Reset
Screenshot 2014-11-21 12.51.27
87 Comments

“Do You Want Something to Drink?” — Lessons from My Grandmother

2332603574_844cbde95b_z

On my recent book tour, I usually began each night’s talk with a story about playing Super Mario Brothers with my grandma. Her name was Regina but we all called her Nana, and she’s been one of the most important people in my life for as long as I can remember.

My grandpa died when I was five or six, and I spent a lot of time with Nana over the next few years. I lived in the Philippines for some of that time, and Nana came to visit. We played basketball and tetherball. Then I lived in Montana, and once again Nana came to visit.

I had a difficult time for much of my childhood, some of which I’ve talked about publicly and some I haven’t. I was a juvenile delinquent and confined in different treatment centers off and on for several years. During those years, the adults in my life all said nice things about how they wanted me to be okay. I’m not sure they always knew how to handle the situation or what they should say, but they meant well.

What I remember, though, is that Nana was always consistent in her love for me. She never bothered or hassled me about anything. I’d go over to her house and she’d make Kraft macaroni and cheese, just the way I liked it. We’d play Monopoly or Skip-Bo and talk about whatever I was interested in.

We also spent a lot of time working in her garden.

One time, when I was maybe six years old, I did something bad while we were gardening. I don’t remember exactly what it was, but it was something that upset her. Nana rarely got upset, and she almost never corrected me. But that day, I had either told a lie or said something mean that was over the line.

In that one instance, the only one I can recall, she got mad at me and I immediately felt terrible. Thirty years later I can still remember the feeling of shame, for something I’d done that caused her to be disappointed. But even though she was mad that day in her garden, she didn’t hold it against me for long. She just said something like, “That’s not good, you shouldn’t do that” and then moved on.

I felt happy and safe with her in a way that I didn’t always feel around other adults. We played card games and board games and video games. We’d go to the mall and to Toys R’ Us. I wasn’t always the most reliable grandchild, with all the moving around and everything associated with coming-of-age in all the treatment centers and homes. But she was always there for me, as a kid, as a troubled adolescent, and as a young adult. I could always count on the Kraft mac and cheese, and I could always count on Nana.

***

Nana outlived two husbands and also one of her sons, who died from a brain tumor when he was young. When she turned 71 she told everyone she felt like she was 17. She continued driving even after she probably should have stopped. With her second husband, a kind and generous man from Michigan, she would “visit the old people” to deliver meals as part of a church program. As the years went on, she was in her mid-seventies and some of the people she cared for were a decade younger. But that was Nana’s way, jumping in the car to visit the old people who didn’t always have the same vibrancy of life that she’d held onto.

As she lost other friends and relatives yet still remained strong, I honestly thought she would outlive our entire family. I imagined losing other people and being able to talk about it with her. Over the past couple of years, though, her mind began to slip a little. She would repeat things a lot, sometimes in a funny way.

When my brother and I visited, we’d make a game of it. She was always (always, always, over and over) asking visitors if they wanted something to drink. She had a refrigerator that was used entirely for soda, which she called pop, and candy bars.

As soon as Ken and I walked in, she’d offer us a pop. If we didn’t want pop, she’d offer us milk. No milk? How about some filtered water? It went on and on.

If she hadn’t offered us anything to drink in a few minutes, I’d look at my brother.

“Hey Ken, do you want something to drink? Do you want a pop?”

That would set her off and she’d start telling us about all the different sodas she had in stock. Finally, after we had all declined numerous offers of several beverages, we’d move on to something else. But every ten minutes we’d return to the same subject and it would be as if we’d never discussed it before.

“Do you want something? There’s pop in the fridge.”

I’d start to decline but then Ken would speak up.

“Well, I’m okay, Nana … but is there any milk? I think Chris wants some milk.”

The rest of the family would give us the evil eye for playing this game. But we weren’t making fun of her—in some ways it felt like we were sharing an inside joke even as everyone else looked on. As sharp as she was, I wouldn’t be surprised if she was in on it somehow. We were still doing it as we left her house and went out to dinner on our own. “Hey Ken, do you want some beer? There’s beer in the fridge.”

Despite the onset of dementia, she was doing amazingly well when she turned the young age of 88 this summer. I visited twice in the past two months, something I hadn’t done very often before. On our last visit, we played one more board game. She hadn’t played for a long time and was increasingly confused about a lot of things, but she remembered the rules and made the right choices as she moved her pieces around the board. And then she beat us! We didn’t let her win—the victory was hers, fair and square.

When I left that night, I gave her a hug and said I loved her. It was the best possible visit. I didn’t drink any sodas from the fridge and I lost at the game, but it was great to see her looking relatively healthy.

