“Bye love” is how Nanny always says her goodbyes. My grandma who goes by “Nanny” hasn’t changed her final greeting, from when I left her space back when she lived in my childhood home, to now when I leave her nursing home room. Always in the same tone with her Irish accent.
For the past few months I have been visiting Nanny in her nursing home as a sort of “caretaker” role but mostly for a visit, to make sure she feels safe and surrounded by family. Though she usually forgets who I am, she knows I’m familiar and family. More often than not, I’m June, which is my mom, and on those days I get more of her blunt honesty. Overall, I’m grateful for time there, especially after months of covid and not being allowed to see Nanny at all.
After my first few visits I cried quite a bit. It took a while to adjust to seeing how much she changed and I thought about how long she had been trapped in there alone. Since I started, a huge blessing has been an opening in a spot for Nanny on the floor in the building that offers more nursing care. She’s busier and less lonely because all the residents on that floor gather together during the day rather than separating into their own rooms. She’s even made a friend and the nurses call them “two peas in a pod”. Her friend often barges into Nanny’s room looking for the exit but smiles when she sees us and stays for a chat or links arms with me for a walk around the halls.
Even though Nanny has forgotten a lot of things, there are beautiful moments when her old sassy personality shows or when she sings a song and somehow remembers the lyrics. I love playing the song “Danny Boy” for her because she lights up every time, and never forgets the words for that one. And the other day when Grant and I took her for a drive in the car she pointed at a building and said, “look at the size of that building, who needs it?” Which is such a classic Nanny thing to say.
It surprised me when I realized, while watching very old home videos, that I’m starting to forget what Nanny was like before her Alzheimers. But no matter how much time has gone by I’ll never forget the ice cream soda floats she would make me and my cousins when we were kids, the way she used to come to the beach in Florida and sit on the shore to read while we played, the way Jasper (our dog) would always get a piece of her food and she would say “look at his wee face” or “the poor innocent thing”. There are many memories like those that I’ll remember forever.
We have fun, the two of us, and it’s been sweet getting to know the other people on her floor. I’ve been reflecting a lot upon what it means to grow old and the meaning of family. The moments when Nanny’s speech doesn’t make sense I daydream about the olden days and remember we’ll have those again in Heaven one day. It makes me think about the shortness of life, the urgency of time, and what type of moments I will and will not cherish when I’m Nanny. Like these visits, and like the reunion with people we all received when the covid restrictions got a lot lighter. Like the new friends that I get to make at The Dale and the chats we have on the street or sitting in the grass. Like a journey that I’ve been on recently attempting to have a more authentic relationship with God and a more stable quiet time, because I know looking back that will never be time wasted.
Even though some of my visits with Nanny are quiet or slow, she’s been teaching me a lot. Just like she did when I was a little girl living under the same roof.