Today (March 8th) is Nana’s birthday. It’s the first birthday that she is celebrating in heaven. It’s fitting that today is the first time I’ve written since she passed away.
Wrapping up a life is a process I’m happy to do and honored to get to do it. I cleaned out her apartment in a total of four days. Whew! Sorting it all is another story, lol. So much of what she had will be a tremendous blessing to others as the family agreed to donate most of it.
I had the distinct honor of receiving her ashes. The funeral home director was kind and soft-spoken and showed genuine compassion and empathy. It was a tender moment I will never forget. The last time I was at the funeral home I had to confirm her identification. It was surreal and obviously hard because of the nature of the task. But she looked so peaceful; just like she was sleeping. And after being with her in her last days, it was a gift to see her not suffering and struggling anymore. I choose to look at it that way. I stroked her arm and said, “We love you, Mom.” It was an odd moment because, as a believer, I know she is no longer in her body. Still, it seemed fitting to pay my respects.
When the director gently handed me the small box of ashes meticulously wrapped in brown paper, I thanked him and tried to hide that for a moment it felt hard to breathe. I thought about all the times she and I drove in my JEEP to her doctors’ appointments; to breakfasts, lunches, and dinners; to our home for surgery recoveries, holidays and celebrations or just to hang out; to Walmart, the grocery store, and just to get an ice cream cone, her favorite.
This would be our last drive together. Instead of sitting next to me coloring her lips with lipstick or checking her hair in the mirror, recalling a fond memory, talking politics or writing her shopping list, this drive would be silent. I shook the man’s hand, said a final goodbye and walked outside. The cold, grey sky was blanketed in huge dark clouds and made the sky feel low enough I could touch heaven.
I tucked Nana’s ashes safely in the back seat and ran my hand over the smooth, brown paper. I touched her name on the label and whispered, “Let’s go home, Mom.”
Arriving home, I carried Nana’s ashes upstairs where my father-in-law’s (a.k.a. Bompa) were and sat them next to each other. The world seemed strangely balanced once more. They will be laid to rest together this summer in New York. Their ashes are together, as I know today, they are worshiping the Lord together alive and well in heaven. Both truths comfort my soul.
The following weeks have been filled with phone calls, closing accounts, sorting through photos and paperwork and making plans. It has been busy indeed.
In moments of laughing at good memories and tears of missing Nana, I am reflecting on everyone who helped walk Nana to heaven. So much of those last months are an emotional blur, as I knew they would be. We think we won’t forget faces and names, but like a flooded river, there is too much emotion, too many decisions and too little sleep to retain it all.
In preparation for what was coming, I asked some of these special folks if they would take a selfie with Nana, or I take a photo of them, and grant me permission to post it publicly in an effort to say thank you and so we will never forget those who impacted Nana all of us.
On her birthday today, I count these photos as a celebration of life and love. Nana was never shy to shout, “Praise the Lord!” and gave God the credit for his many blessings. In the spirit of her grateful heart, and for the thousands of times I heard her sing, “God is so good, God is so good, God is so good, he’s so good to me!” This is my grateful post. Grateful for those who helped Nana in countless ways and showed the love of Jesus with authenticity and joy. Our family is eternally grateful for each of you. From the bottom of our hearts, thank you.
Dr. Shehadeh, you will receive a letter of thanks soon, but for now I want you to know Nana and our family owes you a debt we can never repay. As her oncologist, you helped us wade the deep waters of cancer with compassion and sensitivity. You treated her with dignity and respect. You listened. You made eye contact. You hugged her. You held her hand. She was not just another patient. I don’t believe you have any “just another patients.” Your kind-hearted nature and sharp intellect helped us understand the Goliath she faced and how to deal with it. You kept us calm. You answered my millions of questions. You addressed her terminal illness with tenderness and reason. You are the best doctor I’ve ever worked with, and you were a big reason why we got an extra year with Nana. Thank you, thank you.
To RNs Demetrius and Melissa at Agape Hospice. You showed up every day. You cared for Nana in every way. You were our eyes and ears, hands and feet to do the hard tasks. We would have been lost without you. Because of you, Nana had the very best care, and your help allowed me to get some much-needed sleep so I could be there for Nana in other ways. We are indebted to you.
To Dr. Grattan and your staff, thank you for being so attentive to Nana’s medical needs. Your P.A. who saw us in a last minute appointment caught the angiosarcoma in 2018 and her quick diagnosis was the reason she could have surgery and add another year onto her life. We are so grateful that you guys caught what the radiologist missed!! Without your expert insight, we would have lost Nana much sooner. Thank you for the gift of time. There are no words that can fully express how much we will awlays be thankful for you all.
To Matt, Nana’s deacon from church. For two years you took Nana under your deacon wing and served her with love and compassion. Thank you for all your visits and phone calls. She loved your company and the chocolate milkshakes with which you surprised her. We appreciate you so much and “Thank You” seems inadequate for all your time, energy and attention you gave; as well as to your wife and children who shared you with Nana.
