Monday, April 16, 2012

A Big Life

The last conversation we had with my grandmother began like this:

“It’s Easter! Have you eaten yet for the holiday?” We had to strain to hear her through the oxygen mask over her face, but she was not deterred by that, or by the extreme stress her heart and lungs were under.

If you knew my Nana, you would not be surprised this was the first thing she said when she opened her eyes and saw us gathered around her hospital bed. The consummate Italian cook and family matriarch, she considered feeding her family the ultimate act of love, of physical and emotional nourishment.

To say her death at 92 was truly a shock is a testament to the indomitable force of nature she was, a feisty, active, sharp, loving, funny, tenacious, and hardworking woman until the very end. If you knew my Nana, you knew how relentless she could be in pursuit of what she believed, how dogged she could be in her role as devoted wife, mother, grandmother, or great-grandmother. Your shoulders would shake with laughter and your eyes would tear a bit as you recounted her latest wild escapade, or heard the most recent “Nana-ism.”

A force of nature, indeed.

Those of us who know her have all these stories, we catalog them and re-tell them and they are our buffer from the reality of grief, our collective place to land. As one writer likened it, they are our pockets full of gold.

So while I keep them preserved among those who know them and know her best, here’s what I know.

I know she lived, as my husband said, a big life—one filled with sacrifice and sorrow, unquestionably, but one filled with so many relationships, so much love and grace.

I know from every handwritten note or pot of tomato sauce, from every Rosary she prayed for us, or wacky Christmas gift we received, that we were loved. I also know she knew how much she was loved by her family.

We ended every phone call with “I love you.” Two days before she died, I got to hear my daughter say “I love you, Nana” and got to see my Nana’s reaction to it. I know that makes me incredibly fortunate.

The last interaction we had while she was awake was when I held her hand and then kissed it. No words were exchanged in that moment, but she felt it, and it said everything we needed it to.

I know I miss her already.

I know that when I shake my head, smiling, and use the word “relentless” in relation to my daughter’s quest for whatever object or task she is focused on, that I am seeing shades of my grandmother in her.

I know that what I want for our daughter is a big life, too.
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