This is Nana (and Ben). Golly, I don't even know where to begin.
I've lived my whole life thinking I'd never be without Nana. She has been everything to me: (grand)parent, cheerleader, shepherd, accountability partner, teacher, storyteller, moral compass, best friend. She made me round peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. She let me (illegally) drive home from school everyday when I was 14. She made sure I learned. She came to every. single. volleyball game I ever played. She read to me. She encouraged me to be dancing 100% of the time. She taught me to rise above. She taught me to know myself and to speak up. She made sure I never experienced a moment of feeling alone. She taught me about God's unconditional love.
She retired from teaching the year I was born and we did everything together after that. All the good parts of me are from her. These are the things I learned just by watching her: how to iron properly; how to laugh at myself; how to make and keep friends who were the most special; how to make the best tuna salad in the world; how to love all animals; how to read; how to write; how to speak my mind with kindness; how to make friends with boys; how to respect ALL humans, no matter what; how to pick the best daffodil; how to grin and bear it; how to distinguish truth; how to be hospitable; how to love God by loving others. She literally made me who I am.
Death is one moment in a human's entire existence. It is so important to always remember someone's life--who they were, what they did, who they loved. Death marks a change of address, a moving onto the next. It is one breath, less than a second, a sigh of relief. Then the welcome wagon in your new neighborhood. This is the same way I feel about Jesus, which is why I choose to align myself with incarnational theology. In Nana's case, she's moved to a country house with the fanciest of rooms and all of her best friends who preceded her in death. For months she's had one foot on the other side and has been telling us where she's going. Even through being deliriously sick, she has been subconsciously considering us-- helping us through this transition by actually describing where she's going so that we feel confident in letting her go. I think that in our last lucid moments, the foundation of who we are is most apparent. The last words she said to me were, "I know who you are!" (She was almost deaf. I thought she couldn't hear me while I was talking to her on the phone about a week ago, so I kept repeating "IT'S ELLEN.") She knew, and boy, did she let me know that she knew who I was. She should; she made me me.
Currently, my heart is broken into a thousand pieces. But that's only because she hasn't even been gone for very long. I have spent my entire life loving her, following her, talking to her even when she couldn't hear me. She's the one who knows me best. And even at my worst, she was patient and loved me when no one else wanted to deal with me. But I'm the luckiest of all because I got to spend my entire life with her. Even though I existed for only the last 27 years of her life, I can safely say she loved me best. I was hers and she was mine. I had my own room at her house. She let me rollerskate on her carpet and climb her trees.
Nana never let me get away with anything. To disappoint her was the biggest weight I could bear. That countenance is what I consult every time I do anything. I only hope that I can be the person that Nana envisioned that I would become. I'm trying. I'm doing my best to live a fully authentic life, being honest with myself and others. There is no time to waste on not living 100% into the brains, hearts, and bodies that we have. We can make life longer by being present and communicating directly with the ones we love. This requires gumption. To hide from or even abandon who we are is selfish and weak. Nana had grit; she jumped into life with honesty, humility, love, and kindness. We have two choices every day: either we run away from or run toward who we want to become. Nana became an exceptional human being, who even at 92, had an enormous amount of people come to her funeral to remember her long, full, precious life. Yes, please, I'd like to have that kind of life.
I know now that I will never get to bend down to hug her in my wedding dress, like my sister did. I know that I will never be stressed about how to fly my entire family to meet her. I will never get to feel the embarrassment of answering another one of her phone calls in front of my friends or while I'm in the car with Elise. But I will also never have to see my cousins--who are like my brothers--become so undone by loss. I will never have to desperately hold hands with Claire for warmth and comfort. I will never have to beg my dad to be present for anything ever again. At least I hope not. It is hard to imagine doing anything-even the hard stuff-without her.
While I was cleaning my house, I ran across a note from 2 years ago that Nana wrote to me. Nana was a HUGE fan of notes and cards, and I've probably received thousands of them from her in the past 27 years. But for some reason, I held onto this one, and tucked it away so that I would find it at just the right time. This is what it says:
"Dearest Ellen, thought maybe you could use a little gas money [every note had a crisp $20 in it]. Wish we could see you but you know we think of you and love you always. Hang in there and don't worry about people bugging you. God is on your side."
I don't remember what I was going through in life when she wrote that, and who knows if SHE even knew what I was going through. But she always sent these sweet notes just at the right time. I know that even though she is no longer physically with me, her little aphorisms have lodged themselves so tightly in my heart and in my brain that I will never go without her (she made sure of that). The thing she said the most was, "Remember who you are." It was her warning when she could foresee any kind of trouble for me.
Sweet Nana, I am hanging in there. I am doing my best not to let people bug me. I will always remember who I am.
See ya on the flip side, lady.