What Nana Taught Me
You may have seen that my amazing maternal grandmother passed away in September. You may even remember when I wrote about her here back in February on our birthday. (Yes, I was lucky enough to share this special day with her for the past 29 years!)
What I didn't realize was that would be the last time we spent our birthday together. She was diagnosed with cancer early this summer after surviving it three other times in her life. We didn't know how long she had but we didn't want to take that time for granted so I was traveling to Boston to see her more often.
I know she doesn't want us to dwell on her sickness. She would rather us focus on the happy times and be grateful for our wonderful memories.
Nana was a survivor and one of the strongest people I will ever know. She had a difficult childhood and at 18 she joined the army. She met my grandfather, also from Boston, in Japan during the Korean Conflict. Once safely home, they married and had five Irish kids. She went on to take care of her own mother and grandmother who were diagnosed with cancer before their passing. I am pretty sure she never complained despite taking care of everyone while my grandfather worked multiple jobs.
Even though she was pretty quiet (much like me) she became a real estate agent. I believe her honesty, perseverance and ability to stay grounded contributed to her success. I even remember going to a couple of homes with her that she was selling and spending time with her in the office. I didn't realize it then but I loved watching her work. I knew from a young age that I loved working and she showed me what was possible for women.
As kids, my sister and I spent time camping with her and my grandfather. We went swimming in the lake and made s'mores. We visited the Grand Canyon and Sedona with them when we lived in Arizona. We spent the past 15 years in Boston with that side of the family for Christmas. In the 80's, my grandparents bought a beach house that they have opened in the summer so they could be with all of their kids and grandkids. We would play games, have cookouts, and laugh. That is where I have watched my younger cousins grow up into smart and beautiful teenagers
As I got older, things got busier but the relationship changed for the better because we would have conversations about work, school, saving money, etc.
I remember when I was 23 and going through a lot with work and school. I was overwhelmed and just wanted to get away. My grandparents were on vacation in Florida and my sister and I flew down to spend a few days with them. We had so much fun! We did early bird dinners, played card games and spent St. Patrick's Day at the Elks Club dancing with our grandfather and the other older men. It was so nice to have that quality time with them and I feel it created a stronger bond.
When I got married I was incredibly grateful that three of my grandparents were there, including Nana. She was beginning to lose her sight due to Macular Degeneration but you would never have known. She looked absolutely stunning and danced with my grandfather as she always has.
And of course, we always talked on our birthday if we weren't together in person. I loved celebrating her every year because I knew I wouldn't be who I am today without her.
She made such an impact on so many lives and it was shown at her services when hundreds of people showed up. You don't see that very often for people in their 80's who have lost so many people beforehand...
The last time I saw her alive she was singing more than talking. My sister and I were helping her walk around and I started to sing, "I'll be seeing you" by Billie Holiday. She sang it right along with me and I knew that I wanted to sing it at her funeral. Her funeral came quicker than I thought but I know she was singing right along with me and gave me the courage I needed.
I was so proud to be her granddaughter and it is so important for me to continue sharing her legacy. As I watched the two army women fold the flag by her casket, I cried but I also beamed with such pride. I feel so grateful to have had her fight for our country and for women through such difficult times.
Man, I miss her. I am even crying as I write this and remembering all of these amazing memories.
I feel blessed to have had her in my life as long as I did and to know she is now at peace. But honestly, it doesn't make the grieving process that much easier. I have realized that so many people have lost loved ones and the process is difficult and hard to share. Emotions aren't often expressed but for me the most helpful part has been people reaching out, sending cards and letting me share my Nana's memories.
Because this has been such an emotional experience for me, I have been talking to my good friend, Laura Jack, who is a grief coach. She has so much insight into the grieving process and emotions. This month we will be interviewing one another, which I hope you find helpful around anxiety, grief, stress and emotions. These are topics that are not discussed often and we want to offer hope through these difficult experiences. To get a sneak peak into her work, please read her amazing published article, How to Support Your Friend in an Emotional Emergency.
Thanks for being here. I appreciate it more than you know.
Lots of love