On May 5, not long after 7 in the evening, my Nanny died.
These past couple of weeks I’ve instinctively drawn inward, not because I’m overwhelmed by grief. Quite the opposite. I’m certainly feeling grief, but I’m taking the time to gently float through it, noticing where the current takes me. Sometimes I feel sorrowful. Sometimes I feel melancholy. Sometimes I feel joy when I’m thinking of happy memories.
But one question I keep coming back to: Why do I feel sad? I mean, the obvious answer is: my Nanny died and I miss her. But that’s general. That’s a glossing-over. I think it’s healthy to be able to perceive and describe the experience of grief while experiencing it, if at all possible. To access two minds: the experiential one, and the observational one.
So, why do I feel sad?
Because her stories were precious. They opened new places and ideas and times. And now I can’t hear them anymore.
Because she unintentionally taught me how meaningful making a home is. She was always there. In a place and time where I felt small and fearful, she was there to comfort and protect. She cooked Irish things and told Irish stories that made me feel like I came from somewhere: my roots were deep. She illustrated how cleaning and tidying is an act of love because those things generate peace and safety and respect.
I’m sad because she’s no longer here as an touchpoint to the past or to create more intertwined memories in the future. Of course, the past is gone and the future is not certain, so what I’m really saying is, I regret that her physical self is not here, now, for me to smell her warm, woolen, talc-y aroma. Or feel the silk of her hands. Or kiss her wispy yet strong pure-white hair. I liked those aspects of her presence.
She enjoyed children and was always ready to comfort or embrace any child. Children made her smile, and they liked her, too. Even though each new generation signaled the approaching conclusion of her own generation, she never stopped delighting in babies. She accepted, and I’d even say welcomed, the end of her time.
Her final few weeks were difficult to watch, because I can only guess at her experience. I’ll write about that some other time.
When I feel sadness, though, it’s not thoughts of those final few weeks, or even the last few years, that cause the up-welling. It’s thoughts of her when she was younger, more vigorous, knitting and walking and cooking and childminding. Getting some sun, laughing, making herself a haven for my brother and me whenever our parents corrected our behavior, which threw us into childish anguish. Not that she undermined our parents and their corrections; instead, she opened her arms and patted hair and shushed comfortingly, emanating the truth “you’re still loved.” I can’t say what she was like as a mother or sister or aunt or friend, but that’s how she was as a grandmother.
All of it was precious, because all of those were notes in the composition of Nanny. I can still clearly hear her voice, her patterns of speech, her inflections, I can see her gestures. In that way, she’s still here.