For as long as I can remember, writing has been my way to make sense of the world. What doesn’t quite make sense is how often I forget to do this. I fail to remember just how necessary it is for me to write or type my thoughts in the hopes that I can be more perceptive to what it is I’m feeling. Other times I don’t write because the time and emotional energy it takes to do so aren’t readily available. Since it’s quiet in the house today and I’ve been wanting to do this for a while, I’m going to attempt to collect my thoughts and share with you a glimpse of my Nanny through my eyes.
Nanny was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s some years back. The date really does not matter as we look back and realize the signs were there for quite some time. At first, it seemed slightly concerning, yet manageable. I’m sure the frustration of her own forgetfulness was painful at times. I later learned that this was only the beginning stage of a heartbreaking disease. The lines are blurred between the beginning and middle stages but we all were keenly aware of the progression of the Alzheimer’s. I remember worrying about her safety and well-being for the first time in my life and thinking that the role reversal was quite odd and sad. I’m sure my mom and her siblings felt this even more so.
So many of the months and years of the middle stage run together in my mind. I guess that in raising two kids, the sleepless nights contributed to memory loss of my own. I do remember being painfully aware of the distance between Nanny and I that the disease created. So many of the things she would do and say just didn’t seem right and I suppose that’s because they weren’t. Her brain was sick. I’m now able to look back and laugh at the times she accused me of stealing her silver hoop earrings and antique crocheted doilies. If she had been in her right mind, I believe she would have also laughed at the silliness of her “lost” goods. They were often found right where she left (or hid) them.
While I do believe that laughter is some of the best medicine, I don’t think that it diminishes the hurt that we all endured at the hands of this disease. It was during this time that I came to terms with the fact that I could no longer pick up the phone to have a “normal” conversation with her. I believe that this revelation, among other occurrences, jump started the grief process in my own heart. I felt myself slowly losing my grandmother though her body was still on this earth.
I firmly believe that the Lord does not allow the suffering of his children to be in vain. I’m thankful that Nanny’s suffering of the body and mind ended when she was called Home.
He will wipe away every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; grief, crying, and pain will be no more, because the previous things have passed away.
Revelation 21:4, CSB
In some ways, I’m grateful that we knew this was coming. We learned she was very ill in the beginning of January. I think being able to mentally prepare myself was helpful. I had the opportunity to sit down and gradually sort through my favorite photos of Nanny over the years. I’m so thankful for the snapshots I captured of her rocking each of my babies. I’ll never forget taking them and thinking, “You’re going to miss this.” I vividly remember the last day the kids and I saw her in her house. I cried on the way home. We all knew she could not continue living on her own but the knowledge that she was no longer in the same comforting place she had been for most of my life was heart wrenching.
I remember the context of so many of our visits just by looking at the photos I’ve taken. I can hear her voice giving advice–unsolicited usually! It’s funny how the things that can drive you crazy about a person are often the things that you miss the most when they’re gone. Nanny had an opinion about everything. I guess when you live 86 years on this earth you learn a thing or two. Her wisdom was always imparted in some way every time I had the opportunity to be near her. I would often call her when I was frustrated or upset over a situation and needed clarity. She didn’t have much of a filter and was quick to give an assessment of any given circumstance. She usually told me things that I needed to hear whether I was ready to listen or not. I wish she could give me one last bit of advice.
So much of her advice came in the form of product recommendations and beauty rituals. It sounds like a funny, light-hearted memory, but those that knew her were well aware of her skincare obsession! Have you ever really been to Nanny’s house if you didn’t hear mention of her all-time-favorite Clinique Dramatically Different Moisturizing Lotion? Or perhaps she schooled you on the importance of using Pond’s Cold Cream to remove your makeup nightly. “Putting on” her face was the term she used for applying makeup–something she did daily whether she was going to the grocery store or working in her yard. Penciled in eyebrows and lipstick are two things that have stuck with me. Secret deodorant was her go to. The Listerine must be original. Mentholatum for congestion or stuffy noses. Campho Phenique for cold sores and various other ailments. I find some strange form of comfort in the predictability of her medicine cabinet line up.
