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Monday, December 31, 2012

Everyone should have a Nanny.

I woke up this morning at the same time I do every December 31st for the last 8 years, the time when I got the call that my dear Nanny had passed away.  I got up, and she has been on my mind all morning, so I am sitting to write about my Nanny, and how much I still miss her.

On Christmas Eve this year I went to my trunk to dig out an old picture of me with Santa from 20 years ago.  While I browsed later through old photo albums, a tiny slip of paper fell to the floor, and as I unfolded it, I realized it was Nanny's writing.  It was a note she had done in haste 20 years ago when a relative was on their way to Halifax, and she wanted to send me a note to say she was thinking about me, and to remind me of how much she loved me.  I honestly can say I do not remember one time in my whole entire life when I ever doubted that she loved me, entirely, completely and without hesitation.  What an amazing gift to give someone, and after she passed away I often thought of how she loved her family...we were all very blessed.

If I close my eyes and try to go back in time, the very first memory I can recall of Nanny was of us praying together.  When I would go to her house to spend a night she would have the same routine most nights.  She would make me a bedtime snack, set up the kerosene heater, do her journal, read me something and then the light would go out and prayers would be said.  Her faith over the years was another lesson that she gave us all, and no matter what challenge she was given it was her faith and wonderful spirit that carried us all through.  Nanny's house was a wonderful house to visit, she always had grandchildren coming and going(especially in the summer), her extended family would come from Halifax and many friends and neighbours were always popping in for tea and rolls.  She had this natural ability to make everyone feel at home, and  like you were the center of attention when you sat in front of her rocking chair.

At a very early age I developed a fear of dying.  My mother had siblings who died when they were very young, and many said that I looked like her brother Paddy, who died at 15.  I was convinced I would not live longer than 15 as well.  It was an unfounded fear, and many around me did not like to talk about death.  But Nanny would. I can remember being as young as five when Nanny and I first made our promise to each other.  We came up with the pact that would last us through our whole lives....we promised each other that whoever died first would give the other one a sign that the other one could never doubt or wonder about...it had to be clear that we had made it to heaven, and it was wonderful.  One of my greatest fears through my teenage years was that Nanny would pass away, and I would not know how to go on with life.  She was my Nanny, but she was often my best friend, and she always could pull me back on track and set my priorities straight when I needed it.

I went away to college and then became sick and had to have the bone marrow transplant.  Afterward, Nanny told me she was terrified that I was going to die and that she could not stand the thought if I went first.  Our visits continued when I would come home for weekends, and our phone calls were some of the things that I looked forward to when I moved to Sydney after falling in love and marrying Tim.  The week that we were married, Nanny had open heart surgery on Monday morning.  On Saturday morning, with all the chaos that was going on at my parents house(imagine bridesmaids getting ready, flowers being distributed and clothes still being ironed), I set off with a pizza burger and a cooler to see what Nanny was doing.  I found her in bed, with the window open and the breeze blowing into her darkened room, as she had the blind down.  It is one of the best moments I ever had with Nanny.  I sat on the floor eating my pizza burger, and telling Nanny about all the business that was going on, as I was getting married in about three hours.  We talked about life, love and what she hoped my marriage would be like.  She told me how Tim reminded her of John Angus, how they both made her laugh.  John Angus was my grandfather, and one man that I had wished all my life that I had met.  I then crawled in beside Nanny to lay on her bed for a few minutes, and she wrapped her arms around me and told me to have a wonderful day, she just didn't think she could go, as she was still recovering.  I was okay with that, as long as she was with us, I was okay.  So off I went to get dressed with a new confidence that Tim was the one, and we were going to be wonderful together.

We all were busy with the photographer, and last minute details, and I made it to the deck to get in the car to go to the church, when I realized that Nanny was standing in the yard.  All dressed, and ready to go to the church!  We snapped two quick photos on Mom and Dad's lawn, and we were off.  Not only did she make it to the church, but she stayed for the dinner, and saw me dance my first dance with my husband.  It was a perfect day in many ways.

