My Nana died at home last week at the age of ninety-four. She spent her last eight months in hospice - five months more than the doctor ordered. The doctor warned us early on that Nana would die a terrible death with lots of pain and suffering, but Nana was always stubborn and did things her own way. Telling Nana that she couldn’t do something was a sure indication that she would do it. She said that the last year of her life was the best year of her life and it was definitely my best year with her. It was a year of firsts in my relationship with her. We got to know each other for the first time; she said ‘I love you’ for the first time; we were able to touch each other for the first time.
Nana touched me with her honesty, humor, laughter, and stories. She touched me with her will and bravery. She touched me with her ability to die with grace. I in turn touched her – most often her head and her feet, sometimes her back or legs. I started with her feet the day she moved into the hospital bed situated in her living room. I rubbed lotion onto her calluses; I pressed my thumbs onto her arches. I gently pulled each toe as we talked. I rubbed her back when she was tired and having a hard day, the massage guiding her into a nap. I stroked her head and brushed her hair when she was nearing the end, in hopes of soothing her as she journeyed toward the world of dying.
I know Nana’s head now. Last year I barely knew Nana. Now I remember us laughing together. Now I know the shape of her skull under my fingertips. I know the bones of her feet. I know her ankles and legs, slowly shrinking over the weeks without food. This is all that I wanted. To know my Nana intimately. To see her eyes smiling straight into mine.
It has only been a week since she died, but already I can’t recall the exact appearance of her face. I am not observant of visual details, I am observant of energy. When my husband approaches me smiling because he has just shaved off his mustache, all I see is the smile. When I recall Nana talking, Nana sleeping in bed, Nana at her birthday, Nana sitting in her chair, or Nana in her kitchen when I was a child, these images shift and blur, her face fades, but I see her spirit. Her memory is in my hands, my feet, my head, my eyes, my mouth, my back, my belly, my legs and ankles. Nana is in my heart, opening as I lay my hands on her feet, laughing as she tosses her head back and laughs.