It is hard for me to summarize this past year in a succinct way. I was intending on posting something on facebook commemorating the one year anniversary of Andrew’s mom, Nancy’s, passing, but I can’t do it in so few words. I can’t tease out the emotions from the rest of what this intense year has brought us. This has been a tremendous year of struggle and growth for us and our farm operation. There have been many days of stress, tears, and bitter words that have passed between Andrew and me. This is the truth about all marriages on occasion, but I’ll wager that those couples who own and run small businesses together experience more than our fair share of this kind of tension. The trouble for us is that Nancy was always our go-to, especially for Andrew when he’s feeling overwhelmed. She was just a phone call away, ready to offer soothing words and practical advice. Ready to remind us that we are loved and celebrated, that our hard work is worth it.
Of course we have many other champions in our lives, and are lucky to have a large support network. But there is nothing like the comfort of a mother, and especially a mother as loving and warm as Nancy. For me the grief of not being able to call her when Andrew is upset is palpable; I can only imagine what it feels like for him and her other children. The knowledge that my future children won’t know their grandmother is a pain I didn’t plan on, a pain that is compounded since my own maternal grandmother died when I was an infant. I often wonder what my grandmother was like, and while I know about her through my mother and her siblings, it’s not the same as forming a true relationship.
At this same time of renewed grief, my only living grandmother is struggling. She suffered a small health setback a few months ago, and while physically she is ok it’s like suddenly her mind realized, “oh…I’m 92!” and has started to slip. When I call her sometimes she is confused, her words are a little slurred, she repeats herself often. I am so very grateful it took 92 long years for her to get to this point; I am well-aware many people go through years of dementia, often times from a relatively young age. The hard part is that it didn’t feel gradual. One day I was having meaningful conversations with a woman who had a vibrant social life and excellent memory, and the next it was like talking to someone completely different. Someone who sleeps a lot and tallies the time of day by what meal has been recently eaten. Still, I would have given anything for Nancy to have been around as long as my grandmother. It’s hard to imagine what kind of justification there is for a 52 year old mother and grandmother to be taken from us.
My grandmother is a survivor. She fled Holland with her family at the onset of World War II and survived a harrowing journey at sea to arrive in Indonesia, only to be thrown into an internment camp run by the Japanese. She then lived in Ecuador, New York, and finally Tucson, raising her two boys and loving her four grandchildren. Nancy was a survivor too. She lived for years with chronic pain as her cancer spread. Before she was diagnosed with cancer she (and her whole family) survived a horrible car crash and her leg was badly damaged; pain and mobility issues plagued her ever after. Through all of her trials Nancy never wavered in her faith. While I know she sometimes questioned God’s reasoning for her illness and pain, she strongly felt there was a purpose and a plan for her struggles. My grandmother never talked to me about such things; her generation was much more focused on moving on; she and my grandfather did their best to forget about the emotional torment of their youths. But Nancy laid it all out. She was a woman of words, who wrote beautifully and shared her thoughts with those who asked. I knew I could ask her the hard questions about her faith and her disease, and her thoughts about death. She never avoided the subject and always answered honestly.
This evening we will gather as a family to celebrate Nancy and mourn her loss. I only had the privilege of knowing her for five years or so, but those years were crucial. I learned so much about my husband by knowing and loving his mother. He inherited more than his smile from her; he inherited her thirst for knowledge, her passion, her way with words. There are a million small ways in which I am reminded of Nancy when I look at my husband, and I am so glad I knew her long enough to notice and appreciate them. In some ways I think it was difficult for Nancy that I did not share her faith in God and Jesus. And yet when Andrew and I got engaged she told me that she had prayed for me since the day Andrew was born. This is not a line I take lightly, nor will I ever forget it. Nancy’s faith worked in powerful and mysterious ways, and while she may not have fully understood my views, she accepted them without judgment and opened her arms and heart to me. Nancy was a Christian in the truest sense of the word, and knowing her helped me unlearn some of my preconceived notions about devoutly religious people. I have learned so much from my relationship with Nancy, and as we remember her today I am humbled by the love I still feel emanating from her memory.