and a green thumb to see things to full bloom. I still remember Florida afternoons with them and running outside with Papa to see the 4 o’clock flowers bloom. (Shortly afterward, my papa would chase me around with a giant grasshopper; a not-so-nice memory that still has me fearing the damn nasty crawlers).
3. Travel the world yet be content in your own backyard
Growing up, an aluminum sign hung in the Florida room of the house of theirs that I remember most. This sign was white with black outlines forming borders of all the fifty (nifty!) United States. All the states were filled in with different colored crayons; indicative of travel tally marks and culminating in many years of sightseeing together. To further recount their travels, they covered their refrigerator with magnets of states and European countries, complete with pictures and notes from those people and places.
Even with all this travel, I never felt like my grandparents desired being away from their family. They were at dance recitals, piano recitals, and carting me around town to shuttle me to these activities. My grandparents were a cornerstone of my life and particularly my childhood. They saw the beauty in far-away places and the comfort of the love they created at home.
4. Give of yourself and your gifts to other people
My Nana and Papa spent most of their lives caring for children, most of which were not their own. My grandfather played a big part in the Boy Scouts of America and my grandmother donated her time to a local children’s hospital. My Nana also sung in the choir and my grandfather tinkered (there it is again!) with jobs around their church.
5. It is always a good idea to dress to theme
There’s a picture that is now sitting in my kitchen, of my Nana and I this past Memorial Day. Both of us are in a red white and blue number with a big grin on our faces and a chuckle on our lips. Nana was the type of grandmother for which tacky sweater parties now exist. She had a necklace, a pom-pom sweater, a brooch, and a shirt with flair, for many occasions. She was a woman for whom pastels were made.
I’ve mentioned in other posts, my Nana’s distaste for the color black (my personal favorite color). Despite my love for the hue, I could not bring myself to don it for her funeral. So much so, I solicited my father’s opinion on having everyone wear bright colors to honor Nana; paying homage to both her colorful outward appearance and inward spirit. It was beautiful to see rainbow ties, colorfully beaded necklaces, and bursts of pink, orange, and lime green. I knew this was a theme Nana would be proud of.
I’m still very sad at the loss of a set of grandparents who meant and mean so much to me. It hurts knowing they will not be here on my wedding day, to squeeze my arm before I walk down the isle, or to tell me they love me and they love my husband. After all, Nana is someone who has been hoping Matt and I would marry someday. She’s “whispered” (her version of) her hopes so many times and in the way that most awesome grandmother’s vocalize their opinion. Despite their lack of physical presence, they will be there in spirit and dressed to theme...I feel it!