Monday, June 18, 2007

always a day away


My great-grandmother died this weekend. At 98, she had sidestepped all forms of disease, injury and senility until the only thing she had left to face was biological law. Her name was Mary Elizabeth Jacquard, but to me, she was Nana Baa. Nana Baa used to be called Nana Wolf because she would read me the story of Peter and the Wolf when I was a toddler. When I was a bit older, I overheard someone use the phrase "a wolf in sheep's clothing"; thus, Nana Wolf became Nana Baa.

Nana Baa used to read to me all the time; in recent years she would joke about sitting at the kitchen table at six in the morning, drinking coffee, and suddenly hearing small footsteps as I descended the stairs carrying a stack of books. And I must have made the poor woman watch Annie a hundred times. But she was always totally enthusiastic - she was a great listener, and she cared about the things that mattered to me. Nana Baa was a pretty perfect great-grandmother.

Nana Baa and my great-grandfather (who I never met, but who I once mistook for President Reagan) came to America via Canada; she lived in Massachusetts for most of her life, raising eight children, dozens of grandchildren and great-grandchildren, and even living to see a few great-great-grandchildren. A faithful Catholic, the walls of her home were covered with images of Christ and a bearded, smiling God watching over the earth. She was what all Christians should be - loving, faithful, and deeply appreciative of her life. Her worst fear was losing her ability to be self-sufficient, and she never did; even in her last years, she was still cooking and cleaning for herself. And in the past few months, as it became clear the end was near, my family was able to arrange for her to spend her last days at home.

I visited her in April, when it looked like she might be gone at any moment. Her eyesight and hearing were fading, but she held me for a long, good time. Too often we don't have the chance to say goodbye to the people we love, so I'll always be greatful that I saw her smile once more. She asked about my filmmaking plans, and I told her about the work I've gotten here and there.

"It's a tough business," she said.

"But there's no pressure," my mom said, to which Nana Baa responded, "Oh yes, there is."

She touched my wife's stomach, feeling the baby still resting inside. Her eyes widened in awe. We talked some more and held hands, then I kissed her and said goodbye. We were going to see her this weekend and bring Luna to meet her, but it wasn't meant to be. Perhaps it's better to die with something to look forward to.
I hope Nana Baa is in the heaven she so strongly believed in. I hope I'll see her again someday.

4 comments:

Nigoki: said...

Back in March 2006, I lost my grandfather who was at the same age, 98. The blow hit me really hard as he was someone I looked up to a great deal. He really showed that old age really is 90% one's state of mind.

As I was wrapping my mind around the idea of it all, someone told me one thing, that reminds me of how lucky both he and I were. It was that he got to know me not only as a child, but as a [young] adult as well. I think your great-grandmother and you were very lucky in the same way. Few of us are so fortunate.

My deepest condolances to you and your family, and for what it's worth, if you need another ear to talk to, I've got two that are always ready.

Bemis said...

Thanks, man. You're right. One of the things we talked about is how much she's been able to see over the years...it's sad, but she was ready.

Paul C. said...

Condolences, man. I consider myself lucky to have all my grandparents still living, but a great-grandmother- wow. The last of mine passed away when I was 4.

I sometimes think of all my deceased relatives who I'll never be able to get to know. I remember last year I attended the funeral of my aunt, who died of cancer. My impression of her when she was alive was being quiet and reserved, and I never saw any evidence to the contrary. But at the funeral so many of those close to her spoke of her in ways so contrary to this- passionately liberal, a gracious and outgoing hostess, and so on- that all I could think about was how I wish I could have known her, instead of simply the aunt I saw at holidays. And now I'd never be able to.

It's only right to mourn your great-grandmother, but I think you're lucky to have shared enough with her to be able to cherish your memories of her.

Bemis said...

Thanks. And yeah, it actually feels really good to share these memories - I'm glad to have had the chance to make them.