I'm not sure how I've made it my entire life without knowing that my grandmother was an only child. I'm sitting in a pizza place in Vermont with my grandmother, surrounded by my father and aunts, my cousins, and my cousins' children. We have so many people that we don't know how many to tell the hostess, and we can't even count. We just keep flowing in and taking all of the tables.
I had just told her how much I appreciated what she did for us kids. Every summer all of us kids would go up and stay with our grandparents for a week or two. It didn't seem like a huge deal back in the day, but now I understand that it was essentially a full time job. Laundry, food, and corralling us.
"I'm on only child," she says, "but I had lots of cousins I grew up with, so I wanted to make sure that you all had the same thing."
I look around at the visible evidence of her success. We're all really close. Some of us haven't seen each other for years, but it feels like we were just hanging out yesterday. Such a lovely group of people.
I think about my childhood and the summers we looked forward to together. I think about how that bond affected me and the trajectory of my life. Of all of our lives. There's another generation now, and they all play with each other like we did. My little cousin gives the even littler cousins piggy back rides. I'm happy for them, because I know how it will affect their lives too.
My grandmother is going to die soon. That's why we're all here. This is the last meal I'll have with her, the last hug, the last picture. The last conversation. She has advanced cancer and isn't getting treated. I'm trying not to cry. Everyone else is happy, because they're not thinking of how it's the last. Not right now, anyway.
I bite my lip and make that face where it's clear you're about to cry, but it feels like you're hiding it. I look away, because I know it's obvious. I swallow, try to compose myself. I don't want our last conversation to be a sad one. Neither does she. Even her e-mail announcing her cancer was pretty upbeat.
We reminisce a little bit, talk about the cousins, talk about the food. It's obvious how proud she is of her family, how much she loves them. Some dinner has to be the last, and this is a good one to be that last dinner. We go outside and I take a picture with her. I try to smile, or to at least look like I don't realize it's the last picture we'll ever take together.
I wrote this a few months ago, right after Thanksgiving. Nana died two weeks ago.
When I wrote this, we all thought that she was going to die within a month or two. I didn't email her for a while afterwards because we had such a nice long conversation and it felt like a really good one to be the last. But then she kept trucking along and it felt like I was missing an opportunity to talk to her more. So I sent her a big long email with everything I could think to tell her. She wrote me back, so full of positivity, with just a brief mention of how she had a morphine drip but barely needed it. By the time I wrote her back she wasn't doing as well, and I never got a reply.
It's hard to memorialize someone in a little blog post because you inevitably leave out far more than you could ever include, and it feels like a disservice. But one thing about Nana that really stands out to me is how much of a trooper she was. Her daughter, my aunt, died of cancer. Her husband died three years ago. She had various health problems along the way. Even when everyone was in good health, she lived through Vermont winters on the top of a hill in a house that didn't have potable water. Maybe all that made her tough, but never hard. She was always smiling and positive, never complained about anything, and was warm to everyone. Ten of us kids would cause all sorts of trouble every summer, and I can't remember her ever getting upset at anything.
If I have an unfair advantage in life, it's that I have such a great family. All four of my grandparents were involved in my life and put serious effort into creating a close tight-knit family. I've always felt loved and supported and have had the benefit of learning from my grandparents, parents, aunts, uncles, siblings, and cousins. In the same way a CEO sets the culture for his company, I think my grandparents set the culture of our families, and that's something that has had a huge impact on me and everyone else in my family.
Goodbye, Nana, and thanks for everything.
Photo is my last picture with Nana, taken by my brother.
Leo missed the boat in Honolulu and wasn't allowed back on in Maui, so I'm cruising solo for the last week of the cruise, getting a bunch of work done.
I'm thinking of doing a reader meetup in Seattle on the 16th. Email or tweet at me if you're interested.
What an incredibly beautiful post, I had tears in my eye reading. Thank you Tynan, and may your Nana rest in peace.
Oh Tynan, What a wonderful tribute to your Nana!!! I am sorry for your loss! May all of those wonderful memories you made with her, bring you peace! She sounds like such a wonderful woman! How very blessed you are to have such love from such a beautiful soul to show you the way ... Thanks for sharing your love with us all! That is what you do, you know! Thank you ... love and light to you, always! ~ Sarah
Right now I'm sitting on my couch enjoying the aroma of onions and garlic cooking in olive oil. On another burner is a giant pot full of vegetables. Next to it is a skillet with roasting eggplants. To the side of the stove is a cutting board with even more chopped vegetables. What's going on?
On Friday I'm heading up to Massachusetts to be with my family for Christmas. I go every six months and see my grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, and friends. The one problem is that it's very difficult to eat healthy while traveling, especially during the season of many fine home cooked meals. My family is Italian, and thus most meals are a healthy salad coupled with an unhealthy pasta dish.
Before I begin, I’m going to ask you, dear reader, to do a little bit of homework and listen to a song from this post’s album. I’ll wait.
Got it? Good.
Most of the general public isn’t terribly aware of Dawes, much less their excellent debut album, North Hills. I found this album during my junior year of college. It was a late night iTunes download, the music industry equivalent of last call, where everything looks more intriguing than it does at the beginning of the night. It didn’t receive the proper place in my listening rotation right off. It took a few months before I fully appreciated the scope of the record.
It was the soundtrack of my campus walks. Sonically, it is the perfect match for those days in late winter when the sun begins to remind you of its presence, peeking out in little cracks exposed in the grayness of winter. It’s a serious record with heavy themes, but there is also the warmth of hope in the face of mortality, death, and winter. I was at a point in my life when the biggest tragedy I faced was having to rise early enough to walk to the other side of campus to get to PE on time.