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.
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.