Thursday, November 6, 2014

Nanny Part Three: Grief, and Moving On

The first time I experienced grief, I was nineteen years old. My brother died. I was at odds with my parents and my whole family, and though I was there with them, there was a definite rift between us. I was hurting – so deeply and entirely – but I felt so very alone through it all. I thought surely it would've been easier if I'd had a better relationship with my parents and everyone else, that we could be grieving together, that I'd have someone to talk to about how I felt who would really understand.

But now, thirteen years later and another beloved family member gone, I'm realizing something important: grief is always something you do alone. I want so desperately to sit and cry with someone else, just let the hurt exist for awhile, and not be alone. But that's not how grieving works. When everyone is together, you pretend everything is okay. You make small talk. You tell jokes. You smile. You put away the hurt, push it deep down inside so that it doesn't show, and you act like nothing has changed. Sure, you can mention it - “Gosh, it was hard to sleep last night.” But you don't actually feel anything with anyone else around.

I'm fine all day. I've decided this is a good week to deep clean my house from top to bottom, while still managing a farm full of animals and trying to be an exceptional parent. Keeping dishes washed, laundry folded, and organizing storage closets has kept my mind from wandering too far. It's the nights that are impossible. I lay down to try to sleep, and the thoughts and feelings I've been suppressing all day come flooding through my brain that isn't ready to sleep yet. It's this swarm of thoughts – happy memories, concern for my mother, gratitude, the pain of watching her take her last breath, remembering the way she used to look before she got sick, regret from having not visited more than I should have, seeing the tears on the faces of every person she loved as she opened her eyes and didn't recognize any of us, wondering what she was thinking, what she was feeling, if she even could think or feel, wondering what my uncle is doing right now at this moment, wondering if my mom is thinking all these same things, realizing what things really matter in life, wishing I'd had just one more meaningful conversation with her, remembering her yard and gardens and beautiful flowers and seeing the girls explore them, every Halloween when we made a special trip to see her with the girls in costume, wondering if she ever did forgive me for putting my parents through hell as a teenager, being angry at my whole family for being the kind of people who just don't ever feel anything.

That's what reality is. The reality that one can only experience alone, after everyone else is home an asleep and dealing with their own reality.

Grief is a very lonely thing. And you're not allowed much of it – it shouldn't last long, and while it does last it should be hidden and kept private. My husband assures me that grief lasts about a week. That means I have two more days. I'm pretty sure this sleeplessness, these swirling thoughts, they're still going to be there two days from now. I'll just have to get even better at keeping them to myself, and hiding them and moving past them and pretending I'm just fine.

I'm fine. Just fine. I promise.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Nanny Part Two: What Really Matters

As I stood there in the dimly light room next to the hospital bed, watching my beloved aunt take her last breaths with the help of an oxygen mask, thoughts were swirling through my head faster than I could keep track of them. But I noticed something: they all focused on her generosity, and on happy memories.

These are the things that matter. These are things people will remember us for.

Nanny gave so much of herself to everyone. She was always bringing cookies to someone's place of work. She was always giving gifts full of thought and meaning. She was known for making the best pies, and for having the prettiest house and garden of anyone in our family. She was known for always having time for anyone who wanted to visit and for truly caring for everyone around her, opening that beautiful home to anyone that showed up at her door, whether expected or not.

My home is filled with things that will always remind me of her. In every room, something beautiful hangs on the wall or sits on shelf that she gave me. Blankets she made are the ones we wrap around us on cold winter nights. The antique cookie jar on the counter. The earrings in my jewelry box she gave when when I was eleven years old. The plate that hangs on my kitchen wall, that previously had hung in her kitchen and made me smile every time I saw it. The framed picture of the girl having breakfast in bed with her dog and cat that is in my living room. The butter churn we use to make butter. The flower arrangement in the antique boots on my mantle. The antique Singer sewing machine that we still use from time to time. The cedar chest that houses our scrapbooks and photo albums. The wooden rocking motorcycle that both of my girls adored so much as toddlers. Truly, so much of my decor is actually her decor, passed on over the last several years. She loved beautiful things, and old things, and she passed that love onto me.

But it wasn't just things. It was her time, her thoughtfulness. When I was little and lived nearby, she always had time for me. She had time to do things and go places and to just let me be with her... and each little moment added up gave me a heap of memories to hold onto, memories that I will never lose.

Her generosity shaped who I am, and I will always be grateful for it. But more than that, I'm grateful that, in the end, she showed me what really matters in life. It's giving. Not of things, necessarily (though she always did that) but of yourself. She gave so much of herself to me. She loved bringing joy to other people and she lived her entire life doing it. We spend our time doing so much... but how much of our time is spent leaving others with happy memories of us? Of everything we do in our lives, it's what we leave other people with that really matters in the end.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Nanny - Part One

She was there for everything. Every great moment. Every awful moment. Everything in between. She was there the day I came home with my parents. She was there when my brother died. She was there when my first child was born. She was there through my divorce. She was there Every. Single. Time. Everyone called her Nanny, and it was me that named her. I couldn't say “auntie” when I was little – it came out “Nanny”. And it stuck. All her closest friends called her Nanny.

