Sunday last week my grandmother died.
This is the same grandmother that we raced to see in April, so it wasn’t a shock that she passed. Nana had been doing poorly for a while and had entered into hospice care after her hospitalization at Easter. But it’s sad, nonetheless. I hope you’ll indulge me a bit while I talk about my amazing Nana.
On the way to the funeral, I told Jed that we were going to Nana’s house because “Nana had gone to Heaven to be with God”. His response was classic Jed/toddler: “No! Nana NO go to Heaven! Nana stay Jed!”
In case you can’t tell, Jed loved his Nana very much.
I snorted/laughed/cried at his response. I’m still not sure how much he understands about Nana dying. What I do know is that Nana loved Jed and Zac, and Jed and Zac loved Nana. And one day they will see video and see pictures of Nana with them as babies and they will know how very much they were adored and cherished by their great-grandma.
Nana was an inspirational, exasperating, amazing, good woman. Born in 1924, she was a young girl during the Great Depression. When she was very young, her very good Daddy got in the way of some very bad men who were doing bad things, and to expedite their criminal endeavors they murdered my Great-Grandpa.
Nana was fatherless at 11 years old, one of 5 children; the youngest were one year old twins (my Great Uncles). As a result of being a widow during the Depression with 5 little mouths to feed, my Great-Grandmother turned to share cropping.
Needing to work so hard to feed, clothe and shelter her children didn’t leave my Great-Grandmother a lot of energy leftover for frivolities like hugs, kisses and playtime; I think my Nana had a bit of her soul crushed out of her after her Daddy died.
Survival was the name of the game in that era, and our family is very good at survival. But Nana wanted more than just survival. She wanted MORE. BETTER. So she pushed herself hard, and managed to work the fields with her family to put food on the table, walk the many miles every chance she could to and from school (even playing on the girl’s basketball team!), and made herself the first High School graduate in her family – and the only one of her generation.
She read Emily Post and the Bible to learn how to behave in civilized society, and married my Grandpa, a military man. Suddenly this from-the-boondocks, share cropping farm girl was thrust into military life; having to travel to places she’d only dreamed of before, raising children with a husband that was often away, and trying to better herself by emulating the officers wives.
By the 1950’s, a time when most women didn’t know how to drive and relied on their husbands for transportation to the grocery store, my Nana not only drove, but had her own car! She worked as a buyer for Joske’s of Texas (think Neiman Marcus on a smaller scale) and kept an immaculate house while working full time.
When my Grandpa retired from the military and moved the family back to their original home (not far from where she’d been a share cropper), my Nana worked for a while as a civil servant, and later drove a school bus and worked in the school cafeteria in her local school district.
Wherever my Nana found herself, she always became a member of a Church and an Eastern Star Chapter. Her faith was an integral part of her life, and she became well-known throughout Texas for her charitable work.
Nana didn’t know how to do anything halfway. Once on a vacation to Disney World when I was a child, it started raining. All the other families went inside to get food and shop at the souvenir stores, but not my Nana! She ventured into a shop long enough to buy all of us ponchos and insisted we keep on exploring the park.
Indefatigable, that was my Nana.
She’s the only 80-something woman I know of who would go outside at dusk on her farm with a chainsaw to chop up a tree by herself.
For as inspirational as she was, though, there were negatives about her. Thanks to being raised essentially fatherless by an indomitable mother with little patience for emotions, Nana often struggled to relate well with her own children and grandchildren.
None of us doubt that she loved us, but I think all of us – at times – felt distanced. Her disapproval could be strong, and her expectations high. It often kept us off-kilter and hurt.
As she got older, though, she mellowed quite a bit. I’m very grateful for that because it allowed for so many relationships to be healed and resolved in my family…mine and Nana’s included. I’m glad I got the last 8-10 years of getting to know Nana better, to understand her better, and to finally feel as though she was truly proud of me as her Granddaughter.
The best part, though, came when I had Jed. My whole family was thrilled at Jed’s arrival, of course, but I thought Nana was going to float right through the ceiling! She was just as thrilled two years later when Zac arrived.
In the nursing home, on hospice care, she insisted on having pictures of my sons right next to her bed. At the house this week, I saw her lip prints on the glass of one of those pictures; turns out, she had kissed the boys pictures before bed each night. In her final months, she would often forget things and get confused, but she would call out for Jed and Zac and remembered almost everything about them.
While many people have a hard time adjusting to the world of allergies, Nana was always 100% in support of my efforts to keep the boys safe. She didn’t always understand what I had to do and why, and didn’t always “get” the details of their conditions, but she was insistent that we take care of “her little men”. Whenever she would visit over the past three years, she would always ask to go to the grocery store with me where she would spend a veritable fortune on safe foods for Jed and Zac. She even helped us buy our first cow last summer after Zac’s hospitalization.
I wouldn’t have trusted that she would remember the details of how to care for the boys, but I never doubted that I had unconditional support from my Nana in taking care of them. For that, for her unwavering devotion to my boys, for her indomitable will, for her desire for the best for herself and her family, for her example of strong Womanhood, and for her many kindnesses and constant love…I will always thank her, and I will always miss her.
Rest in Peace, Nana. You lived a very good life, and I hope Heaven is everything you dreamed of – and more. I love you. And Jed loves you, too.