Tears of Gratitdue

Thanksgiving 2003 Nana went home from the hospital yesterday, but on hospice. I haven't counted her out yet by any means, and the doctor did tell me that if Nana isn't worse in ninety days, hospice will kick her out.

Or she'll kick you out way before then, I thought. That's when we'll know she's on the mend.

But when I talked to her tonight, she seemed really tired. She sounded as old as every one of her ninety-three years. I started wrapping my mind around the possibility that this time she won't rally.

I have cried a lot today.

Most of the tears I expected.

Tears of longing because I will miss her.

Tears of pain because death is unavoidably hard.

Tears of sorrow because she is suffering.

But some of the tears surprised me. I wasn't sure at first, but the longer I cried, the more I knew for sure. Quite a few of my tears were tears of gratitude. I have been overwhelmed today by all the blessings in my life, especially Nana.

Nana has had the same address and phone number my entire life. Her area code changed when I was in college, but eventually I got over it. Like me, she is a both a talker and a night owl. I used to call her at midnight because I knew she would be awake and ready for a marathon chat.

I always knew who to turn to when Dad said that $300 was too much for a tenth grade prom dress or when I wanted to go on a cruise over Christmas break. (Yes, Nana and I went on a cruise together. It was a riot!)

I also knew who to call on October 3, 2003, when my world came crashing down around me. I had been inducted into the sisterhood of suffering, an organization of which Nana was a lifetime member.

I hope that one day I will able to console people in the same way that Nana consoled me. She didn't try to tell me it would go away or that Virginia would get better. She didn't quote scripture about the difficulties of this life. She cried with me. She held me. She told me how sorry she was.

Then she jumped in with both feet. She sat up at night and rocked Virginia so we could sleep. She gave us money for a down payment on our house in Birmingham when we needed to move for Virginia's care. She made herself available to me in every possible way.

But in the midst of it all, she kept telling me not to lose my faith. She encouraged me to keep praying and to remain open to Jesus.

"He will give you what you need, baby," she said. "He will give you what you need."

It is an incredible blessing for me to have Nana in my life. Even tonight, the first thing she asked me was, "How are the babies?"

Even now, she is still thinking of me.

But the most remarkable thing Nana did for me wasn't a gift or a piece of advice. It was a choice she had to make, time and time again. She chose to step out of her own pain because I needed her to continue living.

After my mother died, she and Poppy would still come to Memphis for long visits several times a year. I know it was hard for her. The house was full of ghosts. It was the house her daughter bought, anticipating a lifetime of happy memories. But instead it became the house she suffered in during a painful, two-year battle with cancer.

I know it was hard for her to embrace Mom, a woman who had in some ways taken her daughter's place. But she did it. For me.

My heart is also filled with gratitude that Mom embraced Nana like she did, which was not always an easy task.

"Ginger, where are Susan's living room lamps?" I can still hear Nana asking. (After Mom and Dad had been married a decade and there was no telling where the lamps were.)

"You mean the ugly brown ones with the monkeys on them?" Mom should have responded. "I threw them out."

But she never responded that way and it never offended her. In-law issues are tough enough, but my mom handled her husband's dead wife's difficult opinionated mother with love and grace. Because she was my grandmother.

On a particularly rough visit (I think Nana had just told Mom the reason I didn't eat much of her rice was because it was so dry) I asked Mom how she did it.

"Easy," she said. "I love Nana. And I just try to imagine how I would want my own mother to be treated if the circumstances were reversed."

And so tonight, my heart is both heavy and full. Heavy with sorrow at the prospect of losing someone who has been at the center of my life for thirty-one years, and full of love and gratitude, both for Nana and the pillar she continues to be for me, but also for Mom, who welcomed Nana with open arms.

Nana with baby Virginia, October 2003

Mom with baby Virginia, October 2003

(On a side note, if anyone reading this {Dad?} thinks the quality of the pictures is poor, it is because I am taking a picture of a picture. Perhaps a better alternative would be a photo-scanner? Maybe the perfect choice for an upcoming big event? Just a thought...)