Thursday, May 24, 2007

Circle of Life

Nana died last night. It was one of those things where she was breathing one second, and then she wasn't. She was sleeping at the time, too, so it was even more peaceful. We just found out Sunday that she had advanced cancer--bone, lymph nodes, liver, and lung--though the fractured vertebrae she's been dealing with since October turned out to actually be the beginning of the bone cancer, which most likely fed into the development of the others. Between then and yesterday she'd been doing sort of alright--heck, yesterday morning she had oatmeal for breakfast and was conversing with Mom--and at 5:45, when Mom was about to wake her up to introduce her to the new 24/7 hospice nurse that had just arrived, she decided enough was enough and went to Jesus.

Dad, Dan, my brother Kyle, and I had just gotten our salads at a local steakhouse when Dad's cell rang and Mom told us what had happened. We ditched dinner and went straight to Nana's house, and for the next two hours we all just hung out on the front step, waiting for the hoospice social worker to come, and then for him to do his thing. It was incredibly pleasant. Having Abby there was the perfect distraction, but no one shied away from speaking about Nana. We talked about how obvious it was that God had orchestrated things this way: Kyle and Kelli just returned Monday from Scotland, my dad had blocked off June so he doesn't have any speaking or traveling scheduled (minus a wedding he and Mom will go to in Chicago, during which he'll speak at Willow Creek's Chicago campus). It was a really lovely way to process what had happened and spend some quiet family time together.

Nana was 86. She lost a fiance in WWII, and married my grandfather, who she'd met when he was stationed in her hometown of Glasgow, Scotland, at the end of the war. Her wedding cake was cobbled together from rations borrowed from various Navy officials with whom she worked--she was a "WREN", which was the women's arm of Great Britain's Royal Navy. She came to America on the Queen Mary, lived awhile with her in-laws (picture Marie and Frank Barone minus the comic relief), and after many years, at 32, was finally able to conceive a baby girl. They raised her on a gracery cashier's and a barber's incomes in the suburbs of Chicago, which got increasingly more difficult in the long-haired 60's and 70's.

They retired to Sun City, Arizona before I was born, and came to visit every fall--September to me as a child always meant the beginning of school and two weeks with Nana and Papa at our house. Nana smoked from the time she was 15; one of my fondest memories will always be sitting on the back porch of our house, doing my homework at the table there while she had a cigarette. To this day, the smell of Marlboros instantly conjures Nana's face in my mind.

She and Papa moved here to California, just 5 minutes from where Dan and I now live, in 2001. Papa had a stroke quite soon after their move, and Nana was widowed that April. (Another one of God's provision: moving her out here before that happened.) In 2002 she and I took a cruise to Alaska, something she'd always wanted to do and never thought she'd get the chance to try. I'm so grateful to have been able to set that up for her; she was still talking about that trip a couple months ago. That autumn she suffered a fall that seemed to trigger a series of problems that eventually led to her losing the sight in one eye and being unable to lie down flat because of the vertigo that would always strike. The last five years have been progressinvely more and more frustrating for her as her health seemed to slowly slip away from her. Two events took her mind off those things: a trip back to Scotland in 2004, when Dan and I were her escorts, and the birth of Abigail, who brought her constant joy and entertainment.

She was an avid reader, a crossword puzzle expert, and, in her younger years, a skilled bowler--she still has a small trophy from who-knows-when sitting on her bookshelf. She loved rummage sales when social security provided most of their retired income, and in her later years, when an inheritance from her husband's sister brought her more money than she'd ever had in her entire life, she discovered the joys of retail therapy; Chico's, Talbot's, and Coldwater Creek can thank her for keeping them afloat for the last 5 years. (Oh, and how could I forget: QVC jewelry!) After fifty years in this country her voice still had a Scottish lilt.

Life goes on. Abby's whining at my feet, my stomach is growling, and there's a load of laundry that needs to be folded. But between demands on my brainpower I will think of cups of tea shared in the evenings after supper, sitting on the porch with wisps of smoke curling through the air above my history notebook, and hands of contract rummy between Nana, Mom, and me after holiday meals.

Bye, Nana. See you in heaven.

1 comment:

Dee said...

I lost my grandmother a year ago. She lived the way she wanted. Blessings that your grandmother died in peace. Praying for you.