My grandmother died three weeks ago. Being an impatient person, I had hoped that three weeks would be enough to grieve. It turns out I was way off base.
For three weeks I felt okay – not great but also not terrible. And then we had the funeral. In the days since we said our goodbyes to my Nana I have been in tatters. I can’t seem to focus on anything and I’ve cried more than I ever thought possible. When will it end? How long does grief last? I don’t know. I don’t think anybody knows. What I do know is that I miss Nana and there are a few things I never got to say to her.
On a Tuesday in June I received a call to say that Nana was in hospital undergoing a major surgery. I’ve since learned that my boyfriend and several others knew then that she was unlikely to come out of hospital. I was shocked but, in my naiveté, also firmly convinced that following a few weeks of recovery in hospital she would go home and we would all aid in her speedy and full recovery.
As it turns out my 85-year-old grandmother died just two days after her operation. It was a blessing, there is no doubt about that, but a painful one none the less.
My Nana was a proud woman with an indomitable spirit but she could not abide pity or self-indulgence (unless it involved chocolate or lashings of butter). She certainly would not have tolerated the life of an invalid. The powers that be did exactly as Nana would have wanted – just like the rest of us learned to growing up.
It would be easy for me to write about the wonderful relationship I had with my grandmother all my life but it would also be untrue. We were from very different generations and didn’t always see eye-to-eye. Nana was a straight-talking, no-nonsense kind of lady. She was reserved while I cry at just about everything – we were not exactly peas in a pod. Nonetheless she was my grandmother and I loved her – even on the days I didn’t necessarily like her. I remember vividly sitting in church with my legs crossed and getting a smack on the knee, “Ladies do not cross their legs in church.”
“Yes Nana” I responded.
My brothers, cousins and I learned from a young age that “Yes Nana” was almost always the correct response.
Nana was strict. Nana had high standards. Nana was not a gushing woman. But Nana loved with intense passion. Nana taught us how to be kind, how to be loving and how to be a family.
For twenty-six years, Nana never missed my birthday. Christmases seemed to become more extravagant the older we got and every time we popped in for lunch we left with enough food to feed an army.
My only regret with regard to my grandmother is that I kept my soon-to-be step-children a secret for so long. I was petrified that Nana would disapprove, not only of my decision to marry an older man but of his two children. When I finally did tell Nana she didn’t say much at all. Maybe she did disapprove but she never said a word. Instead we bonded over our firm belief that children need boundaries. I’m not sure I’m quite with her on “children should be seen and not heard” but there we are.
Nana has left me with countless memories along with a small white bear and tiny blanket that I treasure. On the day I was born, my Nana bought me Teddy White (I think my parents were exhausted from naming me and ran out of creativity with the bear’s name). I was also given a lovely blanket which I slept with every night. The creativity clearly didn’t come back post-partum as the blanket became known as Sleeping. Teddy White and Sleeping followed me absolutely everywhere growing up. In fact, they still do.
Growing up with dogs, poor Teddy White suffered in the trenches but Nana was always there to help. She performed several eye operations and multiple nose jobs to get Teddy White looking as good as new. Poor Sleeping is also a shadow of her former self due to several nips and tucks to repair holes and tears.
Teddy White has seen a lot of excitement over the years but there is one night in particular that he, Nana and I will ever forget. We definitely owe our 26 years together to Nana’s compassion and no-nonsense approach.
One evening, despite everybody telling me not to, I decided that Teddy White should come for a walk with us. Naturally he was cold as it was getting late so I tucked him into my jacket. Leaning over the railings of the River Severn I was devastated to see Teddy White tumbling toward the water. Fate intervened and the bear landed softly on a branch just a few inches above the river. Nana, as only she could, hailed a passing barge and asked the crew if they could reach Teddy White. They had passengers on board but said they would come back to him later if they could.
The next day I received a visitor at Nana and Jampa’s house – the man from the barge. Not only had he recovered my most prized possession but his wife had given him a wash and tied a bow around his neck. Teddy White had never looked so good.
Sleeping, Teddy White and I are still together and I owe that entirely to Nana. The last few weeks have been a struggle but I know now that as long as Teddy White sits next to the bed (or occasionally jumps in for a cuddle) Nana is with me. Most likely she’s saying something along the lines of “Pull yourself together, this is life and life’s not fair” but she’s still there.
Thank you Nana for teaching me that life’s not fair and that love and compassion are the most powerful gifts we have to offer. I’m sorry that I didn’t trust in your compassion by confiding in you about the children. I should have known that any woman who tracks down complete strangers to save a teddy bear would be full of love and acceptance for her own grandchild.
Thank you Nana for teaching me the value of family and for leaving me with a slightly smaller Sleeping and a ruggedly handsome Teddy White. When I look at them I see you and I’m so grateful. We will miss you.