Celebrating my Nana’s Life

Nearly three weeks ago my grandmother, my Nana, went into the ICU. On June 21, I drove 10 hours to New Hampshire to join my aunt and uncle at her bedside. When I saw her, I had a feeling that she wasn’t going to recover this time. On the morning of June 23rd, with my aunt and me at her side, my Nana died. The next few days were a blur of planning, gathering family, and coming to terms with what had just happened.

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Nana with a gleam in her eye.

It was understood that I would write and officiate most of Nana’s Celebration of Life with my uncle and local pastors offering prayers, scripture and a Christian message within the service. It felt like an immense responsibility. More than ever, I felt the need to “get it right:” to create something that would express Nana’s life and personality, that my family would feel was fitting and good, and that my Nana would have loved.

There were some unusual elements to the ceremony (which I will share in another post) and although I thought the ideas were fitting, I felt anxious about whether they would unfold as I hoped…whether people would “get” what we were doing.

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Roses from Nana’s garden stand in a mason jar (she did a lot of canning and pickling and jams) filled with rocks from the local river.

I also wanted to help my family through this experience. We were all grieving and coping in our own ways, but the ceremony (to me) was my time to hold space for their grief, to stand with and beside them as they took part, and to infuse the ceremony with their memories and their love. I had to shore up my heart against the flood of emotion that I knew was waiting for me, in order to get the ceremony written and planned and to be able to stand up at Nana’s Celebration of Life, and speak with as much calm, poise and grace as I could muster.

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Punch made from Nana’s recipe
was served at the reception.

It all went well. The unique portions of the ceremony were well received, and the bulwark within me held as long as I needed it. At the reception, the local pastor was playing piano and began one of my late Dad’s favourite songs, “Send in the Clowns.” I miss my Dad so much, he loved my Nana, and when I heard that song, it was like he was there somehow with us. That was it: the dam was broken. My body was suddenly exhausted and the sadness engulfed me.  It was truly a privilege and blessing to be able to help pay tribute to my Nana. And there was also a cost to shutting down my feelings to do my work as a Celebrant and granddaughter, a cost I was more than willing to pay. After the ceremony was over, I realized that I hadn’t really been fully present at the Celebration of Life.  Although I was there in body and mind, my heart had been buried deep and didn’t have the release or expression I might have received had I been able to let my guard down.

And so, my “Celebration of Life” for Nana began after the official one, and it is still ongoing. I was able to just be still and listen and cry and hug my family when her ashes were interred the next morning. Before I left New Hampshire, I went to “the brook” down the road from her house, put my feet in the cold, rushing water, and talked to Nana about all that was on my heart. I have been wearing her sweater, or have had it near me, for some part of every day. I have been writing down my story of the past 2 weeks. I have been writing “letters” to Nana in my journal. I have planted daisies and black eyed susans and foxgloves, favourite flowers of hers, in my garden. I will share some of her funny stories with friends. I will look through photographs. I will bake her recipes. I will love her family. Our family.

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Wishing us all peace in our hearts.