Strong as she was at the young age of 88, sometimes an incident can trigger a health crisis that has lasting consequences. Last Saturday, she was admitted to the emergency room with acute pain. Upon diagnosis, the doctor said she’d need immediate surgery, which he didn’t recommend at her age and in her condition. She declined the surgery in favor of palliative care.

Hard as it was, I was glad she made that choice. She had often talked about wanting to die with as little prolonged pain as possible. She even used a phrase all of her own in making the decision: “No thanks, I’m ready to check out.” When I heard she’d said that, I smiled even as I was sad.

She was given a high dose of morphine. After she fell asleep, we thought she might wake up again at some point in the next day or two, but she never did. The following night, around 1:40am, she died.

***

I wasn’t there that night, having just made it off book tour to my home 2,500 miles across the country, but I didn’t need to be. She was unconscious after going on the morphine, and I was content with the other memories I have of working in her garden, walking around the mall, playing tetherball and video games, and all those bowls of mac and cheese in her kitchen.

I’m not always good at maintaining strong relationships with people I love. I know I should be in touch more often, but I just don’t do it. Sometimes I’ve caused harm or been selfish or just haven’t followed-up well.

Once in a while, someone at an event asks about family and relationships, and I usually say something like, “Well, I write about starting a business for $100. See the family section for advice on relationships.”

I don’t mean to be disingenuous. I just don’t want to be hypocritical. There are some things I’m good at, and others that I struggle with.

But I did learn from Nana that it’s possible to always love. She cared for me for as long as I can recall, and I know I’ll continue to remember her always.

###

Image: Dave

Subscribe now and you’ll get the best posts of all time.

87 Comments

  • wade says:

    Beautifully honest post Chris. Thanks for sharing and my sympathies for losing someone so close to you.

  • Nancy says:

    Thank you for sharing, Chris. My deepest sympathies on the loss of your Nana. I so enjoyed your story about the drinks with your brother. I just returned from an extended east coast trip to visit with my mom who also has dementia. My brother is the biggest tease, but we all still joke and mess around with her, like we always did. Others may not understand, but I have come to believe that deep inside there my mom (any many dementia patients) still comprehends more than she is credited for. I am certain your Nana appreciated it as well. She sounds lovely, and how fortunate you were to have her in your life and to experience her unconditional love.

  • Sally Neal says:

    What a lovely tribute to your Nana. I can see that you already know what a blessing she has been in your life. My sincere sympathies to you on her passing — God Bless.

  • Marli says:

    I was lucky enough to know both of my grandmothers and a great grandmother for many years. Incredible ladies that hold awesome memories for me. Your post brought much of that flooding back. Thanks for sharing.

  • Sergio Sala says:

    A great tribute to your Nana, Chris. All you need is love, even there is some of us that don’t express it that much.

  • I loved the sincerity that you radiated in this post Chris. I’ve been following your blog for years and never knew much about your upbringing, and I feel that you haven’t shared much about your weaknesses. (Or maybe I just havent caught them in your other posts.

    Sending warm thoughts your way – thanks for sharing this.

  • Annie says:

    Your Nana sounds awesome Chris. Great tribute. Sorry she’s passed away. Hope you and your family are okay.

  • Julianna says:

    Thanks so much for the poignant and heartfelt eulogy for your Nana. And also for your honest reflections on your own relationship challenges. It was uplifting and encouraging to me on many counts. Sometimes it’s good to be reminded we can struggle with being inconsistent in relationships, and it’s okay to be a work in process. Especially when you’re grounded on the foundation of your Nana’s love.

  • tony sheng says:

    chris – my condolences for your loss. beautiful tribute to nana.

  • Chris .Thank you for sharing such a personal response to your loss of your nana . I appreciate how you interject your own human side into your words. Sounds like you have beautiful memories from a most special shining star
    Take good care
    Heather

  • A heartfelt and beautiful tribute to your grandmother. I’m sure she is watching over you with a board game in one hand and a pop in the other. I am so sorry for your loss.

  • Tiffany says:

    Chris,
    I truly appreciate your authenticity. It is why I (and many others!) read your words. Thank you so much for sharing. I’m sorry for the loss of your Nana.
    My best to you.

  • Kathy says:

    Chris,
    I’m sorry for your loss but what a great gift from God to have your Nana. My Mom is going through this right now. I’m trying to live my life right now to be a blessing to my grandson who lives with us.
    What wonderful memories of her. Thanks for sharing.

  • journey says:

    My deepest condolences on the loss of Nana. She did it best; lived and loved without conditions!

    I am certain she is resting peacefully.

