My grandmother had been in the hospital and I planned on returning home for the weekend to visit her until I received a message on Wednesday letting me know that they did not expect her to make it through the night.
As I was driving home from work, Jenn found a flight for me and told me to change my plans. I got off the plane and went directly to the hospital at 10:30 pm. We sat together until about 5:30am…these long hours would become the norm over the next several days on my path to saying goodbye.
Rather than focusing on the sad moments prior to her passing, I thought I would focus more on a few of the moments we shared and the lessons she taught me during my first 35 years.
It’s All About Family:
If there was one thing that Nana took pride in, it was her family…and you better not mess with that. My best friend in elementary school ended up beating me in some student of the month, a spelling bee competition, or some other inconsequential knowledge test and after that Nana was like Well I don’t think I like him anymore.
At a football game, the announcer thought he had turned off the mic when he made a side comment about my brother’s name…Nana marched right into the announcer’s box and she ripped him a new one.
Even when she was sick, she never missed a one of the grand kids events and between her and Pop, I think they have a bulletin for everything we ever did.
When Jenn & I found out that we would be adopting Nolin, I don’t know why but I was very nervous to tell Nana. I guess I was afraid that she may be disappointed that we were adopting and tell us we should just keep trying. Maybe I was concerned that she would have reservations about our transracial adoption. I hadn’t even finished telling her before she interrupted with That’s the best news I have heard. It was the fastest, most supportive answer we received from anyone we told. It was because Nana knew it was all about family and it didn’t matter biological or race, Nolin was already one of her special angels.
You Have to Work to Maintain Relationships:
Nana loved her children, but to be honest, I think she may have secretly loved her grandchildren a little more. And when her grandchildren grew up, well she enlisted neighbor’s & friend’s children, friends of her grandchildren and anyone else she met to be her “adopted” grandchildren.
Each one was her special angel and each one had their own place in her heart and she in theirs. This was evident as we determined she may have set a record for most visitors in the hospital. She had former neighbors driving up from North Carolina to say goodbye, teenagers in college calling & stopping by, heck she even had some of our former sports coaches reaching out to her. Yeah, she was Nana to a lot of people.
She was also the one I went to, whenever I needed an update on anyone in the family. Living away, sometimes people forget what you have or have not been made aware of, but on our weekly Friday afternoon calls, she would keep me updated (even when it had to do with my immediate family).
A Good Laugh Can Be The Best Medicine
One of Nana’s proudest moments in our relationship is that she took pride in telling me my first dirty joke. To be honest, I don’t even remember what the joke was, but I can assume that it was a lot more PG-13 than the slew of dirty jokes that have made their way into my life since.
One year we were looking for a fun gift to give Nana, so we decided to get her a gift card to Victoria’s Secret. We thought she would be so embarrassed and never use it. Don’t think that she didn’t take pure delight in making us cringe as she told us about her new sexy thong underwear that she was now sporting thanks to us.
Shortly before she passed, my Aunt took her to see Magic Mike (completely inappropriate for an 85 year old lady). She couldn’t stop telling everyone about it, so when she was in the hospital her friends brought her a picture of a few of the guys from the movie. At one point when she woke up, I brought the picture over to her and said Look what your neighbors brought and showed her the picture. She got a glare in her eye, a smile on her face and simply said mmmmmmmm…again completely inappropriate for an 85-year-old lady especially when it is your grand mother.
Stay Strong And Always Fight The Good Fight
As a little kid, I thought I was tough. I wasn’t. In 8th grade I had to have my mouth wired shut for about a week. I was miserable. Even more miserable because it was during Thanksgiving. I sat at the table unable to talk (something that she and others would probably tell you was the worst thing ever for me) and unable to eat just watching everyone else enjoy their dinners. Then there was a hand on my shoulder and a whisper in my ear…follow me. Next thing I know we are at 7-11 and she is getting me a Hawaiian Punch. It wasn’t a plate full of turkey with her famous gravy, but to this day it was the Thanksgiving dinner that I am most thankful for.
A few years ago Nana had to have open heart surgery. I was scared, but kept telling her that she would do awesome. She was not excited at all but said I’ll fight the good fight for you. I really wasn’t confident that this story would end well. Not only did she recover from the surgery quickly she did it using Tylenol PM as her only pain medicine. WTF?! That is a level of being strong I could never achieve.
As I mentioned earlier, Nana’s final day was supposed to be Wednesday. Then we figured it would be Thursday. On Friday at about 3:00pm we pulled everyone together to say goodbye. It was a long and painful process. Three hours later as my sister and I sat holding her hands she woke up, looked at me and asked Am I still alive? After I got over my initial shock that she was still very much alive, I thought how disappointing that must be to think you have gone to heaven and me and my sister Erin were her prize for a life well lived…but I know that would be the way she wanted it anyway.
I had to leave Nana in the hospital Sunday evening to head back home. I would receive a call a 1:15 am this morning that she had passed. All I wanted was to be sad. But when I looked back at everything I realized that in life and in death, she had done it her way.
In her final days, she kept it all about the family as she brought everyone together, gave us a chance to say goodbye in our own way and an opportunity to connect with each other. It was all about the relationships she had worked so hard to maintain as the room was constantly filled with people there to celebrate her life and pay homage to the woman who made a difference in their lives. As difficult as the time was, it was offset with enough comedy and laughs to keep us all going. And through her last breath she fought a fight that would make legends jealous.
Nana, I will miss our Friday calls, our inside jokes and all the great stories. Thank you for the lessons, the love and the memories that I’ll always have just for me…Godspeed.