Sunday, December 27, 2009

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Family holidays can be.. bittersweet for me. It's partially because my family is a little crazy. But, it's mostly because things have never been the same since my Nanny passed away back in 2003. If one person could embody holiday and family, then it was her. While other people complain about the imposition of having to prepare an entire Christmas dinner, Nan always insisted that all holidays take place at her house. She loved to cook, and more than that, she loved to be surrounded by her family. We all idolized her in a million different ways. She was independent, bright, and so incredibly beautiful. She modeled, was a dancer and traveled all over the world, and most importantly - she raised my mom and aunt on her own. She spoiled her grand-kids rotten and the only stipulation was that we were not to call her Nanny in public. Why? She claimed that she was too young to be a grandmother, and no one ever doubted that for a second.

I was always her special little helper. From a very young age I felt very connected to her. We used to joke that things skip a generation and that's why we got along so well. We were best friends, kindred in a way that I don't think I'll never be able to recreate. I spent most of my free time as a child with her. Tag sales, Scrabble games, black and white movie marathons, our days were always full and exciting. I remember once, as a little child waking up in the middle of the night screaming for Nanny. I could not be pacified so my father actually got into the car and drove me over because he knew that she was the only one who could comfort me.

Family holidays were the best. I would always sleep over the night before. We would watch movies, and I would stare at her while she crocheted or did the New York Times crossword puzzle (in pen!). I always slept in her bed, even though she had a room for the grand-kids, because she insisted that my place was near her. The next morning I would get up at the crack of dawn, but Nanny always beat me downstairs. She'd be busy at work in the kitchen when I came down and she immediately put me to work. I peeled and smashed potatoes, I stirred cake batters, and we would just talk. We talked about everything. She she always made me feel as thought what I had to say important. Nan was the only person in my life who treated me as though I was an adult. When you're little, that's a pretty big deal.

I'm ashamed as I write this, but as I got older, I spent less time with her. I still loved her as much, but once I got to middle school, I started doing more things with my friends. Nanny used to joke that we'd all left her like a dog and gotten new lives. In sixth grade she explained that she'd be moving from the house three blocks away from mine. She'd bought a new house all the way out on Long Island - about forty minutes or so by car. At the age of eleven, this might as well have been across the world. I took the news really, really badly - crying for two weeks and begging her not to go.

She did move, and I should have seen her more often. The problem with loving people so much is that you always assume that they'll be around forever. If I had known that my Nanny wouldn't be at my sweet sixteen, or see me graduate from high school, or on my twenty-first birthday, things would have been different. But, hindsight always offers the insight that the present lacks. She got sick when I was fifteen years old and spent ten really hard months in and out of the hospital. They never did know what was wrong with her which makes things more difficult to understand, even now. Nanny passed away when I was sixteen and I don't think I've ever cried so much in my entire life. Eventually I became numb, it was the only way to make it through the wake and the funeral. I was riddled with guilt that I had deserted her, that she didn't know how much I loved her, that I hadn't been able to tell her how she had shaped me into the woman that I would one day become.

I will grieve her loss for the rest of my life. I will mourn for the moments my Nanny wasn't able to see. She'll never be at my wedding and my kids will never know how amazing my nanny was. It's been almost a decade and sometimes I'm still angry because she was taken out of our lives. Angry because none of us have ever fully recovered. Angry because we'll never be as much of a family as we were when she was here.

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