Mother’s Day is a strange holiday for me. I have not had a significant relationship with my natural mother for years. My maternal grandmother was sadly gone from my life by the time I was 15, through little fault of her own, and the maternal figure that my father brought home for me was a disaster and a half. Women, good women, were infrequent in my life until high school due to my father’s poor life choices. I grew to ignore the holiday nearly entirely but for one lady.

I called her Nana Anna Ryan O’Brien. She was my father’s mother, a woman who was dealt some hard blows yet always without fail had the most amazing smile and the warmest heart. She raised my father and his two brothers with the help of her parents after her husband died of walking pneumonia within weeks of her youngest son’s birth. She worked, supported her family and never ceased to love my Papa, David Ryan, right up to her dying day. She treated the world with love and humor yet never took any nonsense. Whether it be that she had to sit down with me all night to get me through math homework as I was absolutely stupid with math or that she had to plan to go to the bakery for cupcakes so she could tell us she baked all night before we came over for a visit she always just did the best she could by us kids. 

My Nana was the rock of my childhood. I have so many memories of sitting in her little house near Wollaston Beach huddled around her little kitchen table or snuggled down in her bed beside her for a safe night’s sleep. My only memories of feeling loved as a little girl came mostly from her, though I have some fond memories of my mother’s mother taking me to spend time with her as well. I was never a burden to Nana. I was always just right and just loved. 

1999 was a tough year. The day I got the phone call that she had been diagnosed with cancer was a rough one. It was the end result of Hepatitis C contracted through a transfusion in the 1980s and she wasn’t going to go through lengthy, draining treatments that would diminish her quality of life. Her courage was amazing. She traveled while she was still well enough to do so, going around the US and visiting our relatives in Ireland a last time. When she was finally too sick to be alone the answer was natural. We’d bring her back to her little house and we’d make the end of her life comfortable and content.

I’ll always wonder if I gave her even half of the comfort she gave me in my life while I helped care for her in those last months. The sound of her voice quietly saying “good morning, pumpkin” as I came through the door each day gave me the strength to keep going even when I was tired, strained, sad, worried… It made all the hard stuff easier. Even as she was facing the end of her life, she shielded me as a mother should shield a beloved child from the worst of the world when possible. Her worst episodes, the most difficult parts of her illness, somehow always happened when I wasn’t there and I was there 5 days a week, sometimes 12 hours a day! We laughed together, we cried together, we drove each other crazy and from it all, I learned so many lessons that bring me here to the present day.

I sit here now with a little boy who bears her smile and mischievous nature and I thank God each day for all that she taught me. She taught me how to just love and accept. She taught me that I had some worth. She taught me that I can be something to someone and that I am strong enough to do the toughest things. She and my beautiful stepmother Robin along with my Queen Mum Beverly put every tool in my toolbox to help me be the mother I never had to my little boy, a little boy who needs a mom a lot. 

So, when you see my little boy doing something great, thank these ladies and the others who have walked through my life since I was 16 onwards. I know I do. I know a lot of people aren’t religious, and generally I am not overtly so, but I have to say that God saw I had a need’ an empty hole in my world and He filled it to overflowing.

Thank you, Nana. I love and miss you.