Remembering Nana

My mother, known here at ToJCM as Nana, passed away last month.

I have been wanting to write a post about her funeral and other commemorations but I haven’t been able to find the quiet time needed to do so. When a loved one dies, close-by family members often become very busy with memorial planning and estate issues and a rather astonishing amount of phone calling and paperwork. It’s necessary, but also distracting and can make it seem that reflection and grieving have to be stuffed into little pockets of time between tasks.

I also realize that I have been grieving over a long period of time as Nana was declining. This anticipatory grief has made my initial reactions to my mother’s death very different from the shock of my mother-in-law’s death, which was like being suddenly submerged rather than a slow walk into the waves.

I have begun this post in the middle of the night when I should be sleeping. The silence in the house reminds me of my mother’s absence. We literally spoke to each other almost every day of my 58 years. Will I eventually get used to that silence?

But, I set out to write about the funeral, so I will try to re-direct my thoughts…

I should probably start with the planning. My sisters, who live out of town, were staying with my dad and helping with tasks like moving Nana’s things out of the skilled nursing unit, while I embarked on the funeral planning and paperwork. I am very grateful that my spouse B took time off work to be with me while we met with the funeral director and the florist and signed papers at the memorial park and such. Some of the plans were already in place, but other decisions remained.

One of these was choosing prayer cards. The funeral director gave us a binder with pictures for the front of the cards and verses for the back. Even in the midst of such a solemn occasion, there are moments of levity and the prayer card binder provided that opportunity. Most of the pictures were mid-20th century paintings of praying hands, or Jesus crowned with thorns, or various saints in pious poses, none of which seemed appropriate. We decided to use the one set of nature photographs, which reminded us of various places where Nana had lived or visited. Finding the most appropriate choice among a hundred verses was more difficult. Most of the Bible verses were King James, which is not a translation that my church uses any more. The poems were incredibly sappy with the kind of rhymes that give poetry a bad name; this was the source of most of the levity. Poems in which one invites the Blessed Mother to tea just don’t quite have the cultural relevance they used to, if indeed they ever did. We did, though, find a very nice quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson to use, even though it meant that our prayer cards didn’t have a prayer on them. The quote can be found at the end of this post.

Planning the funeral gave me several writing assignments: the obituary for the newspaper, the words of welcome which would preface the funeral mass, and the intercessory prayers that conclude the liturgy of the word. Usually the family chooses from a set of readings and prayers that are already established, but because I spent a lot of years doing liturgy committee and music ministry, I was able to suggest some other choices. My daughters helped me choose the scripture readings and I had my writing done and some music ideas before I met with the pastoral minister Sister A and the music director, with whom I have been friends for many years. Everything focused on love because that seemed the best expression of Nana.

The hour before the funeral, we had time for friends to visit with the family. My younger sister had put together some photographs which were on a table as people entered. Nana had chosen cremation, so the urn with her cremains was there with flowers on either side. We had a mix of my parents’ friends and staff from their retirement community and caregivers and hospice volunteers. There were also some of B’s co-workers and my friends, including some poets, singers, and spiritual companions. I appreciated everyone’s support.

The funeral was very meaningful for me. My words of welcome focused on how Nana was so welcoming and loving with people and how she was such a good listener. I admit that I was grateful to speak first, because then I could concentrate on the rest of the service without distraction. Well, without distraction other than grief and tears, both personal and family. We were blessed to have family and friends in special roles. A priest-friend who came to concelebrate. Sister A who had been visiting Nana and Paco over the months reading from Proverbs. My niece and nephew sharing the reading of 1Cor 13. The hospice volunteer who had visited and called on a regular basis for almost two years reading the prayer petitions. My daughters E and T and the almost-two-year old ABC, along with son-in-law L, who was able to make the trip from London to be with us, bringing up the offertory gifts. Music ministers singing with the Resurrection Choir representing the parish community. My long-time friend at the organ, who had been such a support to me during Nana’s illness as I had tried to be to her through years of struggle with her parents.

After the mass, the family and two of Nana and Paco’s closest friends proceeded to the chapel at the memorial park for the committal service, led by the deacon from our church, and reminiscences shared by my younger sister. Then, we went to one of Nana’s favorite restaurants for lunch. We had a server who remembered what Paco usually ordered, even though he hadn’t been there over the last couple of years. The restaurant also treated us to desserts, which was so thoughtful of them.

