Tonawanda News — Believe it or not, even this humble scribe occasionally makes a mistake or two.
Unfortunately, this one isn’t really correctable.
In all my years of writing this column, in all the words I’ve typed, I’ve never once mentioned Nana. She is Sarah Patti, Penny’s and Rigby’s great-grandmother.
She passed away last month at age 85. Every single time I saw her, she told me what a good job I did in writing these stories. She showed them off to relatives and friends with a pride often reserved for a child’s most important accomplishments, like high school diploma or Nobel Prize.
More importantly, she loved her family. She always sought more time with Mommy (her granddaughter) and the kids, willing to soak in every moment she could get.
Her passing was the first one Penny and Rigby have experienced of anybody they were close to in any way. Dealing with loss was, obviously, a learning experience for them.
Helping them deal with loss was also a learning experience for me.
Rigby had a bit of a hard time grasping the true concept of mortality. At one point, he said he would wake her up when he saw her with “true love’s first kiss, like Snow White.” The sentiment was so sweet I wanted to cry.
He also had difficulty with the idea of a soul. He could see her, he reasoned, so how could she ascend anywhere? He asked if Nana still loved us. He didn’t understand why we bury people. He had dreams about her.
Above all, of course, he missed her. So did Penny, who lamented the fact she’d had an unofficial date with Nana to make homemade gnocchi at some point. The realization that point would never come was tough for her to take.
So we mourned together. We hugged. We cuddled. We talked.
I don’t exactly know how we come to deal with loss. But I know we have to, death being an unfortunately inevitability of life.
I only vaguely recall my first experience with losing someone. I was 8 (I’m pretty sure) when my dad’s mother died on Easter morning. I remember being saddened by the news while enjoying the contents of my Easter basket. I also remember playing with toys at the funeral home and seeing her lie in front of the room.
That concept, someone being there even as they’re not, is quite abstract for any child. The finality of its meaning, therefore, is somewhat slow to materialize.
But it did for Penny during the funeral procession. And it also came to Rigby a day or two afterward. He walked up to me uncharacteristically melancholy:
“Daddy? I miss Nana. I won’t see her again, will I?”
Mommy had explained to both of them how we can still see them in our minds via memories, and prayers could be sent to talk to lost loved ones any time we felt like doing so. But at that moment, I figured that wasn’t what he meant.
“No, buddy. That’s what dying means. We can remember them. But we can’t see them again.”
“That makes me sad.”
I cradled him — which I quickly found to be a much tougher task than when he was 1 or 2.
“I know, Riggs. Me, too.”
Throughout that week, I found myself unsure of what to say several times. Ultimately, I guess I learned there’s only so much you can say. Nothing you can do will bring the person back.
Instead, you have to pass down the idea of sharing what you learned from the person with others, honoring their memory and never forgetting them. And, as mankind has done for several millennia, you have to learn to move on with life.
Penny and Rigby will move on. But they’ll also carry forward a piece of Nana, even well after they’ve likely forgotten her. That’s the thing about the progression of generations — parts of us get shared without us even thinking about it or knowing where those parts came from.
What I hope Penny and Rigby carry forward from their grandmother are her love of family, joy of life and vitality. She lived the cliche we always spout after someone passes about experiencing every day to its fullest. She remain a feverish cook and gardener right up to the end. If my children inherit her drive, then I will forever be a proud father.
Proud like Nana was of her great-grandchildren. And of this space.
I can’t fix the fact I neglected her in this space all these years. All I can do now is hope these words, when read by Penny and Rigby years from now, help them remember an early influence on their lives.
That’s the least that could be done to help her live on.
Contact Paul Lane at email@example.com.