When Life Changes Hurt
February 8, 2010
I’ve not been posting a lot lately because life has trumped blogging more than usual. My grandmother (Nannie) passed away last Tuesday night. It was the end of a long 6 months of rapidly declining mental and physical health. The truth is, my Nannie mostly left us this past summer. Her mental state was quickly deteriorating along with her physical health. Regardless of whether she was having a “good” or “bad” day, she never forgot who I was and always smiled when she saw me. I was fortunate that even though I live almost 600 miles away from my family, I was able to see Nannie several times before she passed and while she was in relatively good health.
My Nannie was the center of our family. She leaves behind two daughters, two son-in-laws, four grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren. She loved all of us very much and went out of her way to make everyone feel like they were a part of our family. She was everything a grandparent should be and I am truly blessed to have had her in my life.
I had the honor and painful task of giving the eulogy at her funeral Thursday night. I’d like to share it:
I feel very out-of-place as I am usually better prepared when I stand in front of a group of people to talk, but I was thinking about what I wanted to say and kept getting stuck, and then I would cry and ended up with nothing written. In my thinking I always came back to the same thought: Nannie taught me how to drive. Nannie taught me how to drive because no one else would get in the car with me. So for three years she let me drive to and from school every morning. It’s funny because I didn’t even get my license until I was 21, but she still taught me. What I don’t think anyone knows since I know I didn’t tell anyone, and I’m pretty sure she didn’t either; is that I almost got into my first car accident with her. We were driving to school one morning, it was winter and the road was icy. I lost control of the car and we went skidding off the side of the road almost hitting another car. Luckily I managed to stop the car before we hit anything. Now when we stopped I was gripping the steering wheel so tightly and then I bursted into tears because I was so afraid. I turned and looked at Nannie and she was laughing hysterically at me. And that is what I remember. That she was silly. I don’t think many of us think of her as silly, but she really was.
I work everyday with students and I have a large number of coworkers. Sometimes we get into conversations about our families and I always sorta feel alien when the subject of grandparents comes up. Most people talk about their grandparents in terms of people that they see maybe several times a year or monthly or maybe once a week. It seems sort of unusual that Nannie was there everyday. I am grateful and I feel very blessed that I had my grandmother in my life every day for 30 years. Dad and I talked earlier today and we figured that she lived with us for at least 25 years. Every day of those 25 years she was in my life.
Nannie taught us a lot of things: Red birds are evil and mean something bad. Newlyweds can’t make their own beds and someone whose father has passed can’t for them. If you’re a maid of honor you must have a red ribbon shoved down your cleavage (I won’t talk about how I found that one out). And our favorite: If you laugh on Sunday, you’ll cry on Monday. Well it’s Thursday and I’m crying. Lots of great things….but seriously….she taught me that your family is the most important thing you have. No matter how frustrated or angry or upset they make you, they are still your family. No matter what decisions they make, even the ones that you may not agree with (like moving to North Carolina or telling someone that you are actively praying that they don’t get that job in North Carolina) they are still your family and they love you. She also taught us to treat everyone like family. I am reminded of how when I was younger I’d have sleepovers and she would make breakfast for all of us, telling my friends to call her Nannie. She treated everyone like a member of our family. Even if you weren’t you were treated that way – sometimes better than those of us who were family.
People talk about unconditional love and they usually refer to the parent/child relationship, but I really think that if you want to see the true definition of it, you should look no further than the grandparent/grandchild one. She loved us unconditionally and let us do whatever we wanted. All she wanted was for us to be happy. She was very fortunate as she lived to see her children and grandchildren grow up and be happy and successful. She was surrounded by love.
So she could be very silly. She wrote me this card, which is really just half of a card because she recycled it. But I know she sent it because the front is in the shape of a house. She wrote this note on the back [reads note]..she was very sweet, but the real reason I kept this, aside from being a packrat, is because the house has windows on the top of it, like a second floor, and she drew a picture of herself looking out the window. And that is how I will remember her – living upstairs from us.
When I called my boss to tell him I would be out this week, he must have called our director and let her know. She sent me a very kind email and in it she said: “Great relationships between a grandparent and grandchild can be
difficult to continue into adulthood so those that do are so, so precious. They provide great, great joy, but their loss brings a terrible grief.” I’m 34 years old, so I guess I’m an adult, and I can tell you that what she said is correct- this is incredibly painful and I am so sad.
I love my grandmother very much. I don’t know what else to say except that I miss her very much. This is kind of morbid, but I can’t help laughing and thinking as I look at the pictures we hung, that there is one hell of a party going on up in Heaven. Nannie is up there with her husband and her sisters and friends and family and I can’t help thinking that they are having a good time. I’m sure they are eating really well and being very loud and possibly annoying the rest of the dead people.
I’m so grateful that I had her for as long as I did. I love her very much. I miss her.
I don’t usually get very personal in this space, but I feel like this is such a life changing event for me that I wanted to share it. I absolutely equate her death to that of a parent. My grandmother was everything to me and such a center of my family’s universe. Sometimes situations like this change us. I do feel a change, though I have not yet put my finger on it. My attitude is definitely being adjusted – for the positive I believe. I’m still processing all of my emotions, but I’m certain that they will manifest somehow in my attitude towards my work and my approach to management and service.