When I was first getting to know my husband, I was surprised by the amount of time he spent with his family. They are fairly small- his immediate family consisting of his mom, aunt, sister, and Nana. His dad and their family are around, but his connection with them is much different than with his mom's side. And as I got to know them, I understood.
I can't say enough great things about his mother- she is wonderful and I give her full credit for how amazing Matt is as a husband. But his Nana had a special place for him. It would be impossible to count the number of stories I heard about their fun times together at her house on the river in Madison or the number of times he referred to her as a "great lady."
Nana passed away last week in her 70's, too early.
She'd been in the hospital for a week or so when his mom's reports on her health became concerning. Nana had spent a day or two in the hospital here and there but always recovered and went home. She came to visit for thanksgiving and we went three hours north to celebrate Christmas together, and it was fun and wonderful.
But this time in the hospital, she wasn't getting better. Matt made the drive several times, and I went up a couple of those. In my mind, this would end up like those other times and she'd go home with diet restrictions she'd hopefully follow and life would be normal again.
We took a Friday off work to go visit two weeks ago and she was noticeably much worse. The following weekend, it was clear we needed to be there.
That Sunday, we arrived at the hospital with Matt's mom and aunt there, and Nana was not aware. She was clearly struggling to just breathe and it was truly the most heart-wrenching moments of my life. I closed my eyes and prayed for God to give her peace and relief. It came, and she slept. We told stories and watched her rest. Matt and I went to the pharmacy and bought a nail color she would have liked, and his mom and I painted her long, pretty nails.
Later that evening, Matt's aunt went home and Matt and I had dinner and went to a hotel. We stayed up too late watching tv and after about two hours of sleep, got a call from his mom that we needed to be at this hospital. I took a quick shower to wake up, we dressed and rushed over. By the time we made it to the room, Nana was gone.
In my life I'll never forget seeing Matt's mom come around the corner with utter devastation on her face. Nana, whom the whole family adored, was gone. The mom to Marta and Laurie, Nana to Matt and Bri. The lady that served me wine and shared photos of her life with me just after we'd met. The woman that endured a difficult childhood after abuse, chlildrens homes, foster parents, divorce, loss- she's no longer able to tell her stories or be a mom and Nana.
I barely knew her in comparison to the children and grandchildren she had, but I feel her loss so deeply.
That early morning, at 3 a.m., we sat writing the first draft of her obituary using a form the hospital provided. Under the "achievements" section, Matt wrote "nana of the year for 29 years." And it was the most beautiful line I've ever seen in an obituary.
We went to her house to find clothes for her to wear the next day. To see her home just as she'd left it, expecting to return, was sad on a level I can't explain. As we looked through her papers to find important documents, we looked at photos of her life, and read letters from the foster mother who loved and raised her, and I felt deep regret about the questions I never asked and stories I'd never hear.
Matt's family amazes me in their strength. His sister flew home from college, and pinned photos to a cork board to celebrate her life for the service. Matt prepared a playlist of music she'd loved, and his mom and aunt gathered artwork she had created and displayed it at the funeral home. They remembered her in the most positive, beautiful way.
After a little time has passed, I'm left with a few thoughts.
1. I want to live the sort of life that inspires someone to write mom/wife/friend/nana of the year 29 years running
2. I want to have a plan for my arrangements, clothes, music so my grieving family doesn't have to worry about it
3. I want to spend time with my friends and family to hear their stories and know them better before it's too late.
I've not lost anyone close to me since my own Nannie died when I was young, and I haven't experienced this sort of loss as an adult. And it has been profound.
Thank you, Nana, for helping create the wonderful man I married, for giving him a fabulous mother, and and for the bittersweet reminder that life is a precious, brief gift.