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.

comments powered by Disqus

More to read

Loading More Articles
No More Articles

Vital work is being done at the Lussier Community Education Center, from community-building to STEM skills

"People are looking to book space here all the time," says Remy Fernández-O'Brien, communications and facilities coordinator for the Lussier Community Education Center, a private, nonprofit community center on Madison's west side. "They want to throw their child's first birthday party here or hold a Girl Scout meeting. We're really busy year-round, but it's especially lively here in the summer."

Mama Madison: Parental dice rolls?

Last week, in response to the county-wide Sleep Safe, Sleep Well public health campaign that encourages parents to "share the room, not the bed" with their sleeping infants, Isthmus contributor Ruth Conniff penned a lovely opinion piece in defense of bed sharing entitled "Confessions of a Co-Sleeper."

Mama Madison: What constitutes a keepsake?

As much as I'd like to believe there is latent genius in my daughter's early finger paintings, I'm pretty sure her works are not distinguishable from those created by the pointer fingers and pinkies of thousands of other children from across the world.

Mama Madison: Young love

Seeing Romeo and Juliet this past weekend was a definite reminder that I need to prepare for something that might resemble a (Near) West Side Story around our place pretty soon.

Mama Madison: What a mother fears most

All during childhood, we calmly tell our kids they don't need to be afraid of the dark, thunder or the monster under the bed. But it's pretty hard to keep your parental cool when your kid is about to embark on the one thing that terrifies you. I knew the problem wasn't really with him. It was with me.

Operation Fresh Start's Youth Conservation Corps helps kids, and kids help parks

Last January, when temperatures dipped below minus 30 and most people between the ages of 16 and 24 did anything to stay inside, a small yet sturdy group of at-risk teenage boys and young men stacked wood and managed controlled burns at Festge County Park near Cross Plains. Five months later, following a temperature swing of more than 100 degrees, Isthmus found some of those same guys removing invasive honeysuckle and buckthorn at Lake View Hill County Park on Madison's north side.

Mama Madison: Summer stress solved by yoga

The first week of summer break at our place usually comes and goes without incident. At times, one could argue, it even verges on pleasant. I have no school lunches to pack and the kids have no 7 a.m. buses to catch.

Mama Madison: The greatest fans of road repair

Have you tried getting anywhere on either Verona Road or East Johnson lately? I'm pretty sure a six-month old could crawl to Fitchburg, or across the isthmus, in less time that it takes me to drive there these days.

Mama Madison: The alarm sounds

As soon as the door closed behind him, I poured myself a cup of the coffee he had made and took a moment to let the enormity of what just happened sink in. My son was ready that morning despite my inability to properly set an alarm clock. My kid was ready that morning without nudging, cajoling, or reminding. He was ready, even when I wasn't.

Mama Madison: My summer book list

For the past 17 years or so (i.e., since I've had kids), I haven't made books the priority in my life I know they should be. It's not that I don't try. Just this past weekend I had the best of intentions of picking up, and even finishing, I am Malala, this year's UW-Madison's Go Big Read pick. But the copy still sits untouched on my nightstand.

Make Music Madison gives young artists a chance to perform

The longest day of the year is upon us. For those of you keeping track, the sun will rise at 5:18 a.m. and set at 8:41 p.m. on Saturday, June 21. All that daylight, courtesy of the annual summer solstice, will provide the perfect backdrop for Make Music Madison, a daylong event featuring hours and hours of free performances in nearly every corner of the city.

Mama Madison: Watching talent grow

Last week, for the first time, I made my way up to one of the open gallery nights during Madison West's Fine Arts Week, the school's annual showcase for all things creative. The scope of the event is huge, with nearly 1,600 students participating, and the quality of the presented works is phenomenal. It's almost as if the school had been lifted off its perch on Regent Street and traveled back in time to Belle Époque Paris.

Mama Madison: Writing time at Olbrich

If you have aspiring authors in your house, this summer offers a fabulous opportunity for them refine their writing skills. For its second summer, the Greater Madison Writing Project, in partnership with Olbrich Botanical Gardens, is sponsoring two week-long camps in August for young writers entering grades 3-8.

Mama Madison: When UW-Madison's semester is over, the kids want out too

There are lots of benefits to living in a college town. First and foremost, there is always something going on -- a lecture, a film series. Maybe even a protest, if you're lucky. And since becoming a Madisonian, I, for the first time in my life, find myself interested in college football.

Mama Madison: Another amazing talent show

My passion for the talent show clearly runs deep, but I'm more than just a fangirl. This year marked my second as one of the "Ziegfelds" of the Follies, Hamilton's annual showcase for singers, musicians, dancers and other varied forms of entertainment. Trust me, when you are part of the spectacle's "producing/directing" team you get a new-found appreciation for how hard the kids worked to get up on stage.

Mama Madison: Preserving children's stories

My daughter, who turned twelve just this past week, is not legally "of age" when it comes to social media. But I guess, in many respects, especially in those that involve screens, I am a permissive pushover. I've allowed her join some networks.

Tenting tonight? Not so fast -- take the time to prepare for the first family camping trip

What adults love about camping -- sleeping under the stars, getting away from it all, the sounds of nature -- can be scary for children. It's dark in a tent. Nothing is familiar. Of course, camping with kids is more work for adults, too. Stay cool, live in the moment. Forget about that lost fork. Making s'mores, spotting wildlife, that's what kids will remember.

Mama Madison: It's time for the college tour

I have just returned from a whirlwind, five-day, four-city college tour with my son. You know those "101 Things to Know Before Visiting Disney World" guidebooks that experienced theme park travelers have written to help the uninitiated? I think I am now officially seasoned enough in information sessions and campus tours to give some serious thought to penning a similar "insiders guide" for the junior-year parent.

Mama Madison: When mom gets a new roomie

This past week, against both my will and better judgement, I accompanied 50 or so middle school kids to the Future Problem Solvers Wisconsin State Bowl, a popular academic and skit-writing competition.

Mama Madison: Earth Day awareness

It may be a bigger waste of breath than electricity to ask my kids to turn off the lights when they leave a room. If I've nagged them once, I've nagged them a thousand times. No, I've never noticed anything amiss with their fingers. But it appears they are physically incapable of flipping a switch to the "off" position.


Emails from Isthmus Parents feature event highlights, story links, site updates, and occasional special offers from trusted sources. Name and email address are required. Thanks!