Nanie passed away at age 87 at home just after midnight on a Friday in December.
Just hours before, I held her hand, kissed her and said “I love you” before turning in to bed. My usual ritual with her was to say “See you tomorrow” – I skipped that part that night. I think it was because I knew there wouldn’t be one.
Mom came to my bedroom to wake me up and tell me the news. She was holding up very well despite having been present as her mother took her last breath just moments before.
I stood in the doorway of Nanie’s room, watching her so peaceful on her bed. I knew 17 years ago when she came to live with us from Guyana that this day would come. It was one I had dreaded and now it was reality.
Nanie had had a difficult month. It was exactly a month to the day that we had to rush her to the ER. She was having trouble breathing. She had suffered two strokes in the past and had a number of other health problems that she always bounced back from. We all knew this time was different.
When daybreak came, I drove myself to the train station and got on the train to Toronto’s Union Station, all the while feeling a certain heaviness in my chest. I couldn’t manage to stay home that morning. I needed to leave and work of all places was my destination.
I walked into my office and sat down at my desk. I don’t even remember if I put on the computer or not. One-by-one my coworkers came by to offer their condolences. I had sent them a message earlier in the morning to let them know what had happened.
As I opened my mouth to say something, the tears began to flow. One particular coworker held my hand and just sat with me as I cried.
When I was finally able to speak, I was caught off-guard by what I had begun to say. I was feeling sadness and grief, but my words were saying something different. I was feeling terribly sad that Nanie was no longer with us – that I would no longer be able to have a conversation with her or see her smile, but in that last moment we shared together was a most beautiful, priceless gift:
I got to say goodbye.
This was a woman with whom I had the opportunity to spend countless hours over the course of 17 years, just keeping each other’s company. She taught me about love and the special connection between hearts.
This was a woman who on top of the numerous health problems she faced, endured the passing of her husband and three of her children with faith and unparalleled calm. She taught me about strength and resilience.
This was a woman who had 14 children, 36 grandchildren (and lots and lots of great-grandchildren and even a few great-great-grandchildren), and when asked who was her favourite in each category, would simply laugh and respond each time, “I love you all the same.” She taught me about family and fairness.
She had a smile that was contagious. Gentleness and generosity in spades. A heart that was full of so much love. She taught me that old people are cute and precious.
You see, my tears that day and in the days and weeks that followed were about so much more than just sadness and grief. They were most about gratitude – an overwhelming feeling of “WOW! I had the opportunity to live in her presence.”
The lessons Nanie taught us, the example she left, her love that still lives within all of us: My family is truly blessed. And for this, I am so, so thankful.
Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours. What are you thankful for?