I had never ‘listened in’ on a phone conversation before that day, yet when my cousin David called and said, “let me speak to papa,” I felt the urge to do so.
I yelled at my papa to pick up the phone then I kept listening long enough to hear, “Papa? Nana’s gone.”
I don’t remember what else was said or if I just hung up the phone immediately but the rest of the night is a vivid slow motion memory of darkness and despair.
Nana had been in and out of the hospital many times in the days from the crash in May to October, so much so that we had a professional hospital bed brought in and put in the living room for the days she was home.
On nights that she was in the hospital we would typically visit for a short while before heading home, just to have an inevitable call filled with the delirium that only a plethora of pain medications can offer.
She once called papa to tell him that the boys (My brothers and I) were jumping out from under the bed and scaring her. She pleaded with him to tell us to stop. So he hung up the phone and came to the living room (where we’d been the whole time) and let us know we shouldn’t be jumping out from under the bed and scaring her while she’s at the hospital.
Another time she handed him a lump of tissues and told him it was her left over fish from dinner. She asked him to take it home and put in the freezer so she could enjoy it when she wasn’t in the hospital. It was actually just tissues where she’d coughed up some phlegm.
The real problem with someone you hold so dear and so close dying slowly is that is what is ingrained in your mind every time you try to remember what they look like. To me, at the ripe old age of 12, nana was larger than life. She was a tall woman with broad shoulders and foul mouth. She was intelligent and hard working. She’d done her time as factory worker, mother, war time help, cook, and more.
So when, in those last few months, she fell to under 100 pounds and looked like a skeleton with skin, it was that much harder. I watched this strong woman who would protect me and tell me I could do anything in life not even be able to dress herself. She couldn’t cook meals, I had to cook for her. She couldn’t mother me, I had to mother her.
It wasn’t just me, thankfully. I was weak and broken and about to be more so. I was losing the mother of my youth.
That morning, when I woke up, an ambulance was at the trailer picking nana up again. This was becoming routine. She was weak and frail and in and out of the hospital but it had been months now so this was just normal. I preferred not to think of the inevitable end to this scenario. It was a Tuesday, a school day, and I still had to get ready. We would go visit her afterwards.
After school he asked if I wanted to go see her. I told her I was tired and we’d just do it tomorrow. This was probably a good thing, though it still haunts me.
Just after 5:15 I was watching Growing Pains when the phone rang.
After eventually hanging up I waited to hear the familiar click of my papa’s phone hanging up as well. I had to let him know I knew so he wouldn’t have to tell me, that was my thinking. So I told him I should call my mom, who lived a few hours away at the time, and let her know. I tried to tell her but just started crying and she told me to put papa on the phone.
Shortly after I was taken to another cousins house. Cousin Deanna was having a baby shower for one of her friends and that’s where papa dropped me off so he could head to the hospital. I was to stay there until my mom got to town to pick me up.
I remember the look on cousin Deanna’s face as she kept answering the door to welcome more people in. With a tear in her eye she’d put on a smile to welcome them, then let them know we had a loss in the family. I cursed them all under my breath saying how could they enjoy themselves when my nana had just died.
They played the typical silly games and I just wept in a corner until my mom got there. She took me to my brothers house where they and their dad stayed so we could tell them.
They were watching Arachnophobia. It’s a John Goodman horror/thriller about a bunch of spiders. This was what was on as my mother told them all that nana was gone. I can’t watch that movie anymore.
My brother Thomas came back to my house with us and stayed with me, trying to get me to sleep that night. The real truth of the matter is I really didn’t ‘sleep’ for the next 6 years.
So much of the rest of that year is a blur of the worst parts of my becoming a teenager. Going back to school and all the kids looking at me and whispering behind my back about what had happened. The way the teachers would look at me with pity and sorrow. I went from being a straight A’s and B’s student to never doing homework, though I still aced tests.
Nana’s birthday was November 24th, which meant it fell on Thanksgiving a lot. Of course, it fell on Thanksgiving that year too. I stayed in my room most of the night listening to everyone laughing and trying to move on with their lives. At least, I know that’s what they were trying to do now but at that time I just ran out and screamed at them, “HOW CAN YOU ALL LAUGH AND SMILE AND PRETEND NOTHING’S WRONG! DON’T YOU KNOW WHAT TODAY IS?” They tried to tell me encouraging words but I just went back to my room.
Everything that happened to you growing up has, in a small or large way, shaped who you are today. While parts of me understand what I gained from the experience of losing her so young, most of me just wants her back.
Just a day to cry in her arms. A day to ask her all the questions I had after she was gone. A day to take a drive to no where and talk about crappy food in crummy cafe’s and laugh all the way home. A day to just give her a hug.
I just want a day with my nana.