Nanny holding me as a newborn
My grandmother who I always called/call Nanny is the one person in my life that loved me unconditionally. Not everyone gets an unconditional love person but I was fortunate to have such that. I never felt judged by her. She always made me feel smart and pretty and funny and loved. She didn’t live with us year round, but always had her own bedroom at our house. She lived in another part of Ohio but on her breaks from being a first grade teacher, she lived with us. Holidays, spring break and summers she spent at our house. She also managed during the school year to visit once a month for a weekend. On many of her visits to relatives and friends my sister and I were her willing travel companions. She was the grandmother in the neighborhood that all of my friends called Nanny and more than one told me they wished she was their grandmother.
When Nanny was in town, she was the person I went to at night when I couldn’t sleep. Sleep never came easy to me. Before I knew the word insomnia I had it. I would toss and turn and try to get back to sleep. As a young child, when Nanny wasn’t in town and I couldn’t sleep I would call, “Mama, Mama, Mama” until my mother bleary- eyed would come to my room and sleep with me. She would promptly fall back asleep and I would lie awake, grateful for Mama’s warmth but still wide- awake. When Nanny was in her bedroom next to mine, on my sleepless nights, I would climb into bed with her and whether she was asleep or not she welcomed me into her bed and talked with me until I fell asleep. In those late night talks she was the consummate storyteller. I learned of her elopement with my grandfather, of her pregnancy that ended in miscarriage. She talked about the son she lost who would have been a sibling to my mother had he lived. She told me about growing up in West Virginia as the oldest of ten. I know how she helped care for her younger siblings, and the antics and fights with brother and sisters closer in age. She talked lovingly of her “Mama” and “Papa” and growing up in a “God fearing” home and the importance of her faith. Because of her I felt I knew my grandfather who died at the age of 49 when I was a baby.
Nanny had her surprises too as she whispered about her teenage years, and sneaking into the shed to smoke cigarettes, Camels to be exact. She told me why she didn’t like to attend sporting events, that is until my sister and I started playing soccer. She recounted the story of attending a Friday night basketball game, which was the social event for the town, and becoming so enraged at the cheating going on by the referee that she resolved never to attend another game because she didn’t like getting swept up in the mob mentality that ensued. She was a kind, generous, practical joker, hard to anger woman, who prayed every night on her knees at her bedside (a practice that Jordan shared even though my grandmother was the only one in our household who prayed in this manner). She loved me like no one else ever has. My memories of Nanny are rich and in Technicolor. I talk to her often, and carry one of her handkerchiefs in my purse, just as she did. Nanny had hundreds of handkerchiefs, some she bought, some she made and/or embellished with crocheted lace around the edges. I carry a handkerchief to remind me of her love, and the strength I gained from her.
Our talks went both ways. She was my confidante as well. We talked weekly when I was in college. She would pray with me over the phone when I worried about a test or was feeling overwhelmed and homesick. The two scriptures, Psalms 121 and Philippians 4:13, will always be embedded in my brain and heart. She always asked if I was reading my bible and reminded me to pray.
Nanny experienced a stroke my sophomore year of college which affected her right side and her speech. She was 69 years old at the time and still teaching. I remember coming home to see her and visiting her during the summer as she regained strength at a rehab center. Even after her stroke, I would lay my head in her lap as she sat in her wheelchair and she would stroke my hair with her “good arm” as she called it. Our conversations became limited but her love for me was never stronger. She was the first person I told that I was getting married, even before my husband of 21 years knew. She and I sat together when I came home for our annual family reunion. I told her about Mark, the man I’d been seeing for two weeks saying, “I’ve met the man I’m going to marry. He doesn’t know it yet, but he’s the one.” Her response to me as she smirked and shook her head positively was “Hmm.” I’d never talked to her about a boyfriend before so she trusted my assuredness.
Her love for me was truly unconditional as she weathered my teenage years with more grace and patience than I deserved. I remember once when she was staying with my sister and I while Mama and Daddy were away for a few days. Nanny was already up when I came into the kitchen to get breakfast before going to my summer job.