The next day, we had a gathering in the social hall of the senior living community that has been home to Nana and Paco for over ten years. Along with coffee, punch, and cookies provided by dining services, we had an assortment of homemade cookies, mostly made by B – lemon and chocolate pizzelles, snickerdoodles, shortbreads, and cherry-pistachio biscotti, all family favorites. The snickerdoodle recipe is written in Nana’s cursive. Nana was especially fond of the lemon pizzelles, shortbread, and biscotti. The photos were on display, which was nice because some of the residents, staff, and hospice folks weren’t able to come to the church, but could join us then.

I’m so grateful for all those who have supported us during Nana’s decline and who are grieving with us, offering the love and compassion which Nana had shared with so many over the course of her eighty-seven years. Her example is the reason we chose this passage by Ralph Waldo Emerson for the remembrance cards:

To laugh often and much; to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children; to earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends; to appreciate beauty; to find the best in others; to leave the world a bit better whether by a healthy child, a garden patch, or a redeemed social condition; to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded.

 

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Nana

I have often written posts about my parents, known here as Nana and Paco. I’m sad to tell you that Nana passed away last week. After months of declining health due to congestive heart failure, she had a few days of rapid decline and died peacefully with my older sister with her and the rest of the family able to gather quickly for some final time together with her.

Over these last few days, my sisters have been staying at Paco’s apartment and taking care of him, while my spouse B and I have been tending to preparations for the funeral, which will take place mid-week.

We are very fortunate that this week is a week off for my son-in-law L, who was able to fly here from London to be with daughter E, granddaughter ABC, and all of us.

I admit that my mind has been richoting from one subject to another. Now that the funeral plans are all in place, I’m hoping I can calm my mind a bit, but it remains to be seen.

With so much happening, I’m not online very much, so I may not be able to keep up with responding to comments. Please know that I appreciate all the thoughts and prayers that you send on behalf of Nana and our family.

In peace,
Joanne

87

Nana's 87th birthday
Lily of the valley, with Paco’s card to Nana and birthday card made by artist-friend Jim

Today is my mom’s 87th birthday.

Because her heart failure symptoms cause her to be sleepy a lot of the time, it is difficult to predict when she might be alert, so we keep celebrations ad hoc and catch bits of time with her as circumstances allow.

This morning, I picked her a few lilies of the valley from our (rapidly spreading out of control) patch. The original pips came from the yard of my childhood home in Massachusetts and from the yard of B’s home in Vermont, only a few miles apart. Lily of the valley is the birth flower for May and I have often picked some for Nana’s birthday. Our spring this year has been chilly and damp, so they have just begun to bloom with only the very bottom bells open, but I picked some regardless and will bring a few more when they open more fully.

On my way up to the skilled nursing unit of my parents’ senior living community, I swung by Wegman’s grocery store and picked up an individual size fruit tart. Nana would often buy large ones for special occasions, so I thought she might enjoy a little one for her birthday. I was pleased that, though small, there was a nice variety of fresh fruit over the custard, a large halved strawberry, a piece each of pineapple and kiwi, raspberries, blueberries, and blackberry. Nana was quite sleepy this morning, so I put it in the refrigerator with her name on it so she can enjoy it later today, or tomorrow or the next day, depending how she is feeling.

I brought her a card, too, which had bleeding hearts, which are also in bloom now, on the front. She has lots of cards from family and friends, including a packet of cards from people at her church.

A bit later in the morning, my daughters E and T and granddaughter ABC arrived. Despite ABC’s careening about the room, giggles, and squeals, Nana slept a good share of the time that she was there, but there were times that she was awake for kisses and a bit of lunch, some of which she generously shared with Ada. Her lunch tray arrived with a bonus, a large vanilla cupcake with white frosting and decorations. Nana decided to send it home with us instead of eating it herself. After all, she does have a fruit tart waiting for her, as well as some coffee ice cream sent over by a friend. When she is ready for one or the other of them, Paco will hop on his scooter and fetch them from the leisure room refrigerator. Of course, Paco got some kisses from ABC, too.

Both of my sisters called while I was there. My older sister just returned home from a few days of visiting and my younger sister and her family will arrive for a short visit this weekend. The main reason for the trip is my niece’s commencement ceremony in Cortland. She will be a newly minted teacher, with a job as a kindergarten teacher and a master’s program in New York City all lined up. Woo hoo!

B and I made another quick trip up for a visit in the evening, bringing another card that had inadvertently been left at home in the morning and some of Nana’s favorite toiletries.

