Tuesday’s post was meant to be lighthearted and frivolous, however it was not to be. As they say – life (and death) is what happens when you’re making other plans. There was absolutely nothing light or frivolous about Tuesday, or Wednesday, or today (yes, it took me three days to write this). While dark and slightly inappropriate humour is definitely a coping mechanism I find myself falling back on (and it’s likely to make an appearance here and there as I process and reflect), I simply didn’t have it in me to write something that distracts and deflects. The silly post will wait for another time. This time is for serious thoughts.
The last time I saw Nana she was squeezing my hand weakly but anxiously, trying to communicate. I had to catch a train. I told her I was minding her son and grandson and that all she had to do was get better. My visit barely lasted more than a minute. I needed to leave and she needed to conserve her energy for recovery rather than expend it on visitors.
As far as goodbyes go, it was fairly unsatisfactory. I felt like a coward, fleeing the ICU, even though my true motivation was our scheduled departure. I also wondered if my visit agitated her more than it may have reassured her. I got on the train with Hawkeye only after extracting a promise from The Mister that he would explain to her when he returned to the hospital why I was rushing, and why I hadn’t been there, with the rest of her family. My job was self-imposed exile on the other side of the country, maintaining a routine for our son.
But that’s not really my last goodbye. Hawkeye and I made short videos to send to Aunt Strawberry so that she could show them to her mother when she was feeling up to it.
“Nigh-night, Nana!” We would say at the end of all of them. “We miss you! Get well soon!” They were goodbyes, of a kind. Again, one sided. Not really satisfactory, but we took what was available given the distance.
But no, that’s not really the last time I said goodbye to Nana. That was on New Year’s Day. She was still somewhat frail from her recent hospital stay, the oxygen tubes an ever-prevent fixture at her side now, but her colour was back. She had spent more and more of each day pottering about the house, unwilling to sit still and merely observe and direct the housekeeping happening around her in her home. She didn’t come out into her driveway as she usually did when we were done loading the car, and we did our hugs and our bye-byes in the living room instead. She asked me, as she did every time we were leaving her house to return to Dublin, to send her a message when we got home safely. I assured her, as I did every time she asked, that I would send her a text on our arrival. When we pulled away, I could see her watching us depart through the window and I pointed her out to Hawkeye. We waved to Nana and she waved back at us through the house and car windows until we were out of sight.
The next day she was rushed to hospital in an ambulance.
The point is, my last goodbye to Nana is how I choose to remember her: in the comfort of her home, smiling, waving at us. While my last moments with her in hospital may be occupying my mind more prominently this week, I know that when the prayers are said, the earth turned over, and the drinks poured, that will not be the Nana who will be remembered. It will be the warm, cheerful woman who adored and doted on her grandson, and her grand-nieces and grand-nephews. A woman whose tea preference was waving a tea bag around in the vicinity of the hot water. Who loved a roaring fire so much she didn’t feel comfortably warm until everyone else in the room was sweltering. She loved her soaps and her TV game shows. She always left one Christmas decoration up throughout the year in the house until the following year (a tradition she borrowed by accident from Granny on her husband’s side of the family). She loved a good curry but didn’t care much for sweets or treats and yet she always kept a press stocked with goodies for when “the young people” came by the house.
In counterpoint to the gloom of the last few days, I have been thinking of my first memories of Nana (before she was Nana, when she was my boyfriend’s mother). I met her and her husband once before The Mister and I started dating. Several of the lads were squiring me and my friend Dixie (the Americans) around the northwest of Ireland and we ended up at The Mister’s house. I had, earlier that day, come to the startling revelation that I had a crush on this dark haired, handsome guy with a sharp wit, wicked humour, and a reserved nature. I was so discombobulated by this sudden insight that I fumbled and broke a wine glass before I could even reasonably claim that I had too much to drink. I did eventually achieve that inebriated state and spent much of the final part of the evening discreetly crying into my friend’s shoulder as I was feeling helpless about my romantic state of affairs.
