In the middle of August our beloved Nana passed away. She was in every sense of the word, our matriarch. I think the impact of her passing hit my enormous Irish family in ways we never really thought or expected. You see she was the heart of this family, the center, and the person who connected us all.
She was from another world, the old New York. Born in Manhattan blocks from Saint Patrick’s cathedral where she was baptized, my grandmother was a tried and true New Yorker. She was the oldest of 5 children, the daughter of a gypsy and her Grandmother’s granddaughter. The stories she could tell would weave a world that no longer exists anymore. But in her heart it was still there, and through her memories it came alive for us.
The mother of 6 and the grandmother of 14 and the great grandmother of 4. My grandfather passed away suddenly when I was in 1st grade. She kept going after that, taking care of everybody else, keeping the family they had created together stronger than ever, and his memory alive in her stories. My earliest memories are of my cousins and I at her house, Nana and Pop’s house. Everything was there. Like her, it was the true center of our world. Every family party, holidays, you name it. I remember barbecues with corn on the cob and Coca Cola. I remember Christmas’s where we got Oranges in our stockings, and Chocolate Santa’s.
I will always think of my Nana when I drink a cup of tea. Black tea with milk and sugar, the only way she drank it. I will also always remember cinnamon gum, which she had in her purse, the spicy then sweet taste takes me right back to her. Always looking for her glasses, always a matching jewelry set, always telling stories, always asking if we wanted a snack. I will always remember her giving us dating advice, to have fun, to not take it so seriously and to date around. She was a pistol.
I saw her for the last time in June. She was frailer then the last time I saw her. As I hugged her she felt so small, and more fragile than I had ever seen. But it was still her. Still fiery, still with her sense of humor, still telling stories. We shared lunch and talked about my recent promotion, she told me she was “so proud”. How she was feeling lately, “Oh I’m fine” she said. How everyone was driving her crazy (insert eye roll) and did she ever tell me the story of when…? She had, but it didn’t matter. I would have listen to each of her stories over and over if she would keep telling them. I thank God everyday that I made the journey to see her then, because it was not far after that she really started to fade. I remember hugging her and saying I love you Nana, Ill see you soon! But I somehow knew this was possibly my last goodbye. I wish I could have said more. But as I have reflected these past few months of what those final words would be, no words would have been enough. No words truly would have encompassed the love I have for her or the deep gratitude I felt to her for building such an amazing family that I had the privilege to grow up in. The great irony of it all, is that she would have waved me off, and said “take care of yourself, come see us soon”. In my mind I believe she knew what I would have said, and that no words were necessary.
Her wake and funeral were packed, there was so many family and friends there to celebrate her life. Their memories of her brought us all great joy, as we cried and laughed at each memory shared with us. She touched more lives than I ever realized and it was humbling to be there to witness the love and admiration so many people had for her. She was not just my grandmother, she meant so much to others, who loved her for her generosity, kindness and sheer strength of character.
Her house was put up for sale and sold over the holidays. The family gathered one last time to toast her life, and celebrate the true end of an era. There was mostly laughs, a few tears, and alot of story telling. In true Nana fashion. My father and siblings made meals from their childhood, shared them with the newest generation who was crawling on her floors. It was bittersweet, because a chapter of all of our lives is truly closed. I do know with certainty she would not have wanted us to celebrate any other way. And I know she was smiling and rolling her eyes from Heaven.
I can only hope that I do her justice in my memories of her, that I will one day I’ll share with my children and grandchildren her stories of another time, and make them come alive for them as she had done for me. My greatest pain is that my children wont meet this great lady, that they wont get to experience the memories of Nana, and her life, her story directly from her mouth. It gives me solace though to know that even when she was here with us, in my heart she was legendary. And one day she will be legendary to them too.
In loving memory of our Nana, Anna May.
An Irish Blessing
May the road rise to meet you,
May the wind be always at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face,
The rains fall soft upon your fields.
And until we meet again,
May God hold you in the palm of his hand