On Death, Loss and Vodka
In my earliest memories of Nanny, she’s wearing a rainbow colored muumuu, smoking, and drinking an adult beverage out of a highly etched glass. I’m about five; we’re at the family home in South Huntsville, on Linbrook Drive. A big pool fills the back yard; here we spend most of the day splashing and lounging. Fast forward three decades and I’m standing at a podium, attempting to gain my composure. The words on the yellow sheet stare back at me. I begin to read: I am the ninth descendant of my mom’s mom and consider myself fortunate to spend 38 years as her granddaughter.
With a few deep breaths I completed the eulogy, returned to the wooden pew and cried. My uncle placed his hand on my shoulder. I cried harder. Nanny was gone. I was sad. We were all sad. We weren’t shocked. Her death came slowly, the last year of her life filled with hospital stays and pain.
My aunt called on Sunday just after 3:30 p.m. Twenty-six hours later I found myself at Nanny’s apartment as her body released its final breath. We each kissed her forehead and wished her well on the journey ahead. The next days were purely functional: airport trips, errands, laundry, and boxing up what she left behind.
Nanny wasn’t the kind of grandparent who sat you down and taught you how to behave, how to play fair, how to reach your goals. She was stoic, independent, proud, and resilient. During her life she married a soldier, saw the world, and raised five kids. She was an avid reader and loved 24-hour news channels. She knew I was stubborn and strong willed, but was absolutely proud of me. I was hard for her to figure out and she wasn’t afraid to ask me questions about my life. My most painful and cherished memory of her happened as we were driving over Four Mile Post to my aunt’s house. We were talking about my guy friend and she asked, “How is it that you have all these guys as friends, but you can’t get a lover?” I chuckle incessantly now. Eleven years ago it ripped my heart apart. Throughout our times together, she’d continue to ask colorful questions. I both loved and hated this quirk of hers. Now I miss it.
As I write this, it’s been two weeks and two days since she passed away. I understand this, that she is gone. I completely get it. I was there and saw her go. But I cannot believe she is gone. I have swung through the traditional phases of grief, only to land back at the starting point: denial and disbelief. I’ve found myself laying in the quiet only to have my inner voice state the obvious: Nanny is gone. She’s not there in her apartment, with the TV on too loudly, hooked up to oxygen. She is gone, on to the next phase, reunited with her husband, youngest son, sisters, and parents.
All I have left are two rings, a book on singles of the Bible, and four bottles of vodka. The rings were in a white envelope with my name written across the front. The book was uncovered as we cleaned the house and I insisted on stealing it as a joke. The vodka doesn’t even represent half of what she had left in her stash. I will keep with me the traits I inherited: saying the wrong thing, being independent, and watching too much news.
I miss her. My heart aches for the loss. But at night, when the voice in my head comes to break the silence to remind me of her absence, I’ll quickly follow it up with a few words from my heart: she was so proud. That will wrap around me as I travel through grief and keep me safe, just as she’d wish.