My Nana passed away last week. My cool, awesome, adorable, totally rad nana. My mom called last Monday night to tell me. We knew things weren’t good, but I didn’t expect it to happen as quickly as it did. It sucks.
My mom also asked me to write something to read aloud at the funeral, she said she trusted me to find the right words. Nana used to love reading my blog, she was so proud of me for writing. It wasn’t easy, but I would never refuse my Nana anything. I thought about it constantly in the days leading up to the funeral. Planning, writing, re-writing, editing, revising, reading, reading aloud. It had to be perfect, nothing less would do. Writing this piece helped me work through my grief, it helped me find closure and say goodbye. I’m so glad I got a chance to honour her memory in such a personal way; a way that I know she would have loved.
And so, here it is.
There was this project I had to do in the tenth grade, for one of my English classes, an interview with a grandparent. The point was to learn how to conduct and transcribe an interview, but also to connect and learn about someone else’s life, to gain some perspective. I chose Nana to interview because I thought it would be fun. And it was. It was always fun spending time with her. But it was also a very meaningful experience because of how candidly she spoke about her life. We talked about everything… her siblings, her marriages, her kids, her homes, her travels and how she felt about all of it. Her stories were full of ups and downs, laughter and sadness. She told all of it to me like it was, she didn’t gloss over any of the tougher details and none of it was romanticized either. She was very matter of fact about it all.
It certainly wasn’t an easy life from the start, there were a lot of painful memories early on. We talked in-depth about what it was like for her to lose her mom at such a young age and to have to quit school to help raise her siblings. That tragedy set the tone for her life; after such a significant loss she had to grow up fast. She became first and foremost a caregiver and a nurturer. Someone who helped, guided, supported, and cared for everyone else. She always put the needs of everyone else first, and she sacrificed a lot doing that. Never once did I get a sense that she was complaining about it or feeling sorry for herself because that’s just what she had to do. That’s a core fundamental of who she was as a person, you always did whatever you could for family, without hesitation. That was very important to her.
She went through a lot, her entire life she was constantly having to rise to the challenges set before her. Helping her bereft father run the household and raise her siblings. Starting a family of her own and then having to go through the process of divorce before it became common to everyday life. Marrying again, having more children, seeing them grown and start lives of their own, then being widowed. She went through so much, and she did it all with a lightness in her heart that is just unimaginable to me. But again it comes back to her learning at a young age that such is life. You just have to keep going and you find it within yourself to keep giving as much of yourself as you can to the people who need it.
A recurring theme throughout all of the stories she told me was that even though times may have been tough, there was always something to be thankful for. They didn’t have much growing up, but they had each other. There was still so much love and fun all around her, wherever she went. She brought that fun-loving energy with her to everything she did. A coin has two-sides though, and I learned that despite her easygoing demeanour she was a very strong person. She had a quiet kind of strength though, it ran deeply, worked behind the scenes. She could find it when she needed it and use it to keep moving forward. But she didn’t make any scenes about it, or ask for any special attention, she just did it. Having to be so strong and shoulder everyone else’s worries throughout the many varied phases of her life didn’t define her. She didn’t let any of the hardships change her attitude or outlook. Tragedy would strike, and she would keep moving, she’d get through it, she knew how.
Later on, she married again, to Poppa Al, and the second half of her life she could finally begin putting herself and her dreams first. They travelled together, a lot when they first got married and that made her so happy. She saw the world. She rode around on Poppa’s motorcycle. She walked on the Great Wall of China! I remember how thrilling it was for her, telling her grandkids all about Beijing, bringing us back beautiful treasures she knew we’d love. She was finally getting to have her own adventures and do things she never thought she’d get a chance to. She loved being a mother and grandmother. A great-grandmother too! Her kids and all of their kids were her proudest accomplishment, she said that to me. But finally getting to travel and experience more of life made her feel young.
And that’s what I remember the most about her, her youthfulness. Never, not once did I ever think of her as an old lady. She was way too hip and stylish to be an old lady.
She had a beautiful, charming laugh that matched the knowing twinkle in her eye. She was funny and sassy, quick with her wit. She had a keen sense of humour and knew how to use it; we all laughed a lot with Nana. And she was a social butterfly, she loved meeting people, making friends. She forged lasting, meaningful connections with everyone she met because she was genuinely interested in and cared about others. When she hugged you, you felt it right down in your soul. Because she loved you unconditionally and you could feel it.
She was an incredible person. She was encouraging, generous, compassionate, and wise. Which is why this loss feels so unbearable to all of us, she was the heart and soul of our family. It’s hard to know what to feel and what to do from here. But we’re not alone, we’ve always got each other and Nana would want us to be strong together. Do lots of hugging, find ways to laugh. She’d want us to take care of each other, same as she always took care of us when we needed it.
I’m so grateful that I got to spend the time with her that I did. Every moment in her company was a joy. And I know there isn’t a person here who doesn’t feel the same.
Thank you, Nana. Thank you for sharing your stories with me, for helping me with my project all those years ago. And thank you for being such a remarkable role model, you’ve had more of an impact on the lives around you than you might have realized. You showed us how it’s done, with dignity and class. You are so loved, and you will be missed, deeply.