My apologies to anyone coming to this web address for Autism-related speak. This one's not terribly Autism-related, but it bears sharing. Thanks for understanding!
It's an anniversary today, and I'm not sure what to do with it.
One year ago today, if you count these things like the US does Thanksgiving, I walked back to change my baby girl's diaper in the guest bedroom at Nanny's. Once she was clean, dry, and smelling sweet again, I decided we girls would go talk to Nanny some more. By this time she was in her bed all the time, beyond thin and frail, not able to speak much at all. I'd just about an hour before sent Eric back on his way home so that he and Ryan could be in school the last week before the Thanksgiving break. Walking through the dressing room and bathroom, I stood an looked at her for a minute, with my little girl on my hip. As I stopped to admire her for a second before entering, I did a double take. Is she breathing? I ran closer.
About an hour after, through tears and uncontrollable sobs at her bedside, I promised I'd take care of everything for Thanksgiving, I remembered everything she taught me, and how much I loved her, and appreciated everything she ever did for me, she left. As I posted on Facebook after we'd called family, "Nanny was a lady, and a lady always knows when it's time to leave." (stolen from Fried Green Tomatoes)
I can't believe it's been a year. A whole year. I will not tell you she was perfect. I will not say that she had no issues, no problems, no shortcomings... but I will tell you that she was amazing. She was giving, funny, tough, smart, loving, and just plain cool. There's so much she did for me, and last year I wrote a ton on that here. A year later, I can honestly say that my heart is still broken for her.
I remember standing around with my Mom after she passed... I mean right after, when the hospice nurse came to do her thing. There was a great sense of relief. And, as with everything else in our family, we dealt with it with humor. Mom had gone to school with the hospice nurse, and even when the funeral director came to pick her up, I'd been in band with his son, and I'm thinking Mama or my uncle went to school with him. When you've lived in a small town for fifty some years, everyone is family somehow. And you know, it's pretty cool. But still, there we were... our beloved matriarch, friend, and for so many of us, our stability... was no longer with us. I can't tell you how strange it was or how oddly hollow it felt. Honestly, I didn't lose it until we pulled up to the funeral home. I had the gray pants suit I knew she loved in my lap, along with shoes, jewelry, and a nice pink shell (which Bree and I later went home and traded for a pinker pink... we found the perfect casket and the pinks didn't match). When my aunt Gladys Mae (one of Nanny's sisters) pulled up to the funeral home, I couldn't get out of the car. Yup, I picked the perfect time to lose my marbles.
Eventually the family managed to scrape my pieces back together and we got everything done. The casket was just too neat. It even had rosebuds on it! Once we were through there, we went to the flower shop. I'm still grateful for how sweet everyone at Bullard's was... Miss Marty really made things just perfect as they could be. Through all that stuff, even the funeral, it was just make-it-through. Just keep putting one foot in front of the other. We were all together, and as long as we were together it seemed like we'd survive. We all missed her. We all understood who she was. More than that, we understood each other's pain.
Thanksgiving came, and I kept my promise. Bree was bringing her fiance home for the first time, and dinner had to happen. So with a very confused Grandad sitting at the breakfast table, I labored in the kitchen where I learned everything I know about cooking that I didn't pick up from Alton Brown. I knew that kitchen like I knew the back of my hand. Nanny, for the last couple of years, had called me... yes, all the way in Texas... when she couldn't find something in the kitchen. If Bree and Mom didn't know, she knew there was a chance I would. At one point, I went to the garage to take a pie out of the convection oven, saw how pretty the meringue was, and lost it. I'd never see her pleased-as-punch eyes again as she smiled and said "good girl!"
When we went home I had a lot to do. We were moving into the house we just bought. The last conversation I had with Nanny was about this house, to tell her all about it. She was so excited that I'd finally have room for the furniture she wanted me to have, and that the kids would have plenty of room. Honestly, I do not remember much about packing. I don't remember much about moving. Christmas preparation was a blur, and Christmas itself wasn't much better. The best part was getting to have my husband's sister's family all with us at his parents' house, and I'm so glad they were there. Christmas Eve Eric's bulging disk became a ruptured disk, and Christmas Eve festivities melted into his Daddy taking him to ER, and the rest was a blur of pain meds, praying, and comforting. The point I remember most in all that is a moment when I checked on my Vicodin-leveled husband as he slept in the big, brown chair in the living room. "Just checking..." I told my dear father-in-law, "because you know, when you've seen one person you love quit breathing..." and I melted into a bawling puddle on his shoulder. Not excatly our best Christmas experience, but surely not forgettable.
In the next few weeks, we hosted Mom and Bree for our own little Christmas, had back surgery, had Maelynn's first birthday, and unbelievably, time kept ticking.
If you'd asked me years ago how I'd handle losing Nanny, I would have likely refused to talk about it. If anything, I'd have said something along the lines of "i don't know, but it's gonna be bad." I know I'm not the only person to ever lose someone dear. But this was a more than significant loss to me. Our every holiday is different when it would have been our turn to be there. Nanny's house has been home as long as I can remember. Even when Mom and I lived in OKC when I was a kid, home was on Morris Creek road. It hit me, this fall, when we had our bye week in football. Eric's Mom and Dad were busy, and I thought "hey, we'll just go to Heavener!" Immediately it hit me. Mama works on the weekend. Nanny's isn't Nanny's anymore.
So where am I going with this? It's been a year and I still think about her every day. I can still weep at the drop of a hat. There are major changes occurring in my Mom's life, my sister's, and mine. But the overwhelming constant in all this, is life goes on. It just does. It can go on with you, it can go on without you. It can go on in spite of you. And you know what else? All that is your choice. You can choose to take a step back, realize that the way you wanted it to be isn't necessarily the best, and fight the beautiful fight... the fight for your and your loved ones' happiness. Part of that is feeling the hurt and allowing yourself to mourn in your way, and that no one should be allowed to make you feel bad or wrong for how that happens or how long it takes. I learned a ton about mourning with and comforting others, and will hopefully put that to practice.
The best part of all this... if there is a best part... is that I have the peace of knowing did my best. I did everything I could to love her like Jesus. With my husband's blessing, I took weeks of our life and spent them at her side. God gave me the grace and inner strength to do things for her I never dreamed I'd be able to do, and he gave us the joy to keep her laughing through it. I learned a lot, not the least of which is that when you love someone and are truly grateful for their place in your life, God will give you what you need to return the favor and care for them. You will amaze yourself. I was grateful for the privilege of caring for her then, and I'm even more grateful for it today. I saw her care for her father in his last days, and Mama and I, especially Mama... she would say made her proud.
So of all the times this year when I've started to call her when Mae did something cute, or when I've said "I can't wait for Nanny to see...", of all the times I've just missed her voice or the way she laughed, or wanted to tell her about something I knew she'd be proud of; of all the times I saw her handwriting and my heart broke again, of all those memories surrounding her final days, the most precious thing I learned in all this mess of tears and pain is that God is with us. He is with us, and He is on a side better than our side. He's on His side. He can see what we need. He knew I needed a little girl, and that I'd need her sooner than we'd planned. He knew I needed a husband who would love Nanny as much as I did, and would gracefully give me the time I needed to care for her.
Thanks be to God for the life of Carlene A. Holt, whose name and presence remain carved on my heart.
I miss you, Nanny.