This morning my Nanny passed away. ‘Nanny from Newfoundland’, as she is referred to in our household. And while I am deeply saddened, and feel the grief from our large, extended, Canada-wide family, there is a part of me that keeps a little smile among the tears. No matter what she may have appeared to be as a ninety-five-year-old woman – I’ll tell you what she actually was: formidable.
After all, at ninety-five years of age, she was still living at home on her own up until a few short days ago. Even with the events of this past year, when against all likelihood, she healed well from a broken hip in the fall, was walking again without assistance, and even got off of the oxygen tank. At 95 years of age, I have to shake my head in wonder.
You see, underneath her unassuming appearance lay one of the most determined and pragmatic personalities imaginable. She called life as she saw it, and there was never any false pretence. With my nanny, what you saw was what you got. She cared about the simple things in life and with her, family was always first. As for her own needs, she simply wanted to be at home, in her own bed, and eating her own food. And making her own decisions – as she was fiercely independent.
As a matter of fact, her pragmatic style has long been a source of amusement in our family. For years now when anyone would speak to her about any future plans, her oft-repeated response was, ”Sure, I might be pushin’ up daisies by then, bye!” (imagine this in a strong newfie accent) So of course, when my sister called to tell her that she had booked flights to visit in June with her three girls, that was the expected response. It was a flippant way of stating the truth – that we never know what life is bringing us – and that on her end, she had come to terms with life and her eventual passing.
The smile in my heart is also from admiration. Admiration for a woman who was strong, who knew her own mind, kept her razor sharp wits about her at all times, and was at peace with life and ‘meeting her Maker’. I remember our first scare with her was over 12 years ago, when she had congestive heart failure. I remember planning my wedding that year, anticipating that she wouldn’t be around to see it. AND I remember her remarkable turn around – so that I can also remember her sitting at my wedding, full of life, and writing in our guest book that maybe she’d just stick around long enough to be a great-grandmother. Which she did. Twenty-seven times over – I might add (and one more on the way).
Yes, my Nanny was a fighter. She lived through world wars, hardship and change. She lived through raising eight kids, losing a husband early on in life, and burying one of her grown sons. In recent years, she has been in and out of the hospital several times – but each time she rallied. And she returned to living at home on her own: which was exactly where she wanted to be.
Not surprisingly, our family has always rallied around her. She has never wanted for care, phone calls, or visitors. In recent months and years, my mom and siblings have arranged their lives to have someone in Newfoundland with her keeping her company, and taking care of any business at hand (which Nanny didn’t always make easy, I might add!… she liked things all done her way) But the love they all feel for this remarkable woman made it a simple decision for her children to fly from all parts of the country to spend weeks at a time with her. She enjoyed visits from her grandkids and great-grandkids from all across Canada. Quite simply, I think she lived for that.
I know, because I saw how she was filled with life and laughter simply by being around her great-grandkids. The last time we saw Nanny was two years ago when I flew to Halifax with Ethan and Audra – expressly for the purpose of having them meet and remember their great-grandmother. It was one of the best family visits in my memory, and one that I will cherish forever.
You see, everything my Nanny did was genuine. There were no contrived appearances: with her, you get what you see. But underneath the slowing body and wrinkled skin was a mind of steel and an enormous heart. Family meant everything to her.
But this time, she was ready to leave.
From what I was told, this is how the story goes: Earlier this week she developed pneumonia. And although she was advised by my aunt – who is a nurse – to go to the hospital, she stated that she would go in the morning. (I’m not sure how that sat with Aunt Paula (the nurse), or my Aunt Joanne (who was staying with Nanny at the time) – but I expect that whatever transpired, they realized that if Nanny had made up her mind to sleep the night in her own bed, there was not much they could do.) In the morning, Nanny stated that she’d go ‘right after lunch’. And after lunch she put on her coat and shoes, sat on a chair and stated that she needed a short while – before announcing that ‘she was ready to go.’
Now, I was not there, and that was told to me second-hand. But I can vividly picture Nanny – calling the shots right until the end. And I imagine – with the intuitive sense of truth – that she knew that this was her final goodbye. I imagine that she knew that she had just slept her last night in her own bed, and eaten her last meal at her own table. I imagine that she knew as she crossed the threshold of her house – the home she had lived in with her husband, the home she had raised their eight kids in, the home whose walls were filled with many decades of memories and several generations of laughter – I am certain that she knew that this was the last time.
And in this simple way, she showed her immense courage. It was in this simple, peaceful way that she lived her life. When I picture this, I am filled with awe for her simple courage, and with peace for knowing that she passed on her own terms. While she may have said that ‘she’d go when her Maker called her’, I have a sense that with her strong and determined mind she somehow managed to set it all up to her liking nonetheless.
My Nanny died in her sleep last night. And while she may not have had many people present at the time of her passing – I assure you that she was absolutely surrounded in love. With great love, sadness and joy, today we say our final goodbyes.