  • Sounds like your grandma was an awesome person Chris, so are you man. Love the memories you have of her and shared here. Something about grandma’s… I love mine too. She’s my biggest fan. 🙂

  • Beth says:

    I could easily echo everyone else’s comments which perfectly capture what I’m feeling. Thank you for letting have a window on how your insight and sensitivity to human nature was developed! I’ve read all of your books and now realize that you definitely carry the strength of your Nana with you through all of your thoughtful chronicles and anecdotal posts about life in other cultures. You see good things in other people that others easily might miss, what an awesome thing! Nana will continue to be impactful in your life; I was grateful for your peace at her painless and swift passing. I take care of both of my elderly parents (who, like Nana, are also amazing!), and so far they have managed to survive, between them: brain surgery, a kidney transplant, and cancer, so that is my biggest prayer: that their ultimate exit will be painless, peaceful, and full of dignity. As much as we’d rather have them here with us, wishing for that safe passage is the most unselfish that we could ever be! I look forward to meeting your Nana in heaven when it’s my turn! Happy Thanksgiving, Chris! Thanks for sharing your gifts!!!! ;-))))

  • Martine says:

    What an amazing testament of love and resilience! I lost my mother and sister, both suddenly, in the past two years and I understand what it means to lose someone who loved you in ways no one else can or is willing to do. She has left such a wonderful legacy in you and your work. Now she is really with you in all of your travels. Thank you for sharing such a personal story. My sincere condolences…

  • Chris, my heartfelt condolences to you and your whole family for your loss; many of us have lost parents and grandparents, and can appreciate how difficult a time it is.

    I was fortunate to be in one of your book tour audiences and loved the story you told about playing video games with your Nana; she truly was a great lady to you, and your family. Thanks for the (as usual) honest post, and for sharing this moment with your readers.

  • Beautiful post, Chris – a worthy tribute to a clearly beautiful woman. I think we can actually honor people with dementia when we enter into their “mind games” and make affectionate rituals from them. When my own Gramma was in steep mental decline, we planned train trips up and down the California coast, laying out our itinerary on the “map” she could see on her lap. Following the adage to “meet people where they are” can create some wonderful moments and memories, even or especially when the people we’re meeting seem to have left the reality we know. The love comes through, regardless. So happy to hear, too, that your Nana knew what she wanted at the end, was able to articulate it, and had her wish respected. That outcome is much rarer than we all might hope. I’d highly recommend Atul Gawande’s new book Being Mortal – it’s a splendid call to difficult conversations about “What Matters in the End.” And as you’ve noted in your own work, what matters in the end ripples back into what matters in the middle. Thank you for this.

  • What a beautiful tribute Chris…I’m so sorry for your loss. Grandmothers are precious gems that leave beautiful legacies within our hearts. My Grandmother was one of my best friends and spunky gal at that. She passed away on Christmas Eve, but her spirit still lingers in how we celebrate life. Here’s just a wisp of the fun she added to our lives…She was a planner and so before she passed she wanted to plan her funeral ahead of time. The two of us went to the funeral home together, filled out all the forms, wrote the obituary, decided on the service, picked out the music and then it was time to choose the casket. The funeral director showed the many options and in Grandmother’s perfect timing she asked, “Do you have a stool I could straddle?” Taken back a just a notch, the funeral director asked why. “Well, I’d like to take this puppy on a test run before making a decision since I won’t be able to appreciate it when the day comes.” That day was filled with hope and fun, not sadness and death. She knew how to enjoy each and every moment and I’m so thankful she was in my life.

  • Daisy says:

    Chris, your Nana was a gem – a strong and caring woman for her entire life. Thank you for sharing her story.

  • Chris Guillebeau says:

    Hi everyone,

    Thanks so much for your kind comments. Nana was a remarkable woman and I’m honored that you care.

  • Grace Mendez says:

    Condolences on the loss of your Nana. I lost my father this August. It’s a different feeling of loss than when I lost my grandparents. The pain is deep yet, being grateful of being his daughter helps. I’m glad your final visit with your Nana was playful. I hope that the lessons you learned from your Nana bring you peace. We all need supportive people in our lives. Life slips by rather quickly.

  • What a wonderful gift you had in your nana…and now you are passing that gift of loving acceptance on by telling her/your story. One of our teen sons died unexpectedly 6 1/2 yrs ago. As I share my story of loss and grieving, so many others become brave enough to share their stories in return. There is something powerful in realizing we are not alone and isolated in our grief! I’ve finally reached a point of sharing in a larger way–I’ve just offered a free online art journaling course to help grieving folks get through the holiday season. It is time for me to start giving forward some of the encouragement and support we received from others further down the grieving road than we were. THANKS for your openness…and may you continue to remember many happy moments of time spent with your Nana.

