Last Monday I awakened to a lovely autumnn morning, went for a 5-mile walk, and then started the usual monday tasks of laundry, grocery shopping, cleaning the house, etc.
Then, just after noon, I got the phone call I had been half-expecting for several years now: Nana, my little 94-year-old grandma, has passed away.
Nana lived most of her life in Texas, but had spent the last 7+ years in New Mexico, so she could be near her two daughters - my mom and my aunt. She started out in assisted living, but then quickly deteriorated and dementia set in.
We were all surprised when she made it to her 90th birthday. That was nearly 5 years ago. In the past year, she's gone downhill, but not at any greater pace than before. I'm proud to report that my mom visited her at the nursing facility almost daily, in addition to working full time. In the end, my mom was one of the only people my grandma recognized, but I wonder if she still understood the concept that this nice lady who came to see her every day was her daughter.
On the day she died, my mom was there, holding her hand. Hard as it was, it was a beautiful thing. She went very peacefully - if only we all could go like that - at peace, and holding the hand of a loved one.
Yet, my mom was all alone in dealing with this hard thing, so the second half of my Monday last week was spent packing, madly finishing laundry, trying to plan meals for the family, and scrambling to find a flight. I left for New Mexico early Tuesday morning.
It was a special time for me and my mom. Much of what we did was just those things that are involved with the business of dying - going to the funeral home and crematorium, collecting Nana's things from the nursing facility, writing the obituary, notifying friends and family, and of course talking, remembering, laughing and crying. I'm happy to say that we laughed far more than we cried... and Nana definitely would have wanted it that way.
I arrived back in Maine late Saturday night after a long day of three different flights. When I walked into the tunnel that took us from plane to building, I saw a lovely sight; a sign posted on the doorway of the tunnel that said, "Welcome Home."
How cool is that?
So now I feel a bit like I'm taking up where I left off last week - not only doing all the Monday things listed above, but also getting things back in order for a family who is not used to me being gone. (Did it not occur to them to go to the grocery store when they ran out of things?)
But also, life is different now. Not that I had much contact at all with my Nana these past few years. Even when I did, I'm not sure she knew me. But she was my last surviving grandparent. All the others passed away before I was 12-years-old. Nana, however, was the one who was there every Christmas, the one whom I visited in the oppressive summers of Houston, the one who came to my wedding, got to know my children, and who used to call me every Saturday morning at 6am when I lived in California. She never did understand which way the time zones went.
More than anything right now, we're all feeling relief. Nana is no longer trapped in that body where she could hardly think, could hardly speak, and could hardly move. She is free, and I thank God for that.
But now there is also a Nana-shaped hole in our lives, the size of it depending on what she meant to us and how much we cared.
There are so many memories, but perhaps my favorite is when Nana would tell me I was her favorite granddaughter. I'd remind her that I was her only granddaughter, and then we'd laugh. And then I'd call her Nana-Banana, something I think she secretly hated, but that she always accepted from my brother and me.
She will be greatly missed.
R.I.P. Jean Carey (Nov. 5, 1915 - Oct. 18, 2010)
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