Sunday, November 28, 2010

Thinking about Nana, Grieving the Loss of Loved Ones, and Pieces of Memories That Remain

Ever since my dad passed away August 10, 2009, I’ve thought more about my nana, his mom, who was one of my favorite people in the world. Recently, the smell of sweet perfume mingled with the scent of cigarette smoke reminded me very strongly of Nana. I was holding a precious little one which made me recall the month before she passed away. My youngest sister Theresa was born that Halloween, and Nana came to stay with us that Christmas and New Year’s.
On New Year’s Eve, Dad, Nana, and I stayed up to watch the movie Home Alone. My dad and I had seen it a number of times, but it was my nana’s first time watching it. I’m not sure if my dad laughed harder at the movie or at my Nana’s laughing at the movie. She had quite a unique laugh, no doubt, in part from years of smoking. It sounded a bit like the dog Mutley’s laugh from the Yogi Bear cartoons. The three of us had a lot of fun! I would have cherished that time even more had I known that the next morning Nana would be rushed to the hospital, where she’d spend the last month of her life.
I remember going into the guestroom where Nana stayed and being able to smell the perfume she wore, Beautiful by Estee Lauder, still in the air. I bought some many years later because the scent always reminds me of her. She was quite a prim and proper lady. She would have her hair done, make-up on, jewelry, and everything. I was shocked one day when we were staying at her condo in Florida many years ago, and I went to the bathroom in the middle of the night and found her dentures in a glass by the sink. I’d never once seen her without her teeth.
Though rather fragile and delicate in appearance in her later years, she was always stubborn and feisty about some things. Nana wanted her turn to pick up the tab when we all went out to dinner. I remember one time we were at Chili’s, one of our family’s favorite restaurants, when the waitress brought the check to the table; Nana and my dad both grabbed it. Then I knew where my dad and brothers had gotten their inclination to fight over the check. Nana was very upset that my dad wasn’t going to let her pay. She even threatened not to come visit us again if he wouldn’t let her take care of the bill. It looked like they were about to arm wrestle or something over it, so I plucked it out of their hands. I’m pretty sure I handed it to my dad, knowing that Nana wouldn’t be as upset with me and that she certainly wouldn’t make good on her threat not to visit us again.
One clear memory I have of her when she was in the hospital for the month of January pretty much summed up her feeling about doctors, especially young ones who were not all that well-versed in bedside manner. As soon as the young physician walked away, she stuck her tongue out at him. I laughed out loud to see her do something so uncharacteristic.
There are a number of things that bring to mind that period of time when Mom and I went to visit Nana in the evenings. Hearing certain Amy Grant songs, which we often listened to in the car at that time makes me think back to then. I’m sure it’s jogged my memory some when I’ve pulled into the St. Benedict’s parking lot to go to daily Mass. It was while I was cheering at one of the boys’ St. Mary’s basketball games in the Benedictine school gym that my dad and uncles came. I knew what had happened the moment they all walked in. I didn’t cry at all then.
I’d known days earlier that despite some optimistic thoughts and good signs, Nana wasn’t going to make it out of the hospital alive this time. The night I knew this for sure, I cried and cried and cried. The grief hit me full-force though she was still alive.
I went with my dad and his brothers to identify Nana’s body at Woody Funeral Home before she was cremated. (I’m sure my mom didn’t know at the time that I had gone. She likely would have objected since I was only eleven.) We each kissed her goodbye one last time.
I remembered this experience very clearly when Mom and I were at Woody funeral home signing all the paperwork and going in to see Dad one last time. When I kissed his cheek, I was absolutely certain that his spirit was no longer inside his body. He’d finally gotten to the point where he could let go of his body and move from this life to the next.
Lord, thank You for the love, faith, life lessons, and legacies left by the loved ones we’ve lost. Lead us to live, love, and believe as boldly as they did. Amen.
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