  • Azi Amirteymoori says:

    Chris:

    You wrote you are not always great at maintaining strong relationships with those you love, but Just from what you wrote, I can confidently FEEL and say you probably are better than 85% of the people when it comes to maintaining a strong relationship and I think the definition of strong relationship is what’s crucial. Just from the words you wrote above, I can feel your grandmother’s soul, I can picture her and appreciate her existance because of the way you described it and you can only do that when you’re mindful of someone. I will tell you my grandfather right now is 88 and has dementia and I visited him alot more than you visited your grandmother. But I can honestly say most of the time I’m only physically there and mentally and emotionally checked out (this is a whole other conversation).
    Alot of friends tell me I should be a medium. Not sure if you believe in that or not, but as I read your post, I heard you grandmother very happily say “you know he was always my favorite!”
    Peace…

  • Vera says:

    Beautifully written. She is smiling from above, Chris.

    I miss my grandparents 🙁

  • Thanks, Chris, for sharing so generously what is in your heart now. I loved reading this story of your Nana, and it reminded me of what a good writer you are, and a good person.

    Thank you, too, for sharing a bit about your childhood. For someone who has had some childhood restrictions like you mentioned, it makes sense how much you value freedom and how you work hard to live on your own terms.

    Sending lots of love to you and your family, and appreciation of your honesty.

    (Total non-sequitor…You were in a dream I had last night! It was an odd dream in a string of odd dreams.)

  • Marv and Jo says:

    Our deepest love and sympathies to you and your family Chris. Her undying love for her family has clearly lived on in you in how you care for the world at large. Sending you a big hug and our sincerest condolences from here in SE Asia.

  • Rana says:

    Thanks for sharing your story with us Chris, and inviting us to participate. I’m so sorry for your loss. I recently lost my beloved grandma in similar circumstances. She was sick, and she opted against further treatment for palliative care. I was also 1000 miles away when she finally passed on. It is tough not being there right at the end, but we had a great last visit & conversation, and now I know she is pain free, & with my grandpa whom she hadn’t seen in over a decade (because she believed in this, so I’m choosing to honor her beliefs for her, regardless of what I believe). So that brings me a bit of peace. Sucks for you & I that our grandmas have left, but I really believe they’ll always be in our hearts, and watching over us. Happy Thanksgiving.

  • Mary says:

    Nana’s are special. It’s been thirty years since I lost mine but her some of the things she used to say still make me smile. Thanks for writing about your Nana, Chris, she sounds wonderful.

  • Jeet says:

    So sorry to hear about your loss. I have lost two grandparents so far (and one had passed away even before I was born), and am fully aware of how painful it can be. Hope you feel better in no time, and thank you for sharing your feelings in the form of a tribute post — it will definitely help. Take care!

  • Cecilia Brady says:

    Chris, thanks for posting this beautiful tribute. I lost my “two old girls” — my sweet mom and my sweet dog — last October. It continues to suck without them but I hold them dear in my thoughts.

    My best to you as you navigate this time. Your many friends and fans are thinking of you!

    Cecilia

  • Susan says:

    So very sorry for your loss, Chris. So many of the comments have captured the essence of my thinking. And, yet, I come back to your point about unconditional love. Your grandmother certainly manifested what unconditional love is all about–and it is something that will always be with you. Again, so sorry for this loss.

  • Debbie says:

    Your Nana sounded like a real “hoot” as my Nana used to say. I’m glad she was able to choose her own way out- and glad you had such great memories with her. As soon as you mentioned Skip-Bo my eyes started to well up. Me and my old girl would play that damn game to the wee hours of the morning! My Uncle would be getting up to go to work and could not believe we were still playing- we had barely moved an inch except for to try and stretch our cramping legs and aching backsides. Mine was a tough old broad who was extremely competitive. Sometimes you have to slow down and work on love. We aren’t here that long on this earth- hold someone’s hand that you love just a minute more, hug them just a little tighter, and never miss an opportunity to say I Love you. None of us are getting out of this game alive- so love a little more and work a little less. Thanks for sharing your story with us 🙂

  • sherold barr says:

    Chris – this post is real, vulnerable and gives me a glimpse of you that I don’t know from your other blogs. I too had two Nanas and they were also the greatest loves in my life (one granddad too). So thank you for sharing a part of you that we don’t get to see.

  • Tim Grover says:

    Chris, thanks for the post and sorry for your loss. We lost a dear family friend this week; Carol had suffered with ALS for the past two years. She lived near Chattanooga and we’re in Des Moines, so we hadn’t seen her in over a year. She was a wonderful Christian lady in the best sense; filled with love, encouragement, hope, and faith. It sounds your Nana was similar. They continue to live through the lessons they’ve taught us.

