December 27th was the birthday of my paternal grandmother, Evelyn. She has been deceased now for almost a decade. I have been mourning that death and that loss every single day since she passed. I still re-live her death in my dreams occasionally. She’s never far from my mind. I valued that relationship so highly. I loved her so dearly. I miss her so terribly.
Some say that, over time, after someone dies you forget things about them little by little. You forget what it felt like to touch them, or forget their scent, or the way they walked, or the timbre of their voice when they spoke. I still cling to the sound of her voice in my mind like I clung to her pants legs when I was a boy and she’d be getting ready to leave after a visit to Maine to see my family. I can still feel the material of her blue quilted winter coat as I held her tightly and begged her not to leave. I can still taste the salt inside my tears that rolled down my cheeks and into my mouth as I’d watch her car drive away and see her waving to me through her window. She was my ‘secret girlfriend’ long before I understood how that could never be, and the first woman ever to break my heart when I did understand it.
Nana, as I called her, as every one of my cousins on that side of the family called her (to my knowledge) is never long from my mind. I keep photos of her close though I don’t need them to still recall the curve of her smile, the blue of her eyes….the way she would fold her legs to the side of her chair as we sat at her table and talked when I’d visit her, as an adult, on trips to her home before and after I’d moved. She would lay her hand over mine as we spoke. Her thumb would find its way under my hand and she’d rub the inside of my palm, back and forth, like a clock pendulum counting out the seconds. We’d sit that way for hours. We’d talk about family, about friends, about her, about me….I could talk to her about anything and I never had any fear of losing her love and that relationship until death parted us…her death….which I’ll never, ever reconcile as something that ‘had to happen’. She was 89 when she passed away. She wasn’t in the best of health. I wouldn’t wish her back in poor health, but oh how I’d take her healthy and smiling for a million more years if I could.
I’ve talked to others who had different experiences with her…different feelings about her….and I would never dispute or debate their ‘truth’ about Nana. It is just that…their truth. My truth of her is mine. My truth of Nana was kindness and warmth and love. My truth of Nana was that she was the one who made me a homemade cheesecake every year (my favorite) and always instructed me to ‘share it’ with my siblings knowing full well I’d eat it all myself. My truth of Nana was that she introduced me to the Ewing Family of Dallas, TX when I’d visit her on weekends, spending a night at her house after Grampa (her second husband) died and she’d let me stay up late to watch t.v. with her and tell me what a ‘stinker’ that J.R. was to his poor wife, the drunk. My truth of Nana was that we’d walk from her mobile home (before she married her third husband, Ray) to the McDonalds on Route 302 in North Windham and have cheeseburgers together and she’d buy me caramel sundaes and tell me to make sure I used my plastic spoon to scrape down the grooves in the sundae container to get it all and not waste any, sitting there smiling at me as I ate it and saying, ‘Nana’s happy you came to see her.’ Nana always talked about herself in third person. My dad (her son) does that with me. I do it myself with the kids, though not all the time.
I know she wasn’t perfect. I have heard stories from others about her own young married life to her first husband, my grandfather, from my dad and his sister, and a tiny bit from one of her other two children. They carry their own truth about her. They carry their own memories and experiences that shaped their relationship with her and in some ways with others. My dad never speaks poorly of his mother, no matter what his ‘truth’ was with her. There’s no real bitterness or anger in his voice. He speaks of her and of his childhood very ‘matter-of-fact’-ly when he speaks of it. He tends to dwell on the details rather than the feelings, I think. I’m different from him in the respect that I dwell on both, I suppose. Maybe too much sometimes, but as Pooh once said ‘How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.’
Every once in a while I pick up one of the pictures I have of her in my home and hold it in my hands and stare into her face…her beautiful, caring face. I say hello to her, and tell her I miss her. I’ve never said goodbye to her…I visited her in the hospital the night before she died. I held her hand and told her I loved her and that it was okay for her to go if she needed to go and knew it was likely the last time I’d ever see her alive. I spoke at her funeral and carried her coffin and stood at her gravesite. I’ve visited it since then. I’ve not held her in my arms in nearly ten years. I never will again. Despite all that, I’ve never said goodbye to her. I never will. I can’t. I still cry like she died yesterday when I am missing her. I’m doing that right now as I write this and as I miss her all over again thinking about her so strongly. She never made me sad. She never hurt me. She never disappointed me. Sure, we disagreed on something once…only once….but we worked it out.
The truth about Nana, to me, was that she was a lot of things to a lot of people. And maybe they weren’t all good…for everyone….but for me they were peaceful….they were safe…they were gentle and nurturing….they were countless hours and days of comfort and joy. They are days I never want to forget…because I’ll never have them (with her) again. The truth about Nana, to me, was that I loved her as far back as I can recall and far beyond her last breath…that I loved her in a way that the hole it left in my heart when she died is greater than I can ever fill.
My head knows she’s been gone for a long time now. My heart hasn’t caught up with it yet. I don’t think it ever will.