How do you say goodbye to the person who shapes so much of who are? That is what I have to do.
In many ways it has been a long goodbye, drawn out by time and forgotten memories. My nanna had changed so much in the last ten years–years marked with unspeakable losses and seismic shifts. She lost a grandson, a son, her husband, and a loving son-in-law. She sold and moved from the home she made with Grandaddy. And as all of this happened, little pieces of her drifted away. Her memories lost in a cloud of mini strokes (her spells she called them) until a major one finally claimed her.
Max keeps praying to Nanna every day. “Nanna, I hope you have a good life in heaven. I hope you are happy.” His father chuckles at his innocence while I tell Max that he can talk to Nanna whenever he wants.
This is the truth I tell him. The ones we lose are with us in pieces. For me, Nanna is with me in gestures and actions pieced in my everyday life.
Every time I open a book, Nanna is with me. After all she is the one who made me love them. Not because she herself was a great lover of reading (though she read her Bible every day), she would drive my brother and me to Kemp Public Library every week in the summer to check out books. It was there that I checked out and read some of my favorite books–The Velveteen Rabbit, Little Women, The Hobbit.
Last night I wound the hanks of alpaca yarn to knit a sweater for Madeleine. As I wound the yarn into lilac balls, I could see Nanna, yarn piled in her lap, with her crochet hook an fast fingers working on an afghan, hat, or scarf for someone she loved. While I never enjoyed crocheting even after she taught me, her love of yarn led me to learn to knit. Like her, I almost never knit something for myself.
My nanna was the consummate hostess. Every Sunday she made a large dinner spread. She set the table with a lovely white cotton tablecloth trimmed with flowers. These dinners were not necessarily a special occasion, but she made them that way. They were not just for our family. Each week new faces would join the table–sometimes the pastor and his family, sometimes aunts, uncles, cousins, and later my friends–they loved her lasagna. Her home was a gathering place for all. When I went to college, I took that with me. I knew food brought people together, so I used it to connect with those around me. When I was lonely or wanted to know people better, I invited them over for dinner. My closest friendships forged with bread and wine.
Before she passed, I asked her, “Nanna, do you remember how we used to make candy together?” She taught me how to watch the temperature by plopping the sugary mixture into cool water. She would stir, and I would add ingredients. Later, I would do the vigorous stirring while she added the ingredients until finally I would have to make it on my own. When I asked her, she couldn’t respond. Her speech already lost to the blockage in her brain. She squeezed my hand.
All these pieces–parts of me–remain even after a goodbye like the sweet lingering of fragrance of lilies from fresh cut flowers. Fudge, Sunday dinner, lasagna, rainbow sherbet, “Brookies”, crochet, hymns, singing, cards, libraries, poems, crosswords, doodles. These are the pieces left even after someone is gone.