  • I’m sorry for your loss. She sounds like a special woman. In fact, she sounds like my Bubbie, Fannie Rosenblat. Bubbie was my dad’s mom. She was a small woman who kept getting smaller as I got older. Yet she was a quiet powerhouse. When she would go to her ladies’ meetings, she had trained my Grandpa Sam to take watch her “stories” on TV and take notes to fill her in. After my mom died when I was 22, Bubbie and I had some special moments. She and I would go shopping and have lunch. We’d have really in depth adult talks. She told me I was the only grandchild that she had such a relationship with. I miss her every day.

  • Jerry s. says:

    Chris thanks for sharing this great tribute with all of us. All the best to you and your family.

  • Fadhullah says:

    Hey Chris,

    Thank you for sharing this intimate story of nana. Really appreciate it. All the best to you and your family. Hope you’ll stop by Singapore soon! 🙂

  • Gerard says:

    Sorry for you loss. I just attended my uncle’s funeral this past week. There is always that feeling that I should have spent more time visiting to learn more about him. But then we get busy with life, with work and trying to achive our quests. I will always remember my uncle’s big heart all the good things he has done for my family. We just have to remember take some time with people close to us and hey we might learn something from them.

  • Jan Koch says:

    Kudos Chris, for being that open and sharing that important lesson with us.
    My thoughts are with you and your family.

    All to often we obsess about things we really shouldn’t focus on, and forget to appreciate what is really important. I find myself dwelling and complaining over mistakes I’ve made in building my business, whereas I should be thankful and humble that me and my loved ones are healthy and I’m able to support myself being self-employed.

    Your post just makes me think that I should visit my grandmas again. Haven’t seen them for quite a time, because I was “busy”. Time to focus on what’s really important.

    Best regards,
    Jan

  • Kelsey says:

    I’m so sorry to hear about your grandma’s passing yet I enjoyed hearing about her life and am happy you can hold onto the great memories and times you’ve had with her. I especially love that she beat you at the board game fair and square.
    I only had one set of grandparents and I still have my grandma (she’s 94 and full of life). I spend as much time with her when I go home to visit and am grateful that she’s sharp as a tack even though she has physical issues. Grandmas are special and I’m so glad you were willing to share a little of your grandma with us. 🙂

  • Jane Grey says:

    Hi Chris,

    Thank you for sharing a beautiful and moving tribute to a woman who gave you the greatest gift: unconditional love. I send my heartfelt sympathy to you and your family.

    Warm wishes,
    Jane

  • 2yoshimi says:

    Chris–I, too, was closest to my grandmother. I learned what love looks like from her. And above all, I appreciate your honesty. This is what I am learning now.

  • Amanda says:

    Beautiful tribute. Loved the stories of you visiting your Nana. Incredibly loving & wonderful + heartwarming. How wonderful that she was able to just connect with you as a child & just be so accepting. That is what kids want more than anything I think!
    Very moving that you & your brother were able to joke and remind her of what she said with the “would you like a pop” times. She taught you a lot – how to accept even in times of adversity. It’s one of the kindest things she did to allow herself to just go – with dignity & I’m sure the spirit of her & whT she taught you still carries on.
    Thank you. Wonderful teachings 🙂
    Bless her & her wonderful spirit. Thanks for sharing!

  • Patty Gale says:

    A beautiful tribute to your Nana, Chris. Thank you for sharing and especially as we head into the holidays. Both my grandmothers lived well into their late 80’s, too, and I have some really great memories for each. Those are the things we’ll take with us forever… those special moments and memories. Thanks for the reminder. Enjoy your Thanksgiving.

  • David says:

    Chris,

    Your genuineness is what drew me to your work in the first place. Thanks for the honesty and openness. Your game face is your everyday face.

  • Chris,

    Thank you so much for sharing your feelings and thoughts about our intimate relationship with your beloved Nana. Death has a way of changing our perception of life, and it takes a while to grieve and process what we learn from this experience of loss, and heart ache. There is not time line to grief.

    For me after losing a husband at the young age of 27, my mother, father, and brother along with several friends to death, I have become even more acutely aware that what is important to me in my life, my relationships, with myself, with others and with the God of my understanding. Growing up in an alcoholic home, and being a troubled youth lead me my own disease of alcoholism. It has it also lead to 20 years of recovery by the Grace of God, and to my vocation as a Youth Care Worker.

    We are all a little or a lot broken, and that’s okay. What is important is what we do with all that. You my friend are doing wonderful things, and are a testament to love in action.

