Mama Madison: Saying goodbye to Nana

Gratitude for kids getting to know their great-grandparents

My paternal grandmother, Nana Annie, used family holidays and functions as a forum for sharing her sage advice. At every event, some version of her extended family -- three children and their spouses, ten grandchildren and seventeen great grandchildren -- would all gather round and listen to the Ratner family equivalent of the Queen Mother dispense such words of wisdom as "A Ph.D. may make you smart, but it doesn't make you wise" and "Always wear lipstick and have your nails done; you just never know who you might run into."

I always took her straightforward, street-smart adages to heart--perhaps because I don't have an advanced degree and will look for any excuse to get a manicure. But today I am reminded of one proverb in particular. It's one she'd taken to passing along with greater frequency in recent years.

"All deaths," Nana Annie would say, "are sad. But not all are tragedies."

This morning I am packing to fly to Washington D.C. for her funeral.

Nana would have been 99 this summer. She had an amazing run and I think she knew it. She was a fighter who survived the early death of her husband (she was a widow, I think, longer than she was married) and a bout with breast cancer with grit and determination. She lived independently -- fiercely independently -- right up until she turned 98 last July.

Nana had really wanted to make it to one hundred. There was something magical in her mind about being a centarian. I, too, was sure she would make it, and was already starting to brainstorm party ideas. But sometimes bodies just don't keep up with minds, and Nana was always clear she wanted her body to go first. That prayer was answered.

Up until the last two weeks of her life she still knew it was my voice when I'd call her on her cell phone at her assisted living facility. She'd always ask how the kids were doing in school, how my middle son's Bar Mitzvah preparations were going and how the cats and dog were getting along. My answers to the first two questions were usually much more positive than the last, and she'd laugh. Then, she'd remind me that I was lucky that my biggest problem on the home front was the animals. I'd thank her for the perspective.

I am thankful I got so many years with my grandmother. And I am thankful my kids got to belong to that exclusive club of people who got to experience a great grand mother's advice first hand.

Upon hearing the news that Nana had died this past weekend, my daughter painted her nails green and topped her thumbnails off with a butterfly decal, Nana's favorite animal. I can't think of a better way to honor her memory.

I am sad as I head home. But I know, as I look forward to reminiscing with my extended family, that this is not a tragedy.

And I will plan to wear lipstick on both the plane ride home and at the funeral. Because Nana was right, you do never know whom you might run in to.

May her memory be a blessing.

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