One of the biggest regrets in my 32 years is that I don't recall ever saying the words "I love you" the last time I spoke to my Poppy before he passed away when I was 16. My mother insists that I did, but I don't remember doing so. Even though I know he knew I loved him, it's something that has haunted me since.
To make matters worse, I've been reflecting on a vow I made to myself when I was a senior in high school. Back then, I was working in a nursing home a couple of afternoons a week, sitting with many of the older patients. I'd watch many of them sitting in wheelchairs by themselves in the day room and think to myself, "I'm never going to do that to my grandparents." When Nana began spending so much time in the hospital this year, I started realizing that I was doing just that -- leaving my own grandmother alone.
That's how I found myself on a 6:30 a.m. flight to Texas Monday morning, bleary-eyed from not sleeping the night before and praying that my Nana could hold on for just a few more hours so that I could have the chance to say goodbye.
Nana and I have always had a special bond. I don't know for sure if it has to do with the fact that she saved my life as a baby, but general consensus is that that was when it started. When I was 18 months old, I choked on a chicken bone. Emergency personnel were called and, from what I've been told, I caused quite a bit of drama. As I was turning the shade of Violet Brown, however, my Nana got a hold of me, stuck her hand in my mouth and managed to pull the bone from my throat before rocking me in a chair until I calmed down.
When I was little, I would impatiently wait by the window for the sound of a diesel engine as Nana and Poppy's Cadillac pulled into the driveway when they'd visit from Abilene. There was nothing quite like a Nana hug when she got out of the car. Soft, warm, and just full of love. I can still smell her perfume in those hugs.
In fact, if I could think of a way to describe my Nana, it would be to say that she radiated love. She did. No one radiates love the way my Nana does. No one will ever radiate love the same way she did. My mama does a pretty darn good job and I try, but Nana is, as they say, the gold standard.
When I was sick or upset, she'd rock me or just rub my back and softly sing to me -- usually "Jesus Loves Me" and "Jesus Loves the Little Children." Whenever my family and I would visit her house, she always made sure to have some of our favorite things around. Jello Pudding Pops, Big Red, Eskimo Pies... When I was in college and made the drive from Lubbock to Abilene, she had a fresh pan of Special K Bars waiting for me. Even up through last Christmas, she made sure to have her Kermit-green Tupperware canister full of spritz cookies just for me.
Every year on my birthday, I'd get a phone call that would begin with her sweet voice singing "Happy Birthday" to me. When I was broke at Texas Tech, she sent an occasional card with some cash in it and a note saying "Use this for whatever you need" in her gorgeous script handwriting. (My Nana's penmanship is unrivaled, in my opinion.)
My Nana gave me so much. She gave me my eyes and my dimples, but more importantly, she gave me love. She taught my mother how to be my mama. She made me want to be a better person and she showed me that love -- truly showing love, kindness, and forgiveness -- is usually the best way to handle things. In fact, I can't recall ever seeing my Nana angry or hearing her raise her voice.
In the end, I made it back to San Angelo before God called her home. When I visited her in the nursing home after landing, I couldn't help but melt down. Here was my Nana, barely able to talk. Somehow, though, we made a connection. Our eyes met and it was one of the eeriest, most amazing experiences I've had. I laid my head on her shoulder in a hug and cried and, despite her ailments, she rubbed my back and comforted me just as she did when I was a little girl. I will treasure that moment for the rest of my life.
Since it turned out that God wasn't quite ready for her on Monday night, I've been to visit her a couple of times this week. One afternoon, I sat there in the room with her, holding her hand. I sang to her like she used to sing to me. I told her how much I loved her. And even though I wasn't able to get more than an occasional hand squeeze as a response, she chuckled when I reminisced about how I always had to gone on "one more car ride" with her and Poppy before they returned home from their visits with us.
Tonight, though, something changed. She was placed on hospice today, so we're actually pretty sure this is the end. I went to the nursing home after dinner and was able to spend a few minutes alone with her. My beautiful, lively grandmother was hunched in a chair, eyes closed as was the norm of late. I went to her and rubbed her shoulder, telling her I was there to say goodnight and that I loved her. She opened her eyes a few times, grunted at me, and squeezed my hand, as if to tell me she loved me, too.
I have never been so heartbroken in my life. This hurts even worse than I imagined it could. That said, I wouldn't trade a minute of the last week for anything. On Sunday night, I thought I'd lost the opportunity to tell her that I love her. Thanks to God -- and to Nana for holding on for me -- I've been able to hold her hand and tell her many, many times just how much she means to me. Maybe Nana knew that I needed "one last ride" once again.
I'm going to miss those hugs and that laughter. I'll miss that sweetness and her calm voice. I'll miss her love and her optimism and her assertions that the Lord does provide. Selfishly, I mourn the fact that she's never going to be there when I eventually get married. She won't be able to meet any of her great grandchildren. But I know she's hurting and, in her words, is ready for that new body the Bible promises her once she gets to Heaven.
Even though I've said my goodbyes, there is nothing I'd rather do at this moment than go to the nursing home and curl up in bed with her, my head on her shoulder. One last time. And it still won't be enough.
I love you, Nana. Thank you for blessing me for nearly 33 years.