Two years later I called Nanny early on June 28, 1997 to wish her a Happy Birthday, and to tell her that I was going to have my baby boy that day.  It was her birthday, and her reaction was, "What! Are you in labour?"  No I said, I just know I will have a boy today.  She went into panic mode, and said, "Well if you go into labour, don't call me until it is over."  I called my parents around supper time to say we were going to the hospital, and that it looked like they would be grandparents that day.  I forgot to tell them not to say anything to Nanny, lol.  I had just gotten into the delivery room when the nurse put the call through, and it was Nanny saying she was sorry she had said that, she was just so worried, she would rather just hear about it when it was done.  I think she called three more times, lol, and at one point said to hurry up and have it on her birthday.  She often said Thomas Mitchell Murphy was one of the best birthday gifts she ever received.

Over the years Nanny taught me so much about life, forgiveness, and love.  Oh my god, she loved her children.  Even when they were all married, she talked about them all with such love, and then she did the same with her grandchildren and her great grandchildren.  We all could do no wrong in her eyes. She held us all together.  She was the one who told us all about which granddaughter was pregnant, which grandson had a new job, which son had bought a new truck, or which daughter-in-law had won at bingo.  She was the family center, and through her we were all connected.

And so it was fitting eight years ago when Nanny was fighting cancer, that every single one of us gathered around her.  Every grandchild came home from across Canada, her siblings came, and her children never left her side.  We all wanted to be there, to share her last days with her and each other.  Nanny had always said she did not want to die at Christmas time, she thought it would make her family sad.  We never realized until we were all sitting there on Christmas Eve that her own father had died at Christmas, and she carried that with her without sharing it all those years.  The priest came on Christmas eve, and in true Nanny fashion, I got a call the next morning, Christmas Day that Nanny was waiting for us.  When we arrived, she sat up in bed and got us to put Mitchell and Nathanial up on either side of her.  She told them how much she loved them, and how special they were, and then when Tim took them out she cried and said how she would miss seeing them opening their presents.

The rest of the story tells you what an amazing woman Nanny was, and how much I miss her.  On the 27th I was standing in front of the window in Nanny's hospital room when she opened her eyes.  She wanted to know what time it was, and I said it was just after 1a.m. She noticed how it was snowing out the window, and she wanted me to leave to go home to my boys.  I told her I would leave when she fell asleep, and she said she would not sleep until I got home okay, so  I left.  She got my aunt to call my house later to see if I got home.  We all wanted to be there as much as we could, and it was the very last time that we were all together for Christmas and New Year's.  But I had another fear, I was scared of Nanny actually dying.  I was scared she would be in pain, I was scared I would break down, and I was scared of never hearing her voice again.  Again, Nanny was looking after me.  On the night of the 30th I stayed late, and then decided that I should go home as we were going to take the boys to see their grandparents in Sydney the next day.  At around 6:30a.m., I heard the phone ring, and I told Tim that it was the call.  He said no, it was okay, but it was me who jumped up to answer the phone.  And do you know, I don't remember who was on the other end of the phone?  Not for the life of me, I can't remember.  But where the phone was in our kitchen, there was a huge window out to the backyard, and I turned, and put down the phone.  On every tree in the yard, and lining the step there were hundreds of birds.  Nanny had always liked watching the birds and had several feeders in her yard.  On that December morning there were partridge, blue jays, chickadees, grosbeaks, and robins!  I let out a yell, and Tim came running, we stood looking for a minute, and then the birds starting flying away.  Nanny had given me my sign, and I have never doubted it, just like I had never doubted her love.

I hope to someday be a Nanny, and I can only hope that I will be half as good at it as my Nanny was, because even that would be pretty impressive.  And I hope that this story reminds you of a Nanny in your life, and you call them today to say I love you.  I would give a lot to be able to call Nanny today, but I guess since I have been thinking of her all morning she already is with me. 

