Grief is a very weird thing.

That's Nana on the left and her sister (my Aunt) Rosemary on the left (who passed six months to the day before Nana did).

When I first heard that Nana passed, relief washed over me. When we went to see her in early April, I’d had to do a lot of heavy grieving because I knew that I’d never see her again. Everything I was doing with her was the last time I’d do it with her. During the day and by all appearances, I was fine. The visit was kind of strange because it was like being at a living wake, with all of us paying what we knew would be our last visits to her BUT SHE WAS THERE TOO. So we kept it light and jocular. Cracking jokes and teasing each other, looking at my Uncle and Aunt’s travel photos and talking about old times. It was a lot of fun. But at night, when everyone left and Mom and Nana went to bed, I cried my eyes out. Alone in Nana’s home, the weight of the day and of the occasion, finally fell off my shoulders for a while and I was able to mourn. On the night before I was to leave, I went around taking pictures of things as a remembrance. It was all happening too fast and I wasn’t ready for it. In the morning I got up, got ready and had breakfast like I always did when I visited Nana. We spent the morning chatting, me, Nana and Mom. But, too quickly, it was time to go. I was lucky enough to lay my head on her chest and tell her everything I wanted to say. And she, not being an emotional person, was kind enough to sit there and let me, because she knew I needed to. I cried my eyes out in the car on the way to Newark Airport. I cried my eyes out in the airport. I cried my eyes out on the plane. I cried my eyes out when I got home and for a week afterward.

Then my cousin Heather came and I had a brief respite from the grief. We had fun, we went out to dinner and we did some sightseeing. I decided that I would, in fact, come to visit again if it killed me.

On the night before Heather was due to leave LA to go back to NJ, at 1am, I received word that Nana had passed. I expected to cry, but waves of almost giddy relief washed over me. Apart from curiosities such as “When did it happen?”, “What’s gonna happen now?” etc, I just felt kind of relieved. I mean, to clarify, I didn’t feel relief that there would now be a giant hole in my life where she used to be. I didn’t feel relief that this person who is one of my idols is now gone. I felt relief that she was no longer suffering. I felt relief that this grim march towards death was now over for her and for us. Since I’d been home, I’d been praying constantly for her release. Nana was an independent person who did everything on her own terms (in the most loving way possible). I know it pained her to lose even the slightest bit of independence. My Mom did a great job of making sure she retained her dignity while handing over some of her self-reliance. Nana was a good patient and she didn’t fight my Mother’s help. She accepted that death was a part of life and as she said to me, “Coleen, don’t worry about me. I’m not afraid to die.” And as I said to her, “Oh Nana, I never worry about you!” But that was a lie. I wasn’t worried for her death, I was worried that cancer would take every single shred of dignity from her until she was forced to live in the agony of total helplessness.

I needn’t have worried. Nana went quickly and peacefully. I’ll talk more about this later but it seems to me that Death came to greet her and Nana took Death’s hand. She made a decision to go and, as usual, she did it on her own terms. I will talk more about that later as well.

On the day that Nana died, Mom had called me that morning and said she probably didn’t have much more time, a few weeks at best. By lunch, hospice had come, examined Nana and told my Mother a few days was more likely. I started thinking that maybe I’d be able to make it for the weekend. It was Wednesday, the 28th. I figured I’d work Thursday and Friday, get a flight out of LAX after work on Friday and spend the weekend either visiting or attending Nana’s funeral. Just as I was going to bed, I found out that she’d made the choice to go in peace. I got up on Thursday, called work, booked a flight and off I went back to NJ.

It wasn’t weird to be at Nana’s house. In fact, I took a nap in the chair she’d favored in the room she passed in. I felt really close to her and honored to be there actually. The wake was really nice. So many mourners. And I felt happy. Irish Wakes are…Irish Wakes. You have a little fun. You cry, you laugh, you pay your respects and you say your prayers. And that’s what we did. On Saturday we had the funeral, church service and repast. I cried all throughout the service, missed the blessing at the cemetary and ate until I almost passed out at the repast.

Afterwards, me, my Mom and Dad went back to Nana’s and relaxed and watched a Rocky marathon. The closer it came time to leave, the more hysterical I got. I realized that so long as I was at Nana’s house, I felt safe. I had to say goodbye to everything all over again which was torture because Nana’s house IS Nana. It is a monument to all the things and people who are important to her. My Mom felt funny leaving Nana at the gravesitE, I didn’t. I felt funny leaving Nana’s home, where she had loved us, because THAT is where she truly remains (in my mind).

Anyway, since I’ve gotten home, that safe feeling of comfort and relief I felt when I was with my family at home has moved back a bit. It’s starting to hit me a little that all the magic that Nana was, is now gone. Well no, it’s not GONE. It’s just a little bit harder to grasp with your hands. Luckily for all of us, Nana was a prolific magic-maker in the time she had here on Planet Earth. She made dolls and wall-hangings and decorations and anything she didn’t MAKE herself, she ADDED little things to until she made it her own. In the picture above, you can see little Halloween decorations all around. She made them. That vest she’s wearing? I would bet she made that too. More on Nana’s brand of magic later.

The point is, Nana’s death was initially a comfort to me because it meant that she didn’t have to keep suffering and we didn’t have to keep helplessly watching her suffer. It meant that she was released from the grip of cancer and free to move onto the “next big project”. Nana loved to move onto the next thing so once the doctor told her that they’d exhausted all options, Nana made her quiet peace with God, her family and her life and as calmly and as purposely as she did anything else, she left Earth for Heaven. If Nana could sum it up, she’d probably say, “And that was that.” Hahaha.

But it’s weird because although I, too, am at peace with this, grief has other things in store for me. When I came home from NJ the first time, I got sick and a fever sore, something I always get when stressed. This time, I have anxiety-induced chest pain. I am having a tough time focusing and am prone to weepiness. I’m trying to remain un-weepy because Nana didn’t want that. She wanted us to keep laughing, keep enjoying life and keep going. But I can’t help it and it sucks. It’ll get better, it’s just going to take a while. I know I’ll see her again someday too, I’m not worried about that. There has never been a time I’ve needed her that Nana hasn’t taken me (or anyone else) into her arms and that time will come again someday. In the meantime, I feel her all around me and I know she is definitely at peace where she is.

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