We were grateful that we were able to celebrate Nana’s 87th birthday with her, or, as Paco says, the beginning of her 88th year. Last year, we celebrated her birthday at our local hospice residence. We didn’t think that we would be granted another whole year with Nana.

We all love that we have had this time with her.

new pennies

Yesterday, my groceries came to some dollars and 51 cents.

(Wow, that sounds like the start of the most boring blog post ever.)

I was very happy, though, because my change included four, shiny 2019 pennies!

(Which also sounds pretty odd…)

For my parents’ 40th wedding anniversary, I gave them a heart-shaped box, personalized with their names and wedding date. Inside, I placed a penny from each year that they were married, starting with 1954. Every year, for their anniversary, I add the penny for that year.

It used to be easy to find them, but, with fewer people using cash, it has taken longer to find the new year’s coins. Recently, I’ve had my older sister who lives near the Washington DC mint look for me or my college roommate who lives near the Denver mint.

This year, Nana and Paco’s 65th anniversary arrived without a new penny.

That is why I was so pleased to finally find one.

Today, I added it to their box. I told Paco that I had placed it there. I haven’t had a chance to tell Nana. She was having a day where she wasn’t alert enough for conversation, even though I was in her room in skilled nursing for hours.

Maybe, I will be able to tell her tomorrow…

65 – continued

Yesterday, I wrote about my parents’ 65th anniversary.

This morning when I arrived at Nana’s room a little earlier than usual, she was still in her nightgown.

It was the one from her honeymoon to New York City.

When she had wanted to change to short-sleeve nightgowns, I had found this pastel one folded up in her drawer, so I pulled it out and Paco brought it over to her. When I was there next, Nana told me she was afraid it wouldn’t fit because it was from her honeymoon! Apparently, she had not worn it much and had kept it in her dresser, because it looked almost like new. I showed her that it was the same size as another nightgown she was wearing, but it has hung in her closet for weeks without her using it.

I am not sure how it came to be that she wore it last night, sixty-five years after her wedding night, but the poignancy of it took my breath away.

I hope that she was comforted by it last night and slept well, wrapped in remembrance.

SoCS: dough

Today, E and I took ABC to her first theater experience, a performance of Sesame Street Live. The theme was magic, but a lot of the story revolved around things that turned out to be science. One of those things was making cookie dough out of flour, butter, eggs, and sugar and adding heat to make it into cookies.

My other dough experience of the week was making pie dough for a birthday pie for Paco who turned 94 on Tuesday. I wanted to make him a prune-apricot pie. Unfortunately, it had been a loooong time since I had baked a pie from dried fruit. And I was super tired because I had been up at night with ABC and then had trouble getting back to sleep. I realized too late that I had forgotten the salt in the crust. D’oh! I also didn’t put as much water in the fruit when I stewed it as I should have, so the apricots didn’t soften as much as I would have liked and I didn’t have very much juice to thicken. Still, it all worked out okay as Paco enjoyed it very much.

I thought that doing an unsweetened pie might also appeal to Nana, who hasn’t had much appetite lately, but it didn’t sound good to her. She is still eating breakfast, but usually not much for lunch and supper and she doesn’t like things that are too sweet. One of the hospice rules is that she can eat whatever she wants and we are following that. We have gotten some coffee ice cream to keep on hand because it was always one of her favorites, the bitterness of the coffee cutting the sugar. We’ll see if she wants to try some someday soon.
*****
Linda’s prompt for Stream of Consciousness Saturday this week is “dough/d’oh”. Join us! Find out how here:  https://lindaghill.com/2019/03/29/the-friday-reminder-and-prompt-for-socs-march-30-19/

hospice again

After posting every day in January, I haven’t been posting very much since. Unfortunately, my mom, known here as Nana, over the last few weeks has had increasing symptoms from her congestive heart failure. We have been able to ameliorate some of them, but she is sleeping more and eating less, having more trouble walking and getting short of breath more frequently.

Last week, Nana was approved to go back into hospice care. They will become part of her care team at the skilled nursing unit, so she won’t need to move again and so my dad can hop on his scooter and visit her whenever he likes. [Backstory is that Nana was under hospice care for fifteen months and then de-certified in October. She moved into skilled nursing at their continuing care community, as she could not stay at Mercy House, which is only for those in hospice care.]

We are hoping for as much pain-free and alert time as we can get in these coming weeks. Thank you for all the positive thoughts and prayers you have sent. They help us to stay grounded in this difficult time.