Monday, December 24, 2012

Merry Christmas!

I have been waiting to tell my Christmas story from 20 years ago, and I just had to sit down today to finally share.  I hope it will be inspiring to those who might be searching for what the season means, and if miracles, love and hope exist.

As Christmas approached, I was having a few complications in Halifax, and my doctor delivered the bad news that he did not think it was a good idea for me to go home and be so far away from the hospital during the holidays.  To say that I was devastated would be an understatement.  I had been home for Thanksgiving, and had just taken it for granted that I would be home in my own room for Christmas.  Finally on December 20th, the doctor said I could go home, but would have to be back on for a few days on Boxing Day.  The only way that I could go home though was to follow instructions, there would be no mass, no crowds, and avoid anyone who might be sick.  You know how everyone takes pictures going across the Causeway, well I closed my eyes, rolled down the window and cried from there to Mabou.  I was so happy to be home, to have another Christmas in Cape Breton, surrounded by friends and family.

Of course, when my friends heard I was coming home, an impromptu get together was held on the 22nd, and most of my friends from high school poured into my parents house.  I remember before they arrived me going to my Nanny's for an emergency.  It was not bad enough that I had no hair or eyebrows, but my dress pants that I had to wear would not fit, I had lost so much weight.  Nanny quickly stitched them up for me to wear and told me to have fun.  The evening was full of laughs and old stories, and the crowd rule was a little bit broken.

The next night was the annual Christmas tree lighting in Mabou Harbour.  At the end of my lane at home is an old school house, and over the years it housed us on cold winter mornings while we waited for the bus, but at Christmas the Beatons would clean it up and open the door to the community.  Debbie and A.J. Beaton started the tradition, and a huge tree would be decorated outside and lit up every year with lots of food, treats for the kids, singing, and a visit from Santa.  For the Christmas of 1992 I would not be allowed to attend, there would simply be too many kids who might have colds or flus that might be contagious.  My family went with me saying that I did mind at all, that I would feel worse if they stayed home and missed the event.

Our lane is quite long, and one hill in particular is steep, so sitting in my parents' living room I could see the school house all lit up, and the cars parking on the lane.  After about a half hour the tree was lit and shone the little lights into the cold snowy night.  And then there was a knock on the door, and in came Debbie, A.J. and their kids.  They had brought me a present and a treat bag from the party.  But after some quick hugs, they left to go back to the party.  I went to the living  room to watch them walk back down the lane, when another knock came on the door.  It was Gil MacEachern, and his wife Mary, an elderly couple who were very near and dear to my heart.  They were not usually in the Harbour at Christmas, but they had traveled from Antigonish for the evening.  They too left fairly quickly, and when I went back to the window, I saw more people walking up the lane.  And so the evening went, when everyone heard that I was home and unable to go to the school house, each family took their turn to walk up that hill to see me and give me their love and prayers.  After about the third group I realized what was going on, and I called my Nanny who was home in the house below me, and she put tea on and had several visitors herself. 

For many years, my neighbour, Brian MacPhee would don the Santa suit to play the part for the evening, but that night in '92, my former teacher, and another neighbour, Mr. Cummings, was Santa.  Edmund Cummings, who had watched me grow up with his daughters, had pushed me out of his driveway a few times in the winters, and had me coming and going his house over the years as his daughter Shelly and I worked and played together, was the last to come to the house.  By this time my swollen eyes were even more swollen from crying, and I really don't think I had ever felt so much love in my lifetime in one evening...so when he came in the door in his suit, I was laughing and crying all at the same time.  My mom snapped a polaroid picture of us hugging, and it was the only picture that I let anyone take of me during that whole experience.  If you look at it closely you can see my scarf on my head, my drawn in eyebrows, and discolored skin.  But if you look at the picture, my face shows joy.  It was something that I had wondered for a few months if I would ever feel again, and my friends, neighbours and family gave it back to me that night in Mabou Harbour 20 years ago.