    Kindest Regards,

    Catherine Meyers

  • Chris, it’s much easier to write about work-related than personal stuff so I think I speak for all of us when I say thanks for sharing this highly personal story. Perhaps Thich Nhat Hanh said it best: “We have to learn how to die in every moment in order to be fully alive.” And it sounds like from your story that you had lots of moments where you and Nana enjoyed together being fully alive. May these memories live on.

  • Christy says:

    What a sweet tribute. I’m so sorry for your loss but have a hunch you’ll carry on her legacy.

  • Varonica says:

    Sorry for your loss, Chris. I empathize with you having lost my grandfather this past April. Reading your post about your grandmother touched me to tears. It’s great that you have learned so much from her. Thanks for sharing a little bit of her with us and opening up a bit about what you’re dealing with.

  • Faith Watson says:

    Hi Chris. My mom died earlier this year. Her last words were “I just need to calm down.” Giving her drugs that would allow her to rest in comfort in her hospice bed granted that wish for another day and a half until she passed away in her sleep, much like your grandma. I tell you this because I have promised myself I’d share her last words every chance I got. See, I am good at the family part, more than the $100 business part, and we can thank my mom for a lot of that. And I want to thank you for reminding me just now with your heartfelt story… In the end, when there’s no more time, it’s a blessing to have some peace knowing we did our best with what was important to us.

  • Susannah says:

    You and your Nana were so lucky to have had each other. What a lovely post. She will never be really gone because of all the memories of the people who loved her.

  • Carolyn says:

    Thank you for sharing such a wonderful, heartfelt tribute to your Nana. I lost my grams not too long ago, and although there is an empty spot at the family table, the hole is filled with wondrous memories of her life well-lived.

  • Jessica Tang says:

    Chris,

    This is beautiful and powerful. I am sorry for your loss and my deepest sympathy for you and your family. I am glad that you had an amazing woman who shared the gift of unconditional love with you. She will always be there – in the hearts of people who loved her and in the many memories shared. Thank you for being willing to be vulnerable and sharing Nana’s legacy with us. All the best.

    Warmly,

    Jess

  • Kat Bowers says:

    God Speed to your beautiful Nana Chris! a lovely person who who knew to be!

  • Breanne says:

    This was a tough one to read, Chris.

    I see a lot of my grandma, and my relationship with her, in your post. She is still living, but is experiencing the slow decay of dementia. She, like your grandma, asks the same questions over and over… though usually she was offering cookies or crackers, rather than something to drink. Now that she’s in a full care facility, she doesn’t offer that any more. When we all get together for family holidays, we play games; growing up, we’d get together 1-2x per week to play cards of one variety or another. Now, she can’t really follow along enough to play, so we’ve switched to dice and help her ‘decide’ what dice to keep and what to re-throw. It’s hard, but it helps her — and us — stay feeling connected.

    I don’t have a lot of clear memories of when I was younger. I try to think back to what it was like 10 or 15 years ago, and I draw a lot of blanks. I’m so glad for you, that you have those clear memories of your grandma and of your time together. I so appreciate your reminders to focus on those times, because that’s who she was for most of her – and my/your – life.

    It’s a hard place to be — I can’t imagine what it will be like when my grandma is gone. But I have a feeling I’ll probably bookmark this post, stow it away, to help give me some perspective whenever that time comes.

    Much love, as always!

  • Jocelyne Simoneau says:

    Very touching story about your Nana and you.
    My sincere sympaties, Chris

    Jocelyne

  • Judith Gross says:

    Thank you so much for this genuine post. Prayers for you on the loss of a family member who was more than a grandmother, but also a true friend. I’ve been following your blog for several years and bought your books, but I didn’t realize you had difficulties growing up. It changes my perspective of you–in a good way–because now I can think of you as a person who has overcome adversity in his life and it makes your journey more real and more relevant to me. I hope you will share more of what you went through, perhaps even consider a more personal type of book in the future. Thanks again.

  • Akemi says:

    Hey Chris,
    My condolences on losing your Nana. My mom has Alzheimer’s and it’s funny but she’s totally happy, much happier than she ever was, and cracks herself up all the time. I think it’s important that your Nana was able to make the decision to “check out” on her own, and thank you for sharing your memories with us. You’ve inspired me for years now!

  • Growing up, I always thought I was so special to have a “Nana” – the name seemed so unique to me as a youngster. Now I realize anyone who was lucky enough to have a grandmother, grandma or nana figure in their lives is very special 🙂 Such an beautiful tribute to your Nana and written with such honesty that was incredibly humbling to read. Thank you, Chris!

