Today is my wee Nana’s 100th birthday! Agnes Parker McKittrick Hanna passed peacefully on October 25, 2017, just a few months shy of turning 99. I was so positive that she would live to be 100 that when her health began to take a sharp decline a few weeks before she died, I advocated for any and all medications and therapy to make her well. As her conservator, I had her transferred to a skilled nursing facility with a higher level of care options, stopping just short of life-resuscitation measures according to her wishes.
Truth be told, she didn’t have the best quality of life in her final year: dementia had taken a toll on her mind, she no longer was able to walk or dress herself, she was always tired and longing for her bed, and I had to constantly monitor the care at the assisted living facility.
But despite her inability to remember her own children or what she had for breakfast, she put on lipstick and face powder every morning, loved listening to music and sang every word to all the old church hymns in the social room, and insisted that her cup of tea be made precisely to her English standards and served in the mug featuring pictures of her great and great-great grandchildren. Best of all, her face would light up with delight when I walked into her room. She would clap her hands together and say, “Heidi, Love! Let me look at you!” Even if I had just seen her the day before. And for that alone I would have done anything to keep her on this earth. Selfish? Definitely.
As I reflect on the 53 years, 1 month and 1 week that she was in my life, I picture the visit we would have today, celebrating her 100th. It goes like this …
Me: Happy birthday, Nana! You made it to 100!
Nana: Awck, Heidi, I’m not 100.
Me: Yes, you are! I’m 54 and you were 45 when I was born in September 1964, so that makes this your 100th birthday!
Nana: That can’t be.
Me: Well, when were you born?
Nana: January 29, 1919.
Me: And today is January 29, 2019. So how many years is that?
Nana: That would be 100. But that just can’t be right. I’m sure I’m only 70, or maybe 80, but surely not 100!
We had this same conversation every year on her birthday since 2014 when she turned 95. I would try to reason with her, telling her the ages of my sister and our children, and showing her a newspaper with the date. She would just laugh at me and shake her head.
Age had no meaning for Nana. She was a do-er and did things long past the time most of us would have given up. She didn’t believe in hiring people to perform services that she could do herself: house cleaning, yard work, driving, to name just a few. I drove her to DMV the day before she turned 90 as her driver license was due to expire on her birthday. I had put it off as long as possible thinking that she’d forget, but she insisted so off we went. I was sure that either they wouldn’t reissue it to her or she wouldn’t pass the tests. But of course, she passed the vision test and then went on to ace the written test. And they renewed her license for five years!
I did finally convince her to stop driving and allow me to take her on her weekly errands and to doctors appointments when she came home from a solo trip with a huge dent in her passenger side door and couldn’t explain how it happened. This was the spring of her 92nd year, and in the summer she fell and broke her arm on wet cement in the backyard when she was washing the living room picture windows on a step ladder. Although I had been either talking to or seeing her daily for many years, this began a new chapter of dependence that she originally wasn’t thrilled with, but turned out to be what I believe to be the highlight of both of our weeks for many years.
Nana was a woman of habit. She didn’t like trying new things and had a shopping routine that she insisted on, no matter what. First would be Safeway for her staples. Even if she only needed a handful of items, she would methodically go down each and every aisle, examining new products and buying only those that were on sale or she had a coupon for, and always at least two boxes of Little Debbie treats. Next was Walgreen’s for Bon Ami raspberry preserves and a tin of biscuits, but only after once again making the rounds of every aisle. Twice a year she would spend at least 30 minutes looking at lipstick, comparing different colors and brands and then always settling for one tube of exactly the same shade she always bought: burnt orange in a green tube by Revlon. For every purchase made she wrote a check, wanting a written record of the sale and not trusting debit cards. Every month she balanced her checkbook to the penny, not turning it over to me until she moved into assisted living.
I miss her so very much. I can’t pinpoint what I miss the most because she was such an enormous part of my life since the day I was born. She gave me my name, was my biggest cheerleader and the one constant source of love in my life since my father died. I know that I inherited and learned many of my habits from her: most definitely my can-do attitude (which is also referred to as stubbornness), my fondness for sweets and a perfect English cuppa, and most of all, my love for my Grandchildren.
I look at Cody and Matthew and Ellie and know exactly how much Nana loved me … with a pure and fierce love that would do anything for their safety, well-being and happiness. I’m confident that I have also inherited her longevity and will be around for decades to drive them crazy as I have no desire to grow old gracefully. They might have to handle the lines, but this Nana will still be at the helm when she hits the century mark. Because above all else, I am the Orange Irish Granddaughter of Elsie Hanna and she would expect no less.
Happy 100th Birthday, Nana.
Thank you for teaching me so many Life Lessons,
with the most important one being
How to Love.