My paternal grandmother — Nana to us boys — died 8 years ago today, a day shy of her 84th birthday. I remember clearly getting the news from my Mom while driving home late in the evening along the Kingston Road; tears streamed down my face and suddenly I couldn’t see where I was going. A few days later we were all in her home in Brantford at a bizarre yet delightful memorial event attended by a motley collection of her friends, neighbours and family.
Chief in my memory among the mourners were the father and son duo of Metro and Petro, who lived in the neighbourhood and had benefited from the kindness of my grandmother many times. Nana wasn’t one for ceremony or religion of any sort and she was cremated shortly after she died. Her “memorial” was held in her living room, and at some point in the proceedings Petro (or it may have been Metro) became quite distressed because he suddenly realized that there was no body present for the wake.
There was also the mysterious man with the goatee who had conversations with almost everyone present where his side consisted almost entirely of him stroking his beard and saying “ah yes, I see.” Nobody knew his name, or where he came from. I suspect he was another person who’d benefited from Nana’s help over the years — whether it was translating documents or dealing with the local MLA or talking to the Russian embassy.
A few years before she died, Nana was diagnosed with cancer, and her doctors wanted to perform something called the Whipple Procedure. Because there was a fair chance she would die on the operating table, she decided that she should come and visit us on PEI before the surgery. And so she got on the bus in Brantford and arrived in Charlottetown a few days later.
We spent a great week together, Nana, Catherine and I: we took her to a drive-thru donut shop for the first time, went to the movies (to see Hackers of all things), had a lobster supper and saw a lot of the Island.
As it turned out, she didn’t need the Whipple Procedure after all, and although her final years were fraught with various medical challenges, she lived long enough to come back to the Island for Christmas the year before she died.
My strongest last memory of her is when she was decided to check herself out of the hospital while my parents were away for a week. By the time they got back and realized what had happened she was ensconced at home, had home care set up, and was, I think, reinvigorated by being able to take back control of her life a little.
Nana was a strong-willed, independent woman. And although I probably didn’t know it at the time, I learned a lot from her, and a lot of who I am comes from her influences. It’s a great shame that she never got to meet Oliver — he didn’t come along for another year and a half — as I’m sure she would have loved him.
Even though you’re not in heaven with the angels or anything whimsical like that, Nana, I’m thinking of you today.