  • Rebecca says:

    She sounds like an awesome person. Full of spunk and youthfulness. I am sorry for your loss but, I am glad that you shared her with the rest of us. Thanks.

  • trhys says:

    My heartfelt condolences on the loss of your “home base” – those are toughest, and I’m glad there is so much joy and comfort in your heart and soul from her, and you are able to embrace that. She won’t be far from you.

  • Chris- condolences on the loss of your grandmother. It sounds as if she had a full life.

  • Cyd Peroni says:

    Words never ever seem enough to express the feelings I have when someone talks about a loved one’s death. At least in person, I can give a hug. If I were there in person, I’d give you a hug – the kind that says I know how it feels to say goodbye to someone who’s meant a lot, someone you love. I know how important it is to remember that person, that the memories are your mac and cheese now – full of warmth and comfort. Thank you for sharing your nana with us.

  • Thanks for sharing the beautiful photo and personal story. I didn’t know any of your background and you seem a very private person (for someone who blogs!) so I really appreciate the backstory. You turned out pretty good 😉 I bet Nana was super proud of you.

  • Kathi Wright says:

    Great memoir filled with honesty and grit and love. It is so important to have that someone to connect with, who loves us in spite of our many flaws and non-conformist ways, when at times we may find it hard to love ourselves. (Speaking for myself anyway.)

    Regina, lovely soul, rest in peace!

    Chris, thank you for sharing.

  • August says:

    Chris, thank you for sharing your very touching “Nana” story. It seems like you had a truly connected relationship with her that played a part in molding your own life story. I’m sorry for your loss and wish you healing and comfort through the beautiful memories of your time with her.

  • Mike Roy says:

    What a special gift you had in your life, Chris. Thanks for sharing that very personal story.

    As someone who was incredibly blessed to have not one, but two “Ninnies” (I don’t know how they got those names, that’s what we called them) I totally identified with your story. One Ninny taught me about the constellations, how to blow into coffee filters to separate them, and all about engines. The other taught me how to simply love those close to you and make them feel special.

    They both passed away without me there… and I too felt like I could have spent more time with them . But like me, I hope that you are able to come to the conclusion that the time that WAS spent… was enough.

    …Enough to pass on their special magic of love and kinship and acceptance of who YOU are, totally and completely. And, I really think, enough for them to know that you recieved it.

    All the best, Chris… and my deepest sympathies as well.

    Mike

  • Steve Simms says:

    I just lost my 85 year-old mother who helped inspire to be out of the box. Sorry for your loss.

  • Lisa E. says:

    So much of this resonates with me.

    I am a child care worker at a long term, residential treatment facility for children and teens. It means a lot whenever I meet an adult who was in any care facility who is now living a life of wonder and success. I take the stories I learn about them an ALWAYS pass it on to them. So, please know that in the weeks to come, I will tell the kids I work with stories about you and your choice to live an amazing life, whenever the opportunity presents itself. It makes a difference to them to know that there is a whole life outside of here. (I am monitoring a sleeping unit as I type!)

    This:
    “I’m not always good at maintaining strong relationships with people I love. I know I should be in touch more often, but I just don’t do it. Sometimes I’ve caused harm or been selfish or just haven’t followed-up well.”
    All I can say is, yes. I know. Me too.

    Lastly (sort of), 3 months ago I stayed night after night in hospice with my grandfather as cancer took him. He was never all that emotionally available, but he was our Grumps and my family on that side is pretty tight.

    Grumps and were polar opposites when it came to religion and politics. But, one time, a few weeks before he went in to hospice, he and I sat in the living room of the only house I’d ever known him to live in and had a long conversation about history and religion and politics and all of the things we usually disagreed on. Somehow, it seemed that we had both agreed to validate each other and avoiding issues that got us going. It felt like things we disagreed on didn’t matter anymore – we didn’t have time for any of that.

    Being a grumpy German, though, he failed to ask for help when using the bathroom one night. He fell and broke 3 ribs in a body that could not really heal.

    For about 2 weeks, we sat with him as he lost the ability to verbally communicate or open his eyes. With only hand squeezing for communication, my aunts, sisters, father and grandmother stayed in turns and just read books near his bedside, shared therapeutic glasses of wine, told stories from our long history of being strange people. One afternoon, we spent three hours remembering and writing down all of his strange sayings and insults that only German grandpas could come up with. “You lop eared banana-nosed mut!” is one of many on a long list that is now affectionately called “The Grumpsionary.”

    We sometimes laughed so hard that it seemed wildly out of place for the reality next to us. Other times, we communed in silence, and cried so hard that we got headaches. But always, it was about celebrating him.