Nanny was the true definition of an independent woman. She was a “Do-It-Yourself” kind of gal before it was cool. She lost her first husband unexpectedly and had to carry on with two small children. She later remarried and added two more children to her family. After divorcing her second husband, she pulled herself up by her boot straps, once again, and pressed on. I have a lump in my throat when I think about the challenges she must have faced as a single mom of four heading into the workforce in the 1960s. I can’t help but wonder if she would have preferred to be a stay at home mom like myself. I’ve admired her grit every time I’ve reflected on this season of her life. She worked for the Texas State Highway Department and made many lifelong friends over the course of her 25 years there. When she retired, she never stopped being active. Though I’ve heard the stories of how she loved to go two-stepping, I never knew that side of her. I must admit, it makes me smile to think of her throwing back a Coors Light and dancing the soles off her custom boots. She wasn’t grandmotherly in the ways that most expect but the parts of her that I knew are the ones that continue to serve as an example of the kind of woman I want to be.
It wasn’t uncommon to find Nanny in her yard. On any given day, I could pull into her driveway and find her picking up pinecones, raking up pine straw, or tending to her hydrangeas. She push mowed her own yard well into her 80s! It would have been unfathomable to her to not take care of her lawn. She even got into a tizzy with a neighbor once over said neighbor trying to encroach upon her property line! Oh, Nanny! Unfortunately, I did not inherit her passion for yard work.
Nanny didn’t just pride herself on a neat yard; she also enjoyed taking care of the interior of her home. I find it amusing that I never connected the dots of where my mom and I both learned our love of decorating until recently. Nanny singlehandedly completed a most impressive makeover on her home. Painting walls, hanging wallpaper, minor plumbing jobs, moving furniture–nothing was too difficult for her. If it needed to be done, she did it. Every room in her house was skillfully decorated and incorporated the perfect mix of new and antique/well loved items. She was ahead of the HGTV game! I like to think I exhibit a little bit of this “Nanny behavior” each time I complete a DIY project of my own.
Each of her children and grandchildren have fond memories of her food. Roast with all of the fixings, fried salmon patties, chicken and dressing, chicken stew, and (the not-so-fancy) scrambled egg sandwich are a few of my personal favorites. I learned not too long ago that Nanny’s job growing up in her large family was to be the dessert maker. This is where her talents in the kitchen really impressed us all. Rice Krispie treats, brownies and cookies were typically reserved for us grandkids and our friends. Pies were second nature to her and she cheerfully brought them along to any special event. Vanilla Wafer cake is probably one of my family’s most treasured recipes and one of the few things that I’ve dared to make on my own. It was a recipe given to Nanny by a precious, long time friend whose neck I absolutely had to hug at the visitation–if only for the coveted recipe, hand-written on a pink index card! Some of her holiday specialties included: peanut brittle, fudge and *drumroll please* Martha Washington candies. I will forever admire the ease and comfort with which she operated in her kitchen and think of her often when I cook in mine.
Perhaps one of the most commonly mentioned characteristics of Nanny by others is her feistiness. She had a sassy streak a mile wide and a quick wit all her own. I think so much of that is attributed to having to think on her feet and make decisions for herself and her family. She took care of business and expected others to do the same. She made no apologies for her convictions and I don’t believe she would mind me saying that she didn’t take sh*t off of anyone! Take it or leave it, she was the best combination of spirit, spunk, grit and glam.
I’m moved to tears at the realization of just how blessed I was to have someone like Nanny in my life for 27 years. The great loss of her presence on this earth is gain to her loved ones in heaven. I can’t wait to see her again one day. “I love you a bushel and a peck and a hug around the neck!”
Please visit alz.org if you have any questions about Alzheimer’s or would like to make a donation to the Alzheimer’s Association.