To Med-Techs Melissa, Tamica and Jessica, thank you for giving your time, talent and love to Nana. You are the best at what you do! You were never too busy to help. You were always kind and caring. No task was too small, no question too insignificant. You helped Nana feel at home in the apartment she loved.
Melissa, the night we moved Nana in you changed my life. It was a long day of moving and settling her in and we were exhausted. I remember coming to end of my emotional and physical strength. Melissa, you popped in to introduce yourself. I said to you, “Thank for your help. I am doing all I can and often it seems not enough.” You replied, “We’re happy to help! Don’t worry, we’ll take it from here.” I broke down into tears. I knew Nana would be safe and cared for in ways she needed, and a wave of utter relief washed over me, largely because of you. Thank you.
Tamica, one of my favorite moments with you was when we needed an extra hand on the third floor, and you had just started your lunch break on the first floor. Without hesitation, and without the slightest attitude of being inconvenienced, you put the sandwich down, that you almost took your first bite from, and rushed right up. You don’t know this, but I saw when, after helping us get Nana into bed, you leaned in close – nose to nose – smiled and softly stroked Nana’s cheek to comfort her. It was the kind of caring family does for each other. I was beautiful to see. Thank you.
Teisha with Agape Hospice, you are incredible. Thank you for helping Nana with her personal hygiene. She was fiercely strong and independent and didn’t want your help. Still, you waited patiently nearby in case of an emergency. Stopping to chat with me in the hallway just days after her death, you took the time to share your memories of your time with Silly Salli. Thank you for asking questions about her life; showing Nana meant so much more to you than as just another client. You really wanted to know more, and your caring is precious to me. Learning about all the sweet moments you shared means the world to me. You sat with her and laughed at her stories. You danced with her while she sang her own music. Sometimes you were the first face she saw in the morning and I am so glad it was you. You told me about the day Nana accepted your help at last, and how you knew that was an indicator it was close to her time when she no longer struggled against your efforts. All of this helps heal our broken hearts.
Thank you, Marie. We got to know each other well while rendezvousing in parking lots all over the city as you helped provide transportation to her appointments via her assisted living. Your heart is priceless! Not only did you help with the driving, but you did so with a joyful heart. You were always patient, courteous, kind and funny! Nana loved your sense of humor. Thank you for making the long drives from South Carolina to Charlotte fun and an adventure for Nana. You were a huge help to me as we tag-teamed literally all over the city to get Nana where she needed to be. Your help was invaluable to me. Your caring heart is a treasure to us both.
To Stephanie who works in the dining room at Nana’s assisted living. Thank you for bringing light and smiles and joy to every meal. Thank you for knowing the residents by name as well as their preferences and allergies. Thank you for treating them like family. Your energy and positivity are contagious. Keep doing what you do. You are a bright blessing!
To the lovely young lady who took care of Nana’s laundry, and others we do not have a photo of, but are forever imprinted on our hearts – thank you. You loved Nana well. Your kindness is seen by God and I ask that he richly blesses you in return, in ways so personal you will know without a doubt that it is an extension of our gratitude for a job well done that went far beyond work. Thank you that Nana mattered to you as a person and you showed it in so many ways.
Thank you, Father John, for coming to see her one more time. You always bring a funny story, a joke and a smile. Your visit was a highlight to her, and we appreciate you coming by to hug and love on Nana. Your friendship dates back 50 years when you sold cars with Bompa in upstate New York. Who knew that Nana and you would reconnect as the presiding Father over the church she attended in New York many years later, only to wind up living right down the road from each other in South Carolina. It’s a small, small world, and you colored her world with laughter and joy for decades. Thank you for praying over Nana. Circling up to give her again to the Lord is a memory we will forever hold in our hearts.
To all my friends who loved on Nana, thank you! Thank you, Yvonne, Tonya and Gayle for keeping her company when we were out of town. Jean-Paul, Kim, Lisa, Frances and Ann, thank you for celebrating her 80th birthday last year with us! Thank you to all my wonderful friends who didn’t mind me texting all hours of the day or night requesting prayer for Nana. Every prayer, every text, every call, every visit, every act of kindness is deeply, deeply appreciated. I love you all.
On Nana’s birthday today, what can be a hard, hard day, is covered in what feels like a big hug of hearts and smiles of those who loved her well. We will continue to sing, “God is so good, he’s so good to me,” and we will indulge in ice cream and raise a cup of coffee (her favorite pleasures) in her honor knowing she is fully alive, fully healed and rejoicing in the presence of the One who made her and allowed us to share so many birthdays with her. Nana’s life on earth may be over, but in heaven, the party is just getting started. Happy birthday, Nana! We love you. Save a piece of cake for us.