    Cheers to you, Chris, and your life. And mine. And the rest of you. I’m glad to share this amazing world with you.

  • James says:

    I’m sorry to hear of her passing, but I’m glad you’re able to hold on to those memories and experiences. A vulnerable post, so I sincerely appreciate it. And these comments have all been great. I really love this community.

  • Michelle says:

    Chris, I am so sorry for the loss of your Nana. Much love to you and your family.

  • Maggie says:

    Chris, My condolences. What a wonderful tribute. Thank you for sharing this personal and intimate part of your life. She seemed to be a great soul with amazing spirit not only to you but to others. I see it runs in the family!

  • Greg says:

    Chris,

    I’m so sorry for your loss. How wonderful that you have so many wonderful memories. She sounds like a tremendous person.

    I remember going to visit my grandma with the smell of “Sloped Up” on the stove, polka or big band music on the radio, and playing Spite and Malice with her, along with other memories. The visit or phone call would end with her saying, “Love ya, love ya, love ya.”

    Funny how those moments, which didn’t seem significant at the time, mean so much now. Thanks for sharing your story.

  • Oh, I’m so sorry to read about the loss of your Nana…what a gem! I really love her line-‘no thanks, I’m ready to check out.’ heh.

    Sorry seems inadequate when someone we love dies, yet…that’s all there is for us to offer (that and an ear to listen).

    This piece is a wonderful tribute to her.

  • Amy says:

    Chris, sounds like our early lives weren’t all that different, so I can imagine how you must feel the loss of your Nana so much more keenly. I’m sorry.

  • Deborah says:

    Hey Chris,

    May the pain of your Nana’s passing ease and the memory of her life keep your heart warm for years to come.

    Thanks for sharing your real self. I lost my Nana too at the beginning of this year. We knew each other for just 18 years, as I’m adopted and I found her later in life. Every time I ever spoke to her she told me I was a wonderful gift. She was my wonderful gift too.

  • Sihao Cao says:

    Thanks a lot for sharing all those touching moments Chris! I can see how your grandmother was such a big part of your life and all the times she was a part of your life were meaningful. All the best!

  • Matthew Cheyne says:

    Reading your tribute to your Nana brought tears to my eyes. My Nana is 88 too, still alive but maybe not too much longer. She has metastatic melanoma, congestive heart failure and kidney issues as well.

    My Nana like your Nana is a source of unconditional love for me. In fact she is the only person who loved me unconditionally growing up.

    She lives in Perth, Western Australia, about 3000kms and five hours flying time from where I live in a town called Morwell, Victoria on the eastern Australian seaboard. She’s always had time for me. Always. Nothing has ever been too much for her. Even getting in an airplane (which she is afraid of) and visiting me so many times as a small child. She loved me when I was unlovable and in the eyes of many not worthy to be loved. Nothing was too much for Nana. And she never raised her voice at me, never hit me, never spoke badly to me nor of me.

    I too want to express my condolences for the loss of your Nana. You are feeling a pain that I too will soon feel and a grief that I too will share sometime in the future. To be known to and be loved by such a special person makes you one of the most fortunate people in the world.

    I am so thankful that I had the opportunity to read your story about your Nana. May she live on in your heart and the hearts of those who knew her forever.

  • Julia says:

    That was beautifully written. Thanks.

  • Dear Chris,

    We are so sorry for your loss. Your Nana clearly was a major influence in your life, and we can see how much she meant to you. Even without sharing your story, we could see in your eyes in the photo how much she meant to you. She must have been the most amazing woman. We are all so lucky that she walked this earth, because without her we wouldn’t have you, we wouldn’t have the Art Of Non-Conformity, and we wouldn’t have this group and community of amazing people who have connected as a result of your work. Please accept our heartfelt condolences and prayers for you and your family.

  • What a lovely, lovely tribute to your Nana. (My grandmother was Nana, too.)

    I just lost my 97 year-old aunt, and she sounds, in many ways, like your Nana. Strong, loving, and able to connect with me from young childhood all the way till now. People like that stay with us in the most unexpected ways.

    I’m sure she was and is so very proud of you.

  • Foster says:

    Great post, Chris. I wrote a blog post on losing a close friend with whom I had a complicated relationship with. You can read it here:

    https://medium.com/bereavement-and-mourning/watching-trees-climb-a679899581c2

  • Thank you Chris for sharing. One of my biggest regrets in life is that I didn’t manage to learn from my grandma how to make some of her traditional cookies recipes. She passed away few years back and no one from the family can make these

Your comments are welcome! Please be nice and use your real name.

If you have a website, include it in the website field (not in the text of the comment).

Want to see your photo in the comments? Visit Gravatar.com to get one.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *