My grandmother passed away on Monday night. She was 89 years old.
She has not been doing well the last several months, so it was not entirely unexpected — and yet, it was a great shock. This is how I think of her, around the time when I lived with them at their farm:
Nana and Papa (Papa passed away 14 years ago) had 7 children (6 girls and 1 boy). I am the fifth-born of their 28 grandchildren, and now there are 49 (soon to be 50) great-grandchildren.
When I was a toddler, my parents spent a few months living in a trailer on my grandparents’ farm. I would wake up in the morning, get myself out of bed, toddle across the backyard and open the backdoor of the house. In I would trot, and sit myself up at the table to wait for my breakfast. “The little girl wants her breakfast,” my Papa would say. “Better get her some ‘proidge.'” And Nana would give me my bowl of porridge, which I would eat alongside my Papa.
In later years, many of the grandchildren (myself included) have spent a time living with them at their farm. Nana and Papa took in many of us (one at a time) as teenagers who were clashing with our parents, but could get along just fine with our grandparents. After Papa died, Nana had her house renovated so that her bedroom and bath could be on the main floor. She had a kitchen put in on the upper floor, and the next wave of grandchildren began taking their turn. Many young just-married grandchildren spent a year or two in Nana’s upper apartment. In the past few years, as Nana’s health has failed, she’s been afraid to be alone, and so the third wave of grandchildren have been there to help her — young people staying upstairs to help “keep an eye” on Nana, so that she has someone with her in the house.
I was at the farm yesterday, and it was so painful to realize that Nana and Papa are both gone now. I will never again see her sitting in her chair by the window, knitting or reading an Agatha Christie novel. She was the matriarch of a huge clan. Her death signals the end of an era for our family — my parents have officially become “the old people,” and my 27 cousins and I are no longer “the grandchildren” of anybody.
It’s a strange mix of feelings as I get together with family, tell my own children stories of my childhood memories of the farm, and let it sink in that those days have really ended, in some new way, now that Nana is gone.
Goodbye Nana. I’ll miss you.