One year ago today I sat vigil at Nana’s bedside, her last on Earth after 98 years. I held her hand, brushed her hair, sang her favorite old hymns, recited psalms and prayed. My husband, daughter, son-in-law, grandboys and rabbi came for visits throughout the day. and my son and sister called with their goodbyes. My only break was a short walk to sit alone on a bench across the street from the rest home.
After 13 hours at her side, I went home and wrote on my Facebook page:
“I am torn between being with her when she takes her last breath and giving her space to go on her terms. She is no longer able to communicate and is on oxygen to ease her breathing, with morphine at the ready to relieve any pain. Her hands and feet are purple and she doesn’t respond to words or touch, yet I know she feels my presence.
I’ve cried an ocean, written pages and pages of memories as they flow from heart to paper … And my heart is broken. I’ve prayed that the Lord will extend his hand and she will take it. I am home now, because I really need a break from the sorrow, my comfy bunk and a glass of wine.
This is my Nana … The woman who taught me about being Orange Irish strong and proud, that tea is not tea without cream and sugar, and is the ultimate definition of Unconditional Love. She taught me well … I will be strong and patient and be there when she decides it’s her time, at her side or on her own.”
Two and a half hours later, shortly after midnight, we got the call that she had passed quietly. In death as in life, she wanted to protect me from hurt and had waited until I had left. As I kissed her lips for the last time I felt a tsunami of sorrow wash over me. I was about to embark on a new journey: life without the greatest Love of my Life.
It’s been a very long year of grieving. I struggled with releasing her clothing and belongings, not wanting to let go of anything that held a connection. I cried every morning and many nights for months. I wrote bits of stories when memories overwhelmed me. And slowly I healed.
I don’t cry everyday anymore but she is in my heart and thoughts every moment. She doesn’t visit me, as my father does from time to time, in my dreams. I know that her journey on Earth was complete and she is home with God and the family and friends who passed before her.
This past weekend I walked my granddaughter, named after Nana, to the bench where I sat one year ago. I told her stories about her great-great-grandmother and how she is watching over her and her brothers. I carry a small container of Nana’s ashes in my purse and poured a bit into my hand, letting the soft breeze scatter her onto the sand.
It’s my duty now to honor her memory by being the Nana to my grandchildren that she was to me and my sister. I’ll visit my daughter and the kids tonight and celebrate the anniversary of the passing of Agnes Parker McKittrick Hanna (better known as “Elsie”) from this realm to the next with a toast to a life well-lived and a Nana who was abundantly loved.