There are so many memories. So, so many great memories. I used to spend the night at her house. She had the best coloring books and the best crayons. In the bathroom there were always pretty smelling bath salts and bubble baths for me to use. I remember sitting there in her bathroom talking to her while she got ready for her day, putting her makeup on, watching her every move. She had a closet full of clothes – so many sequined and sparkly dresses and pretty shoes that I would try on. She and my mom looked so much alike – the two most beautiful women I'd ever seen. They used to go to Vegas together sometimes. I loved the pictures, they always seemed so fancy, dressed up for a night out on the town. Every year for my birthday she would take me shopping at Nordstroms, let me pick out the most trendy outfits for the next school year. The prettiest skirts and dresses, and I'd get to try them all on and model them for her. She made me feel like a princess. I remember when she took me to see Cats and Phantom of the Opera in L.A. I felt so grown up, being old enough to go on those trips with her. She used to have these big block parties where they would set up a volleyball net across the street. All the neighbors would come, and all of her friends and her kids' friends. We'd play til it was dark, lifting the net if someone needed to drive down the street. She was always the life of the party, so much fun and making sure everyone else had fun. On the fourth of July she'd put a ladder out in the street and we'd all set our fireworks on it to make them even more exciting. She always bought me books – Babysitter's Club books, by the boxed set. She had a waterbed in the room I always slept in, and I thought it was the coolest thing ever. She would take me to the nail salon when she went sometimes and they would paint my nails to match my outfit. I remember planning the outfit for my fourth grade school pictures, this hideous dress with shoulder pads in hot pink and black, and she had my nails painted striped hot pink and black to match. I always felt so grown up, having my nails done while she had hers done. Hers were usually neon, and really long fake nails. Oh, she was so trendy and fashionable. I remember going shopping with her and my mom sometimes – there was this one special boutique they loved to shop at. I'd sit outside the dressing room and watch as they tried things on. Cherie's, maybe? I can still picture the place. And if we went to the mall, we'd always get a Mrs. Field's cookie or stop at See's Candy for a truffle of some kind. When the Carousel Mall opened, we'd always get to ride on the carousel. I remember staying up at night with her and Uncle, watching Seinfeld and laughing even though I wasn't sure why it was funny. I remember my first sip of Andre' – I must have been about 9 years old. It was fantastic. I'd had a sip of my dad's beer before, and I was sure Nanny had better taste in these grown-up drinks I wasn't allowed to have. I remember how she would laugh with Benny – not many people ever understood his sense of humor, but she always did. She never seemed uncomfortable around him, and she was one of the few. I remember when Adam and I would both stay the night, and she would rock him for what seemed like forever, singing Queenie. I still sing that song to my girls, and they sing it to their babydolls. She would take me out to Love's Steakhouse for dinner a lot of times, her and Uncle would have steak and I'd get a hamburger. Dinner out was pretty special back then and I loved those nights. I remember her dishes, cream colored with cows on them. And Christmas. This enormous tree, and she'd use tree-topper angels as her ornaments. Nothing she ever did was average - it was always bigger and better. The wrapping was always light pink, with dark mauve ribbon. It was beautiful, but I remember telling her I thought it was boring. She had a special desk in the upstairs hallway where she would always wrap the gifts. I loved watching her make the big poofy bows using miles of wide ribbon – she never just used the stick-on bows like everyone else. When I was really little I'd spend the night, and she'd take me to Burger King for breakfast and get me french toast sticks, buy me a paperdoll book, and let me sit behind the counter at the flower shop where she worked. I'd take the bits of flowers that they wouldn't use and make my own little bouquets. I learned about carnations and baby's breath and lilies and roses. Every time I walk into a flower shop the smell reminds me of those times. She made the corsage for my sixth grade graduation, when I finished private school and started public school. It was a really big moment in my life. She gave me the prettiest earrings and matching necklace to wear that night – pearl, with porcelain roses as accents. She bought me my first dangly earrings when I was nine, ones that went just below my earlobes and that I had to get special permission from my dad to wear. It was a set of about eight pairs, they were hearts, stars, and circles, attached to studs, in neon colors. Everything in her house was mauve and blue when I was little – the ultra-trendy “country decor” style. Wreaths and flowers and wall hangings and curtains and blinds and everything. Her whole house was always perfect – then and now. The decorations were 'just so'. I remember the creepy guy's heads over the doorway into the living room. Normal Rockwell mugs. She loved Normal Rockwell for awhile. Pigs for a long time, and then cows. I remember the rose garden outside, all these beautiful colors right off the back patio. And how she loved all her neighbors. She loved people so much, and people loved her, too. She was friends with everyone. She was so full of life. She had this huge personality, she engaged everyone around her. She was never uncomfortable with who she was.