You were alive for almost half of my life and almost the entire lives of your children. From lonely beginnings as an only child, you were blessed with a multitude of people to love you until you drew your last breath. And while some children dreamed of being lawyers and doctors and ballerinas and such, I used to wish to be just like you.
You had a heart full of love, but no tolerance for rude, ignorant, selfish and boastful people. You made Halloween treat bags for all of us every year and even for some of the neighborhood kids. Our treat bags always had our names on them, a popcorn ball, Little Debbie Cake (either Fudge Rounds or Oatmeal) and ALWAYS had the safety lollipops with the loop handles–even for the adults. You hand delivered presents and because of this I wrote a poem for you called “Nannie Claus”. We would watch for you and see you round the corner with black trash bags stuffed with presents and your Columbo trench coat whipping in the breeze. You cooked and baked from scratch and made the best grape jam. I can still see the shine of the jars in the sun, on their way to your loved ones. With every spoonful we understood that it was infused with your sweetest love. You crammed your tiny house full of us and would dance, laugh, sing, feed us well and tell the best stories. And if we were sick, we knew you would be over with your jar of Mentholatum or Vicks, to grease our little chests so we could feel better. Having so many grandkids, you had your work cut out for you. However, you did it without fail, and I will always believe that your love is really what cured us.
You were the most fashionable person I knew. I didn’t idolize celebrity, but I looked upon you with awe. You were way ahead of your time in everything and not only that, I could come to you with the burdens of my heart and be sure to feel better by morning, after we said everything that we could say as the 45s played, and we looked through every picture you owned.
After I turned 21, I could have a beer with you. You didn’t drink much at all, but understood that sometimes a beer with company is the best time to have one. And I knew in such amazing company, the last thing I was going to be was a beer snob. It was always room temperature Milwaukee, and we’d have a can each and nurse it for almost the entire evening and reminisce about life, love, family, and anything else we could think of. You taught me the proper way to pour a beer, and I still remember that tall, yellow Tupperware beer cup you always used, because you never liked to drink out of a can around us. I would stay the night and you always fixed breakfast. It was always bittersweet to leave you to go back to school, but I always felt that a reset button had been hit and I could face whatever the next weeks would throw my way.
One day, I found that I had a decision to make. I had noticed you repeating things more often, you seemed not like yourself and through a series of misfortunes, you had come to lose your leg. Remembering you, asleep in recovery, I saw that part of you no longer there. My head began to swim with so many thoughts of you dancing and thoughts of how you and Pa Pa used to be the most fabulous ones on the floor. I thought of how you held us all up and cherished us beyond what we had ever thought was possible and crumbled. My heart ached to know that this was going to be her new normal and while driving back to Columbus, tears were along for the ride, as well as a little one I hoped to keep oblivious to this melancholy. Something had shifted within me and it wasn’t going to go back to how it was before. Knowing that I couldn’t be hours away and know my Nannie needed help, I had to come back home.
On a phone call with my mother, I made the announcement that I was coming home. I knew the silence on the other end was because of years of me saying the opposite, but there was no other decision, no mulling it over, and no wrestling with my thoughts about it—come hell or high water I would be driving down I-70 to stay.
I moved into my grandmother’s house right before she came home, and worked to clean and clear everything so I could learn the skills I would need, to keep her out of the nursing home as long as possible. She was going to be completely bedridden and dependent on all of us day in and day out. Not only had she endured an amputation, she had a feed tube as well and I was just spinning to learn what I needed to know. I had to separate the pain I felt as her granddaughter and learn to be a nurse. Before she came home, I sat by the hospital bed that was placed in her favorite room and completely lost it. I prayed for the strength to do it since I would be caring for a 4 year old as well as my grandmother. I prayed that I wouldn’t mess up, and I prayed to be given the wisdom to accomplish this feat.
It wasn’t flawless but I was surprised how I was doing. Soon I learned to be two people—the nurse when she was needed and the granddaughter when the various schedules were done. I would stay up late with her, paint her nails, put on music and brush her sparkling white hair. She made the best of everything. So what if she would forget who I was, I would just engage her in that conversation. Some days I was Trina and other days I was the friend she graduated with in 1938. She had many years of memories within her, so why was I going to get frustrated. She’d eventually remember who I was at some point. If it took an hour or even if it took a whole day, I cherished hearing whatever stories were on her mind. And now, looking into her soulful brown eyes, rimmed with a brilliant blue, I knew that my love and my respect for her knew no bounds.
One day I came into her room to start the morning routine and turned on Music Choice and said that it was Big Band Day. We listened to all of the tunes she loved and sang and danced—she in her own way. Soon, “I’ll Be Missing You”, sung by Jo Stafford came on. And together we sang it. I fought back tears listening to her unique and beautiful singing voice and tried to sing it to the end. I never knew it would be the last time we would sing together like this.
Soon her care became too much to handle inside her little home and she made her way to the nursing home. By this time she was a double amputee, but never had pity parties. She was the rock of our family and continued to be no matter what. We continued to care for her in our own ways, had a wonderful birthday party for her that filled the whole nursing home with song, piano playing by my uncle and just as much love as that building could hold. And I had given her my angel necklace to wear, with explicit instructions for it never to be removed.
Days came, not too much later than that, bearing a crisis that taught me how to pray for mercy. Never did I want to trade places with someone so bad in my life. It was the first and only time I ever saw pain, sadness and fear in her eyes and it is a moment I will never forget. To see this beautiful soul pushed beyond any previous boundaries shattered my mom and I and mercy was all we could pray for.
Once again, miraculously, she rallied through as she always did. From thinking that we were going to lose her, we had been given more time. Because this was the second major crisis she had suffered and came back from, somehow we wanted to believe that she would live forever. However, none of knew that it would only be a week.
On a December evening, I woke up and saw that cars were gone. Just empty spaces in the gentle glow of the streetlights. In my heart I knew that her going home was near. This would be confirmed by a call from my cousin, telling me that her father, had to make a drive from Springfield in record time. My mother and aunt were tired and were going home to get some rest, after my uncle arrived at the nursing home. He visited with her and fell asleep near her. Having known that all of her children were okay, she breathed her last.
I waited impatiently. And soon, I heard the engine of my mother’s car driving up around sunrise. My son was still sleeping, and as I ran to the door, I saw the necklace dangling from her hands, catching new sun and the tears on her cheeks. What was this new day? It was the first day since my birth that my Nannie was no longer here. The house now felt empty and my tears selfish because she missed so many others that had gone before her. I wanted her back, but having prayed so fervently for mercy, knew that she was free. I could only hug my mother and try to console her as this truth settled in. I may have lost a grandmother, but my mother had just lost her mom. I saw her differently that day, as I let my memories be overshadowed by hers.
In conclusion, when you love people who are larger than life, you realize that a large piece of your heart will always have a space missing. They are the ones who love you when you don’t feel beautiful and see your potential even if you are blind to it. I now understand that the depth of pain you experience, is directly connected to the depth of love you have experienced while your loved one was still in the body. I will miss her until I breathe my last, and will be forever thankful for the soul tie I had with her.
“I’ll find you in the morning sun,
And when the night is new,
I’ll be looking at the moon,
But I’ll be seeing you.”
–I’ll Be Seeing You, music by Sammy Fain, lyrics by Irving Kahal, 1938.