Our mornings began as dawn was barely breaking over the beach near her house. I always had to creep in for worry of waking the house though looking back, I wonder why. She was always awake when I arrived. Sleep was a fickle friend to her, often eluding her at night but taking her by surprise during the day. Her body was weary but her mind, that never tired.
“Good morning, pumpkin,” she would say, speaking just loud enough to be heard. The words were so soft but always rich with warmth and love.
“Good morning, Nana,” I would answer, quietly too so as not to wake my very tired uncle. He held down the overnights and I held down the weekdays, you see. This was how she was able to remain comfortable in her own home.
This was how every day began for two months. They were two long, difficult, scary, funny and incredible months. They were two months I wish I could have back to live again and again, no matter how scary they got.
You see, Nana had cancer. It was in her liver. She was diagnosed in early 1999 and rather than aggressively attack the cancer, she considered her life and the quality thereof. She elected to simply live. She was 77 when she was diagnosed and her doctor estimated she would have about a year from that point. He was almost spot on with that estimation. She travelled, going to Ireland a last time to spend time with family there. She spent time with her family here. She simply enjoyed her time and when the cancer began to take pieces of her freedom away, a lot of her family came together to make it possible for her to live at home in comfort until the inevitable came.
And of course, it did.
I was not there when she passed. I could have been, I imagine, but that did not seem her wish. She shielded me a lot. The worst of her symptoms would come at night. My poor uncle saw the worst, her own son, yet during the day somehow it never appeared. She would not tell me the worst of what she felt. The worst I would see would be how awful the medication she needed to function made her feel, for she would cringe. We instead passed our days peacefully, sharing laughter and simply enjoying each other’s company between visits from nurses, health aides, friends and family. She did not pass away until after I left very late on the 19th, having I imagine finally found her peace. She knew the love of her life, who she waited over fifty years to see again, was waiting for her when she got to the other side.
There she rests now. I cannot visit her grave easily but it is a comfort to know she’s there with him, my grandfather, and at peace.
It was 10 years after her passing that I could see her again. Her great-grandson was born with her smile. It was clear from his first day. As he has grown, J has developed her keen sense of mischief and her intensely hilarious inability to be subtle about it. He, like his great-nana, broadcasts everything he’s about to do. He has a face like glass and so did she. He has the gorgeous shape of her eyes and their beauty, but not their color. Oh no. The color is all his own, a bit of her aquamarine-ish green and my mother’s family’s blue shaken down into a startlingly pretty grey shade.
I tell him about his great nana. I tell him about her a lot. He would have loved her, as he loves his Grammie down in Virginia. Their gentle and patient natures are the perfect match for his needs. I wish he could have met Nana but that’s now how things were meant to be. Instead, she and Papa will watch over him as I hope they watch over me. I’d love to say that in the course of so many years the missing fades or hurts less but that’d be a lie. Death does not heal. It transforms those it leaves behind. You aren’t who you were before it happened… Grief is a journey that changes you. You learn to live with this part of you missing, never to return. The only way to get that part back would be to never have known the one you loved and lost it for. That’s not a price many are willing to pay, I would hope.
I love and miss you, Nana Anna. I still see you everywhere and for that, I am glad. Keep an eye on J for me and even though I know you were never too fond of animals, I know you too would have loved Brooklyn. Send a sunbeam to warm us when you can.