What I Learned From Our Goodbye

A year ago today was one of the hardest days of my life. My Nanny Joy passed away at 85 years old. May 2nd, 16 days before her 86th birthday, in true Nanny Joy fashion, she chose the way she would leave this earth. I was lucky enough to spend a week with her in April with 3 of my girls during Spring Break. During that time she told me adamantly, I do NOT want to be 86! Well, Nanny Joy, you got your wish, you were only 85 when you left this world!

I can’t begin to express what my Nanny Joy meant to me during her life here on earth. Other than the obvious name we share, we also shared a lot of things together that most grandmothers would not dream of sharing with a grand daughter. She talked to me about relationships, in a way you usually speak exclusively with your girlfriends. She didn’t judge me no matter how shocking the statements I may spew at any given time. She shared of hardships of growing up without a mother. Her mother died of an appendicitis at 27 years old and left her small children behind. Those young children, including my grandmother, were shuffled from house to house, just surviving during a time in this country when poor was the norm. She lived a rough life. Her grandmother believed the girls should be the ones to take care of the boys. She did farm work before attending school. She told me about inappropriate situations that no little girl should have to go through. I will not go into detail, as it was her story to share, but it was heartbreaking to hear. I only knew by listening to her stories that God was surely on her side! She married young…to a much older man. She was abused, left him and found out she was pregnant….with my mom! She worked hard…she lied about graduating from high school to get a job as a telephone operator and the rest is history. She rose to the top and became union president for the local operators. She met and married my Papa Bill, also a man of the Union, and they lived out the rest of their days together. When Papa Bill passed in August 2014, everything changed for her. She had to begin to rely on others for help, including my mother. And that’s when I learned the most.

Growing up, I never understood how my mother couldn’t get along with my Nanny Joy. To me, she was amazing! She basically walked on water! As I grew up and became an adult, I begin to see the little things I was blind to as a child. The snide comments, the difference in the way my mom and her brother were treated. Looking back, it was sad she wasn’t able to have the same relationship with her own mother that I was able to have with her as my Nanny Joy. After my Papa passed away, Nanny moved closer to my mom, 3 hours away from her home, back to the home town where she had raised her children. She lived at the end of the street from my mom, allowing her to be independent, but also allowing my parents the ability to care for her when needed, including my mom cooking dinner for her every night and my dad delivering her plate to her and giving her the nightly meds she needed. This time was not easy on them. I continually heard complaints from my Nanny Joy and my mom cried constantly at how mean her mother was to her. I was torn as to who I should believe.

When I walked into the door in April, I knew at that very moment what was happening. My Nanny Joy had given up. She was choosing to die. She didn’t want to live anymore and she was determined to let go. The problem was, my mom didn’t want to let her go. My mom was fighting to keep her alive and my Nanny was fighting to die. She was refusing to eat. She wouldn’t let my mom bathe her. She wouldn’t go to the doctor. She stopped going to the beauty shop, which was simply unheard of!! Nanny ALWAYS had her hair done! It was clear, this was a battle of the wills and I was caught in the middle. The first thing I did was talk her in to letting me give her a bath. She agreed, but refused to let my mom in to help. My heart has never been more broken than seeing my Nanny literally starving herself to death. She was skin and bones. Her meals on wheels were stacked up in the fridge. Her plate of food my parents brought over every night was sitting on the counter, barely touched. I would make her breakfast, only to watch her move the food on the plate and take one or two bites before setting it down. An hour later she would say, I didn’t have breakfast! I would have to remind her what I had made her. It was then I realized all the stories she had told me about sitting there alone were not true. She was forgetting.

Some of my fondest memories were sitting at the dinner table playing games with my Nanny…I asked her if she wanted to play Yahtzee, one of her favorites, and she replied, “I don’t believe I know how to play that game!” All I could do was enjoy every second I had with her. Deep down I knew it would be the last time I would visit my Nanny Joy alive.

One night before bed, we were sitting in the living room talking. She said to me, “You know, I never thought you were like me until today!  Today I saw me in you!” I knew exactly what she meant! I had stood up to someone who I believed was hurting her emotionally and financially and I was pissed! There was no way I was just going to sit there and let him run all over her, knowing how vulnerable she was at the time. Then she said, “You know, I remember when you stood up at your husbands funeral (Pit) and gave a speech, I just remember thinking how strong you were to be able to do that in front of all those people after loosing your husband!” I knew what my Nanny Joy wanted, she wanted me to do the same for her. She wanted me to be strong for her too…and I knew I had no choice but to do just that!

3 days after we left, my Nanny fell at home and had to go into the hospital. I spoke to her on Friday April 24th on my way home. I thought she was mad at me because of a certain someone in our family trying to make her think I said something bad about her. She said “I could never be mad at you sugar!” She said she thought she would be going home the next week, she was doing better. We talked for 45 minutes, about nothing and about everything! The last few minutes of the conversation she said how proud of my kids she was. She hoped my son would continue to straighten up and stay in town. How my oldest daughter was doing so well in college and she would be going places. She said how beautiful Makailyn was and she enjoyed visiting with her. And that Meadow, she said…you’re going to have to watch that one…she’s a looker! Give my baby (Everleigh) a kiss from Nanny! I love you sugar!

The next morning, my mom called my crying. She came into the hospital that morning to see her mama and she found her unresponsive. Nanny Joy had a stroke. 2 hours later, she was still unresponsive, but alive. She put the phone to her ear and I told my nanny how much I loved her and how I would always love her! The next morning she opened her eyes. I Facetimed her and let “her baby” see her. Everleigh looked at her and smiled and said “Nanny” A few hours later, she started mumbling, the language was more clear for a while, until it wasn’t. She became unresponsive again and she passed on May 2nd.

What I learned from her passing is she catered to boys. Not because she loved them more, but because she viewed them as the weaker of the two. She expected the girls to be strong. That’s the way she was raised, and that’s how she raised my mom. My mom is strong willed, independent and caring. She’s self sufficient and doesn’t need anyone or anybody to tell her what to do. On the other hand, her brother is the exact opposite. He depended on his mother until the day she died. That’s the way he was raised. I learned that she trusted my mom with her life. She would never tell my mom just how much she loved her or just how much she knew she could trust her, but she would tell me. And if my mom could see past her own sadness of the mother daughter relationship she longed for to realize just how much she really did entrust her with everything, maybe she could draw comfort from knowing how important she really was to my Nanny. My mom had access to bank accounts no one else did for years before she got sick. She knew she could trust my mom with her money, knowing she would never spend a dime of it without permission. She had keys to a cedar chest that no one else had. She gave her a credit card to buy stuff for her when she was unable to do so anymore. She did not do this for other members of her family. It was always my mom she trusted the most!

Although she is gone, I will never forget the life time of love and affection my Nanny Joy shared with me. And thanks to her, I now have the rest of my life to enjoy my mom as well. My Nanny was a young girl with a hard road ahead of her, but she walked the road proudly with her daughter by her side.  And now with the strength and determination we inherited from a special woman so adequately named Joy, we can finish the path she once started all those years ago, hand in hand, knowing we share the love of a beautiful Angel to guide the way!  

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