Monday, July 12, 2010

Nana Died Today - 1 Year Later

Originally posted on Little Merry Sunshine on July 12, 2010.

Today is the one year anniversary of Nana's death.

I'm honestly at a loss as to how to put into words just how much I still miss her. So often I want to pick up the phone and call her to tell her some funny story or just hear her voice and it's not until I get half done dialing her number that I remember I can't. I miss holding her small hands, hearing her call me her "dear Jessica" and reminding me that I'm her favorite granddaughter (I'm her only granddaughter, but that never mattered). I miss her southern drawl and the weekly letters that were often nothing more than newspaper clippings with Post-It Notes she thought I'd find interesting. And God knows I miss her fruitcake.

At some point in the last year, the daily tears stopped and my desire to get out of bed in the morning came back.

In the past year, I've found myself doing many things that remind me of her. For example, I wash dishes by hand far more than I used to. Nana never owned a dish washer and even when she'd come to visit, she would insist on hand washing the dishes rather than load the dishwasher. I have no idea what kind of dishwashing soap she used, but something about the lavender scented Palmolive makes it seem as though she's standing right next to me at the sink.

Yes, I miss her immensely, but she lived a great life and I'm grateful to have had my Nana for just a few days short of 93 years (well, I guess I only had her for just over 38 years, but you know what I'm saying). I'm not exactly sure how I'll honor her today, but rest assured, I'll find a few moments of silence to have a chat with her and let her know what I've been up to. And I'll probably shed a tear or two.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Even Now Nana Continues to Surprise Me

Originally published on Little Merry Sunshine on May 12, 2010.

I've never really been certain that Nana was proud of me, even though she always said she was. Growing up, all she wanted was for me to be a teacher. Although she'd been awarded a full college scholarship, Nana didn't go to college because she felt it was more important to go to work and help her family survive during the Depression. My mom's generation was the first in her family to go to college and all the women studied to become teachers, including my mom. Being was a teacher was the acceptable profession for a woman and most of my female cousins in my generation became teachers.

There's nothing wrong with being a teacher. In fact, I think it's one of the most noble and important professions in the world, but it wasn't what I wanted to do. My lifelong dream was to be a lawyer.

My dream of becoming a lawyer was the subject of many debates and tense conversations as I moved through high school and college. It intensified when I graduated without a job (it was 1993 and almost no one had a job upon graduation). Even after I was securely settled in Washington, DC and was studying for the LSAT, she would still encourage me to become a teacher.

Not only didn't I become a teacher, but I changed my mind and didn't become a lawyer either. Plus, she never saw me get married and give her great-grandchildren. I truly believed I'd failed in her eyes . . . until today.

As I was going through her things this afternoon, I came across two items that brought tears to my eyes. I found a clear plastic page protector filled with memorabilia - ticket stubs, Congressional passes, the playbill from "The Christmas Carol" at Ford's Theatre, brochures from Monticello, Mt. Vernon, and the White House, and the program from Christmas Eve services at the National Cathedral - from her visit to DC over Christmas 1995. That trip was one of my happiest memories of Nana. I had planned the whole trip to the minute and then had a wrench thrown in my plans when the Government shut down during a budget crisis, but we still had a great time, even without the highly anticipated trip to watch Congress in action. A few minutes later, I found an envelope from me with the Hogan & Hartson logo and address on it. Inside was a whole bunch of return address labels she'd cut off of letters I sent her from Hogan. My eyes welled up with tears and I was speechless.

It turns out I was wrong. Finding these items that aren't worth anything monetarily meant the world to me. I now know definitively that she was proud of me. Better late than never.

A Lifetime of Dreams

Originally published on Little Merry Sunshine on May 11, 2010.

As I go through the process of cleaning out Nana's house, I look around at all the stuff that's accumulated during her almost 93 years and I think about the meaning of it all. On one level, it's all stuff. Some of it has some financial worth, but most of it can only be valued in sentiment. But on another level, all the stuff she's collected represents her lifetime of dreams. Dreams not only for herself, but also for her children and grandchildren.

I've looked through old photo albums and scrapbooks and seen her pride in my mom's and uncle's accomplishments. I've read through the letters she sent to Presidents Kennedy and Johnson after my grandfather died in 1961 attempting to get a mistake about my grandfather's VA benefits (and subsequent benefits for Nana) corrected. I've read letters she wrote to my mom and uncle later in life telling them of her unconditional love and letters she wrote to Dave and me telling us how proud she was of our accomplishments and her hopes for us. I've flipped through the well-worn pages of her Bible knowing that she turned to it nightly for comfort, inspiration, and life's answers. I've found boxes of my baby clothes (many of which she made)she carefully preserved in hopes my daughter would wear them someday. I found the blanket that kept me warm in my crib when I first came home from the hospital (and initially tossed it in the charity box, but then got sentimental and saved it). I've walked through her childhood in Mississippi with her sisters through pictures and diaries. The house itself is the culmination of a lifelong dream. She built it in 1969 from her life savings. The stories I've heard say she would come over after work once the frame was built and hang sheets where she wanted the internal walls to be located. There probably weren't too many other women who were designing and building their own homes. I've held the dress she wore to my parents' wedding in 1970 in awe of just how exquisite it was. She was so proud to walk her daughter down the aisle. I found a silk sari a friend had custom made for Nana in Fiji. Mom didn't even know of its existence. I also found half a dozen quilts Nana hand sewed and felt the care, hope and love she sewed into each stitch.

Sure, it's just stuff, but it all represents a life well lived. She may not have been rich in a financial sense, but she lived life on her terms with love and a never-ending faith in everyone and achieved most, if not all, of her dreams. That makes her wealthy in my book. I hope that when I pass away, whomever is charged with dividing up my personal belongings can say that about me.