learning to navigate the world, j-bear style

Great Nana

My son had an amazing great nana. It weighs heavy on me that he was born ten years too late to know her, but he really did have an amazing great nana.

It was 14 years ago today that she passed away. Technically, it was 14 years ago late last night that I said goodbye.

You see, she had this way about her that was all about protecting the youngest of us. The youngest of us involved directly in her care at the end of her life was me. The absolute worst of her cancer, I never saw. This is pretty remarkable when you realize I was there every weekday from between 5 and 6 in the morning until 5 or 6 in the evening. That’s a lot of hours to pass with very little remarkable happening.

But that’s how it went, and if she had a tough go, it was always when I was not there.

This is how the last night of her life went as well. Liver cancer is a horrible way to go. Ammonia that a healthy liver would filter out builds up in the brain, robbing the person of consciousness and coherence. Yet, I must say, I am grateful for how she managed her end of life. She decided when she was too tired to bother taking the horrible medication that kept her going* very quietly. I would offer it, she would gently refuse, and though it broke my heart hospice had prepared me and I respected her wishes and never pushed the issue – nor did anyone else. She saw the people she loved, she ate a few bites of the Irish bread I made from her own mother’s recipe (after playfully scolding my uncle for pretty much trying to eat it straight from the oven!) and she made her peace. Father Alvaro had discreetly offered her the last rites, unbeknownst to us, yet still came in the dark of night as she lay dying to pray with her.

I cannot forget those last hours, and yet, I am glad I could say goodbye. I feel very strongly that she knew I was there. She reacted to having her hand held and to being talked softly with, her labored breathing calming. I told her how much I loved her, that much I know.

But it was after I had gone home that she passed away, in the room I had spent nights in with her as a little girl, and when I returned the next morning, all was gone.

There are people who believe that one should “just get over” a death of someone you love. That it should not hurt for so long afterwards. I think that notion is so wrong. You shared a part of your heart with this person… It’s never, ever going to be the same again. You don’t get over it, you only learn to live a life with this raw scar.

I wish J could have known her, and she him. Oh, how she would have delighted in him! He has ever bit of her mischief and has since his infancy. He has her stunning smile as well, and I feel like she just would have loved him as much as she had loved me. I know he would have adored her as well, for her gentle way is just the sort of thing that would draw him in with great ease. They could have bonded over the fussy way they view food, something we all three share, and she could have delighted in seeing Papa’s ears that poor J could not dodge inheriting. (Seriously, taxi cab with the doors open, I love them)

I just miss her. I miss the warmth of her presence most of all and there isn’t a day that passes I don’t wish I could have had one more hug. Just one. I am a terrible granddaughter as I have a terrible time going to where she is buried but I can’t see her there. It hurts a lot to go. I see her so many other places instead, from the beach near her home to Castle Island to even the airport**. I just hope wherever she is, she and Papa are at least proud of their great-grandson and keeping a very, very good watch over him.

A picture for your tolerance of my blathering:


Nana and Papa on their wedding day.


* = The medication was this awful orange-colored too sweet syrup that she’d have to take several times a day. When she first started taking it I would mock threaten to freeze it into popsicles so it would take longer to have a dose. My humor was not appreciated.

** = When I was a little girl, I firmly believed that every plane that flew out of Logan was either going to or coming from Ireland and that they all belonged to my nana. Not even a joke.

1 Comment

  1. Mandy Krahenbuhl

    Oh my dear Quack….I read this feeling the same emotions as when my Grandpa died – It will forever be an open wound with me. I know how much you loved your Nana, every time you spoke of her you face would just light up like I have never seen before….live in peace knowing that Nana is hugging you from above…and she knows all about the happy and challenging times with Jacob and still, as always, stands by your side – Love you

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