“Want me to fix you something?”, she asked.
“No that’s okay.”
In typical impatient, exasperated, teenager fashion I found it annoying and not at all helpful that she was in the kitchen when all I wanted was to be quiet, sullen and left alone before starting my day. I got my breakfast (toast or a pop tart or cereal) and sat down. She sat down across from me quietly and didn’t try to make much small talk. All I remember thinking is, “Why can’t she take the hint that it’s too early in the morning and I don’t need company.” I kept looking down at my food and she sat absently wiping crumbs off the table and then she looked up at me and said, “You look real nice.” I looked up at her and mumbled, “thank you.”
I looked nice. Compliments were scarce during my gawky teenage years especially about the way I looked. She was certainly changing the morning routine. She had startled me out of my mood. There I sat thinking of ways to make her leave the room and she said the one thing that was so unexpected for me as a teenage girl. I felt her graciousness and love for me and looked up from my food to fully embrace and exchange the love she offered. I do know that after her compliment I came out of myself and talked to Nanny and let her into my day. She had to have noticed my “ugly” (as she would have called it) behavior and the way I was acting towards her. She looked past it and saw the granddaughter that she loved. I think Nanny telling me I looked nice was the first early morning compliment I had ever received, at least that’s how it felt. I knew she loved me.
One of my most cherished memories is the first time Nanny met Jordan. Mark, Jordan and I came to Ohio for Jordan’s first Christmas and what would be Nanny’s last. As we walked into the family room with me holding Jordan, Mark captured every moment. I had already told Mark to have the camera focused on Nanny. I wanted to forever be able to look back at her face the first time she saw her great- grandson, and the first time she held him; a permanent record of these two generations touching and being connected. Nanny reached for Jordan with her “good arm” and I placed him in her lap. He sat and looked up at her expectantly and she looked down and at him with love and just hummed to him. They were both content. I was so relieved. Nanny meeting Mark and being at my wedding had filled me with security. Having her hold my son, her great-grandson completed a circle that I desperately needed to form.
Nanny and Jordan meeting for the first time.
That Christmas Nanny made a gift for Jordan at her Adult Day care class. The gift was a playhouse constructed from plastic board through which she wove green, brown and yellow yarn. I remember how nervous she was as I opened it for Jordan. I looked at it and immediately showed it to my son. Once again Nanny’s love showed in every part of her gift. I watched the anxiety on her face ease as she saw the joy I had in showing my son the homemade gift that only Nanny could have given him. Even as a young boy he recognized the significance of a gift from a great-grandmother he knew only through stories and pictures. He treated the playhouse with care and made sure that it was never damaged. Jordan played with it as a little boy and kept it on a shelf in his room when he outgrew it. To this day it looks as good as it did when Nanny made it for him. It was a gift that Jordan cherished until he died.
Nanny became ill with congestive heart failure and had to be hospitalized in the winter of 1990. By the time I came to visit her from California she was in a coma. I brought Jordan with me on that visit, knowing that between visits to the hospital my parents and I would welcome the life and energy a baby brings to a home. When Mama picked me up at the airport she tried to prepare me, describing that Nanny was on a ventilator, was uncommunicative and that her eyes were always closed. Even though I couldn’t get a full mental picture of my grandmother in this state, I was still ready to see her; I needed to see her. Mama told me that a family friend would watch Jordan while she and I went to the hospital. I had no idea she had arranged babysitting. I told her I thought she would watch Jordan while I went to see Nanny. She told me she wanted to be there when I saw Nanny. We dropped Jordan off at our friend’s home on the way from the airport. I lingered watching to make sure that Jordan was comfortable and wouldn’t fuss as we left. My mother’s friend teased me saying, “I’ve taken care of babies before, and I can take care of Jordan.”
After dropping off Jordan, Mama and I went straight to the hospital. When we opened the door to her room, I was glad Mama knew best and was there with me. Seeing Nanny in the bed, eyes closed, with the hum and rasp of the ventilator as the only sound in the room brought me to tears. I went to her bedside, kissed her, and whispered in her ear how much I loved her. I then pulled up a chair as close to her bed as I could and talked to her the way she had talked to me so many nights. I told her about her great-grandson, I talked about my husband, grad school, and all the things she would have asked about if she were able.
After seeing Nanny in a coma and hearing the prognosis from the doctor, I knew as I traveled back to California that the day would come, when I’d get the call telling me that Nanny was slipping away. When Mama called to tell me that the doctors didn’t know how much longer Nanny had to live, Mark, Jordan and I flew to Ohio so that I could see her for what would probably be the last time. Mark drove me to the hospital and waited in the hallway as I said goodbye. I went into her room to spend time with her by myself and she and I talked. I had what would be my last words with Nanny and I knew she could hear me. I told her that if she could understand me, to blink once for yes and twice for no. I asked her if she understood and she blinked once. I leaned down next to her and I told her I knew she was tired. She blinked once and then a pause and then another blink. She was telling me she was tired. Then there was a flurry of “yes” blinks. I told her I understood how tired she was and that it was okay to go if she was ready. She blinked once again and I stroked her hair and tried to comfort us both. I wanted her to feel some of the unconditional love that she had surrounded me with. “Nanny I love you. It’s okay to say goodbye.” She blinked at me again and I turned to leave. Mark came into the room leaned down and kissed her goodbye. I knew I’d probably never see her alive again. I didn’t want to go but it was time for me to go back home. I knew she loved me and I could feel our connection even though she couldn’t move and the fluttering of her lids is how she said goodbye.
During the days of Nanny’s illness, I always wished I lived closer to Ohio so that I could have come quickly when Nanny reached the end of her life. I would have made sure she didn’t die alone. I would have been at her bedside or in her bed. I would have stroked her hair, and laid my head on her chest in our typical pose and told her I loved her and that she wasn’t alone. All the nights she stayed up with me so I wouldn’t be alone, to give her that same gift would have brought me such peace. Saying goodbye to Nanny was hard but I saw her suffering and how tired she was. She was ready to “go home.”
At the other part of my family circle was the loss of my beloved son. Jordan left in the “blink of an eye” and I didn’t get to say goodbye. The thought that I couldn’t be with him as he took his last breath will always haunt me (I know it will). I take comfort in and have expressed my gratitude repeatedly to Jordan’s friend Edward for pulling him from the mangled car, taking off his own t-shirt to apply pressure to the cut on Jordan’s head, talking to him until the paramedics came, and for crying out in anguish when the sheet was pulled over Jordan’s head. Edward’s cry was my cry, Edwards care and words to my boy were the exact actions I would have taken. He fulfilled the role of friend, but also caretaker. He cared for my boy the way I would have if granted the access to be there. Jordan didn’t die alone.
Jordan is not alone now, he’s with Nanny and all the loved ones at our meeting place that went before him and has come since. Now they sit together again. I think of them often. I ask Nanny to watch over my boy. I know she does. I miss them both. There are moments of sorrow when I cry out through anguished tears, “Oh Nanny watch over my boy. I can’t stop missing him. I know you love him. Help me to relearn how to trust God’s love and peace. You taught me Psalms 120 and Philippians 4:13. Those scriptures helped me through college, grad school, multiple surgeries and near death experiences. Now, my faith is so shaken, my strength is brittle.”
Comfort does not come easy. I’m waiting for heartache to ease. Right now missing Jordan makes my sleep fitful and causes me to wake up in the middle of the night clutching Mark’s arm and saying, “I want Jordan hanging out in Matt’s basement with his friends, I want him sitting on our couch watching football with you, I want him home.”
“Home”, Nanny wanted to “go home” to be with her Savior and have eternal life, Aunt Frances, Nanny’s last living sibling cried out just last month“I want to go home” as pain filled her body and 90 years on this earth felt like enough. I call out, “Jordan come home” and I want him on this earth, sitting next to me, going back to school, leading by example with all the energy and plans 19 years of life give you. There are so many ways to define home. My heart searches for the right definition of home to ease my worry and bring peaceful sleep. Jordan is home with you now Nanny. I know you are taking care of him with unconditional love.