The narrative of this wonderful life was like fabric for my grandmother.
It’s been too many days since I’ve come here to write, and my dear friends, I hope you’ll forgive me. Last week we lost our dear Nana, my paternal darling grandmother. I’ve written about her before, including last September, when it seemed that death was reaching out for her.
But this is–or was–Nana, after all, the woman whose strength and perseverance were never easily measured in days.
My family has asked me to write her obituary, and truth be told, I’m a little overwhelmed at the task, not because I’m no good with words or I worry mine won’t be good enough. Rather, Nana is (was, I must keep reminding myself) a figure whose personality far exceeded the diminutive frame she eased into in her older age. Though she was tender and warm as my grandmother, there was an undeniable fire within her.
The stories I can tell….
The time she saw a fellow at the Acme (New Jersey’s favorite grocery store) who was disciplining his child out in front, and without thinking twice, Nana walked up to him and grabbed him by the arm and said how does it feel and further went on to shame the father and stick up for the child.
The time she threw a pie crust at my grandfather.
The time she was being harassed on the parkway by another motorist (this was in the 90s, I think), and she picked up a cigarette box and held it up to her ear as if she were using a cellphone to call the police, and the other driver took off in fear.
The time that she and my grandfather took my brother and I to Texas.
The narrative of this wonderful life was like fabric for my grandmother. There was a need to take the stories out, to unfold them and ponder them, to laugh about them, to ensure their patterns remained fresh in our memories.
When I visited Nana as an adult, I played a funny sort of game. In my head, I had a checklist of stories she would tell me–always the same ones–of my childhood. Inevitably, they’d all come out, paced across a couple of days if we were visiting for a while, or nearly all at once if the visit would be shorter.
“You know,” she’d begin, taking the bar stool next to mine in the kitchen, “when you were young, maybe only six or so, you had one of those plastic tricycle things–”
“A big wheel?” I’d volunteer.
“Yes,” she’d say, “but I didn’t know what it was, so I asked you, ‘James, what is that thing you’re driving?’ And you looked up at me and said, ‘Have you driven a FORD lately?'”
And she would laugh out loud at the story, at the humor of a six year old repeating the popular commercial line, and I would laugh, too, but mostly because my grandmother found such joy in telling this story to me.
There was the story of when my brother was born. My parents were both at the hospital, and Nana was home with me, and I wanted Pizza Hut, so I told her how to get there. A kindergartner giving directions to a sixty year-old.
I won’t bore you with more, but there were plenty more, and not just about me. The point was, though, that Nana told us these stories every time.
Even when she began to show signs of losing her memory, even when the reality of the moment was slipping away, she’d tell the stories again and again. I began to wonder if she used them as touchstones, or little tests to reassure herself of what remained.
Here’s the important part: whether or not she realized it, when Nana told us these stories, she was making sure we knew that we were part of the fabric. We were, all of us, woven together into a sea of love and good things. We were special. She always ended every visit with her favorite affirmation: “I have the greatest family in the world.”
And it was true. God love us, good or bad, for better or worse, when life is messy or when it’s a charm, we all knew that Nana thought we were part of the greatest family in the world.
There’s a somewhat tired expression out there that says people won’t remember what you did, but they will remember how you made them feel.
Nana made me feel special. Loved. Valued. Remembered.
At some point, I will sit down with the list of vital facts and figures, the account of my grandmother’s life, and put together her obituary. And I will struggle to reconcile the things that show up best on paper with the enormity of my grandmother’s spirit, all the thousands of stories, all of the love that embodied this woman who has left us.
And who has left me inspired and challenged to ensure her light and spirit are kept safe. So I will tell my children stories, and I will tell them they are loved, and special, and that they are the best in the world.
Thank you, Nana.