The next time I met Nana, I was officially “the girlfriend” and all I could think about was the not-so-stellar impression I must have left previously. I tried to stay on my best behaviour, drank little, and avoided even looking sideways at the tall-stemmed, fragile wine glasses lest they shatter under my gaze. At the end of the visit, as we were doing the same kind of goodbyes to send me off to the airport, she hugged me and teared up. I couldn’t work out what prompted such a heartfelt reaction from her. The Mister just shrugged. “You’re part of the family now.”
The third time I came over it was warm and Nana and her husband were organising a small outdoor BBQ for the visit of old friends. I hung close to my guy, both because the cost of maintaining our long distance relationship made ordinary physical contact a luxury, and also because everything in this family was new to me. The Irish customs, the new people, the good natured, rapid back-and-forth “slagging”, all of it made me even more cautious about attempting to be more outgoing. I hung back, literally holding on to The Mister as if he were a buoy in an ocean.
When the meats and salads were gone and we were all still sitting around the table outside enjoying the sunshine, The Mister leaned over to me and asked if I wanted any dessert. It was a family favourite, apparently, involving melted Mars bars, ice cream, and chocolate sauce. Of course I said yes, but I instantly regretted my decision when he began spooning the delicious looking chocolatey goo over the ice cream.
“What are you doing putting that in the bowl, Mister? You should be licking it off her body!” Nana exclaimed suddenly, looking over at us.
I started searching around for a interdimentional sinkhole to open up underneath me so I could vanish in a haze of mortification. It was the first time the pointed ribbing was turned in my direction and I hadn’t yet at that point acquired my own arsenal of witty repartees or sarcastic retorts.
Nana’s husband, (I’m going to call him Hawkeye Sr. as my own little Hawkeye is named after him), grumbled something under his breath. He may have been coming to my defence but I was too frozen (think deer-in-headlights) to really hear what his response was, however I know it wasn’t one that sided with his wife, because Nana quickly rounded on him.
“Oh, shush you. You don’t have a single romantic bone in your body!”
There was some laughter and then thankfully the conversation moved on, allowing me to spoon the gooey melting goodness into my mouth in relative peace and obscurity. Years later, after we were married, I found it easy to roll with the jokes and innuendos and stopped being so shocked by the idea of my husband’s mother making sex jokes. In fact, she occasionally like to text around the latest dirty joke she had come across, and when I acquired my own Irish mobile phone number after moving here, she gave me one of her older handsets to save us money. It happened to come with a shockingly large selection of very dubious such jokes. I laughed at some, and then spent a good hour manually deleting what felt like hundreds of them.
These three moments, though they didn’t happen all at the same time, represent what I consider my earliest collective memories of Nana. Three introductions to complement the three goodbyes.
But wait, I didn’t finish telling the complete story of my last goodbye to Nana. We waved to her through the car window until we were out of sight and drove to Dublin. After we shrugged off our coats and dropped our bags at home, Hawkeye immediately began playing.
“I’m going to make you dinner!” We watched bemusedly as he pottered about his little IKEA kitchen, bringing us imaginary fruit and cereal, which we dutifully pretended to eat.
“I’m going to make you peanut butter sammiches, ok mommy?”
“Yes, please!” I faked my enthusiasm like a good mom.
“Ok! I’m going to get the peanut butter!” he called out excitedly over his shoulder as he ran into his bedroom. I took the opportunity to pull out my phone and send that text to Nana, telling her that we got home safely, and that Hawkeye was feeding us imaginary “sammiches” with imaginary peanut butter, which he apparently kept stashed in his room.
“Hope the sammiches are good and you enjoy them!” she texted me back.
It was her last message to me, another goodbye.
I did not get to tell her more about her grandson’s sammiches until this morning, when I said my very, very, very last goodbye to an empty room with a wicker coffin.
“They were really good sammiches, Nana.” I whispered through my tears. “Make sure you tell Hawkeye Senior all about his grandson when you see him, ok? And I’ll make sure to tell Hawkeye all our stories about you so that he does not forget.”
Bye bye, Nana. We’ll miss you something fierce.