November 09, 2009

In Memory of Nana

Thursday morning, I got the call that my paternal grandmother had died.

Her real name was Delancy, but all of us among her 12 grandchildren and countless great grandchildren called her "Nana". She was 90 years old.

I'm told that, in the Ashanti language, "Nana" means "grandmother". Life is full of odd coincidences.

I'm reminded of a line from "Cape Fear", where Max Cady tells his former lawyer who condemned him to 14 years in prison by suppressing evidence that could have led to his acquittal "you're gonna learn about loss".

Now, it's not like I'm a stranger to tears these days. Hell, just turn on the last 5 minutes of "Rocky II" and I'm just a gusher.

But until the moment when I got that phone call, I'd never experienced ANGUISH.

I mean, just pure, unadulterated, raw, emotional pain.

It was like someone had stabbed my soul with a jagged knife and was just twisting and twisting and twisting it.

It was just tears. I wailed.

Understand: from the moment I was born, there were 5 people in the house where I grew up: me, Mom, Dad, my older brother, and Nana.

Nana used to tell me that she was the one who brought my mother to the hospital when she was in labor with me. She used to walk me to elementary school. During the summer, we would sit out on the porch, playing War, aka the world's simplest card game, and watching the street lamps turn on. And every weekday that she was home and able, she started cooking dinner for the whole family at 4:30 sharp - watching Oprah, mind you - to make sure it was on the table by 6. She was essentially my backup mother.

My grandfather died 45 years ago. My father tells me that he once asked her why she never remarried. She said, she was afraid that if she took someone else's name, my grandfather wouldn't be able to find her in Heaven.

I miss her laugh. I miss her stories.

She told me she made sure she sent money to my nephew when he was in college whenever she could because of her own experience of going away to school. She was one of 12 children growing up on a farm on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, just outside the little town of Cambridge, and she was the first among them to be sent into town to get a formal education. Because it was so far, her parents paid a woman to let Nana use a room in her house near the school. One day, Nana came back from class and found the landlady dead in her bathroom. "So, I know how hard going away to school can be", she summarized.

Clearly she was far from perfect. But, frankly, the imperfections make me love her even more.

After she lost the lower half of her right leg due to diabetes, she almost exclusively got around in a wheelchair, and spent many days sitting at the dining room table in my parents house, watching the TV in the kitchen: remote control and cordless phone constantly by her side.

Nana had long been in the habit of calling, well, everybody. She regularly called her remaining siblings, long distant children, close friends & relatives on routine weekly schedules. Just to see if there was any "Newsy News", as she would say.

Her bedroom is a virtual family museum: literally, wall to wall pictures of kids, grandkids, great grandkids, the children of the wealthy white family she worked for as a domestic servant for nearly 20+ years, or just friends.

Rarely pictures of herself.

I feel like I've been to a million funerals in my lifetime, but this will be the first one in my own house. I wasn't ready for it at all, despite her age and all of the associated health issues that came along with it.

I really, honestly, expected her to outlive me.

Because what kind of world would it be without her in it?

Then again, we're all still here, aren't we? I said to my significant other that I wish she could meet her. And she said, "I already have, because I met you. And when you and your family get together, she's there as well."

As Dad said, it's been a rough week, and it doesn't get any easier.

But Nana is in me always.

A kind of immortality.

In the end, I suppose that's all anyone could ever ask for.

Nana, I love you and miss you so very much.

And I know you'd tell me to stop crying like a baby, so, because you asked, I will.