Love Letter to My Nana

I hate cancer.

I hate how destructive it is, I hate how it takes people away from me, and I hate how I can’t do anything about it.

My maternal grandmother, “Nana” passed away peacefully last week after a long fight against intestinal cancer.

I have now lost both my grandmothers to cancer, and I almost lost my honorary grandmother to it two years ago. This doesn’t necessarily increase my risk of contracting cancer, but it makes me afraid.

I’m not afraid of dying, I’m afraid of losing people. I don’t wake up every morning praising God that I’m still alive (though I probably should). I wake up missing people that I’ve lost, and people that have walked away from me.

I didn’t find out that my paternal grandmother died of cancer until several years later. It shocked me, but I didn’t feel very much of anything about it because we weren’t close.

My dad’s parents distanced themselves from us and never really wanted to spend time with their (many!) grandchildren. I never knew why that was, only that trips to “Grandma and Grandpa’s house” were rare and uncomfortable. I spent the most time with them when Grandpa was dying and we were moving Grandma into a nursing home.

“Nana” and “Papa”, on the other hand, involved themselves with me and my siblings a great deal, flying in from Kentucky, Tennessee and more recently, California to visit us at random times during the year. This made me feel loved and treasured. They turned our spare room into a little haven for themselves, to come back to multiple times a year. Nana did all the decorating herself, and you can see her love in the curtains, the glass balls and net on the wall, the books on the shelf organized by color. She’s everywhere you look.

In contrast, Grandma and Grandpa lived 20 minutes away from us, and the most we saw them was at Thanksgiving, and that wasn’t every year. After they died (within a year of each other), I remember going to visit the cemetery once.

Nana passed away in Tennessee, with my mom and my aunt next to her. I wasn’t able to go to the funeral or memorial service, because I had classes to attend and flights are expensive. Somehow, the idea that I would rather fly several hours and spend hundreds of dollars to go to Nana’s funeral than drive two hours to visit the cemetery where Grandma and Grandpa are buried just makes me…ashamed.

I’m ashamed for loving one grandmother more than the other, but I’m more ashamed of not feeling remorse for it. We can’t do anything about the people that don’t want to spend time with us, but we can make an effort to spend more time with the people important to us. I wish I had been able to spend more time with Nana.

I can’t do anything about her dying. I can’t not be sad, I can’t control my emotions. And that’s hard for me to accept. I feel bad because I couldn’t be there with her. The last time I talked to her was a few days before she passed. I video called with her and my mom, and I talked about school, like, grades…everything except a goodbye.

I said “I love you”, and I said “talk to you later”, but I didn’t know that was the last time I’d be able to tell her those things. It’s a finality I don’t want, a moment I want to re-live, over and over and over. I want to say “goodbye” again, and really know what it means. I want more time with her. I want to be able to send her one more letter, full of scribblings-out and funny doodles.

I want all these things, but I have to learn to live with what I had, and go on. I will comfort my family, and I will do my best at what I am given. She always encouraged me to do big things. I will do big things, and I will think of her every time I see that purple ribbon. I will go at life that much more because she is not with me anymore.

And this isn’t the final goodbye of all goodbyes, if the God we believe in is real. Someday, I’ll see her again and I’ll ask her if she remembers taking me to the pet store that one time to play with puppies — and if she remembers me crying. (It had just been so long since I’d held a baby animal!) I’ll ask her if she remembers making the little throw pillow with my childhood pen name appliqued on it. It sits on my bookshelf, and I feel both love and embarrassment every time I see it. Nana always encouraged my literary pursuits, even the ones I groan at now.

Next time I see her, I’ll run up to her. I’ll hug her, and rub her pixie-length hair, and say I love her and I missed her. And best of all, I’ll never have to say goodbye again.

I love you, Nana.

Nana and Papa took me out to coffee the Christmas I visited them in Santa Barabara, and I snuck this shot in when she wasn’t looking.

Writer, athlete, photographer, artist. I love writing about anything magic, anything music, anything art.

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