Saturday, April 2, 2011


I've known Nana mostly from a distance. My mom grew up and left the east coast when she married my dad. So since us kids were born and raised in Colorado, and Nana and Papa stayed put, we only saw them on a few holidays and summer vacations.

My earliest memories of Nana involve sloppy, wet kisses aimed at my mouth, the strong whiff of cocoa butter that preceded her presence, and birthday presents she found at the Community Service Center where she volunteered.

Nana was born and raised in Brazil. It was here that after her parent's died, she was basically abandoned by her older siblings, and taken in by an American Adventist missionary family. They sent her to school in the States and she became a nurse. Nana married Papa, they had two daughters.

She's always been a feisty Brazilian, that Nana. What I remember more than sloppy kisses, were critical comments and statements about mom and us kids. Maybe it's cultural. Maybe it's just Nana. She's tough.

Nana battled breast cancer and won. Papa battled Parkinson's and lost. After sixty years of marriage, understandably, his absence has been painful for her.

Nana moved in with my parents in December. Understandably, this has been painful for them. Nana's getting older and needier, she's quiet and reasonably depressed. Where before I sat on edge awaiting a critical, but passive-aggressive, comment from her lips about my weight, my breasts, or my diet, now she just asks, "What did I eat for lunch?"

Alzheimer's has got her good. She gets frustrated because she just can't remember very much. She gets sad because she lost the love of her life. She gets lonely because many of her friends are dead.

A few weeks ago, Nana and my parents came to visit us. The weekend was spent enjoying good food, relaxing conversations, and family stories we never get tired of re-telling. As they were packing up to head home, Nana reached for my waist in an embrace and pulled back to look at me: "You look heavier than I've seen you before..." the room became tense, there was a collective holding of breath. Nana' s known for such remarks. However this time she said, "...and you look wonderful."

She's never said that before. She's never finished a comment with, "...and you look wonderful."

One-by-one, Mom, Dad, Ashley, and Jeremy all approached me to say, "Are you okay?"

This would've been harder to swallow three years ago, nonetheless, eight years ago, a sensitive teenager with a keen awareness of her body. But the difference is, I'm no longer sixteen. And Nana's no longer fully here.

She might've meant the harsh words several years ago, but now, she's become softer. Quieter. Tamer. And while we all still hold our breath when she begins a sentence about someone's appearance or race or religious beliefs, most of the time it ends up fine.

Forgiveness is hard.

Nana's a different person now, but I still want payback. It's hard not to judge her on what she's been. It's hard not to assume she's just being difficult when she can't remember for the 4th time this week how to use the microwave (even though there's a Post-It note on the door telling her).

People are not people holistically, chronologically, consistently. We're more like pudding or hummingbirds or something else flitty, unpredictable, and moveable.

Nana's a different Nana.
I'm a different me.

And we keep moving forward.


kessia reyne said...

Forward, yes, and onward.

Emily Star said...

"more like hummingbirds...or pudding..." I dig it.

Carley Brown said...

My step dad always has comments on my looks whenever I go home. Whether I've gained or lost weight or just in general how I look.
Its always the first thing he says when he sees me, and I rarely welcome it.
I still need to buy your book Heather :)