Last Friday afternoon, my grandmother Mary Helen and my great aunt Pansy were in a car accident. Currently my aunt is still in UK hospital in critical condition. But late Friday night/early Saturday my nanny went home to be with the Lord. My parents had made it down to the hospital from their home in Terre Haute, Indiana. My mom had the unenviable task of letting nanny go. A dear friend of mine from Falmouth was the one to let me know first. I miss her so much right now, despite the fact that I just feel in shock. I just saw her last Wednesday in healthy condition. She and Gene dropped me off at the bus stop in Cincinati after I'd spent 5 days with her, watching a Reds game every day, sharing rivalry when they played against the Cubs, with the Cubs winning the last game while I was there. We had simple meals, heartfelt conversations, and more hugs than any man could ever hope to have in such a short amount of time, always ending the night with a kiss and an "I love you."
Saturday, a couple of close friends took us for some retail therapy where Frankie and I go new suits. After all, Nanny deserved the best possible send off. She may not have liked how much we spent, but she knows me and knows that, for her, money is no object. Certainly not after how much she sacrificed for me.
Sunday, we said goodbye to our pastor at HC after two years of service and a multitude of transformation. My church family cried with me, holding me tight, letting me lose it with no judgment on their part. A girlfriend from Trinity spent the afternoon with me, sharing lunch, watching Love Actually, enjoying some wine, and patiently enduring the endless phone calls between myself and family members, trying to sort out details.
Monday, after picking up the rental car and then our suits from the tailor's, after packing the car in between crying fits, I picked Frankie up from work and we headed down to Falmouth. Hand in hand, we made the nearly 7 hour journey, most of it with me holding my composure. It wasn't until we reached the intersection in Falmouth where my strength failed me. The last three-quarters of a mile leading up to Nanny's house were a struggle. I called my surrogate mom, April, to talk, knowing that she would help me calm down. She warned me about the smell that would greet me without the person to whom it belonged. She helped me slow my breathing down and prepare for what would be a whirlwind of emotions and time frame during which I would need to stay fairly stable. I walked in the house, and it hit me like a brick wall. Needless to say, we didn't stay up late that night.
Tuesday was to be my final goodbye to what was now Nanny's shell of a body, the tool given to her by God with which to live her life here. We dressed and went to McDonald's for a simple quiet breakfast. We stopped at the local grocery store where I saw another family member and an old friend who let me break down yet again. I was scheduled to sing one of her favorite songs, I Can Only Imagine. My family was worried that I would lose it, but for Nanny, holding it together was the least I could do.
My family left the final decision for open/closed casket up to me. I walked up to the lined bed and looked upon a body which looked nothing like my loved one. All I could think was, "This isn't her." We opted for a closed casket due to the enormous amount of swelling her body had taken on, but not after her immediate loved ones were able to gaze upon her lifeless form for one last time. I bent over the casket, taking in her scent, cradling her head in my hands, dead weight almost overwhelming me. Whispering my last "I love you" into her non-receptive ears and letting her know I'd see her before either one of us knew it, I kissed her and let the funeral attendants close and lock her metal tomb. We made it through the wake, speaking to friends I knew and friends I'd only heard of but never met, accepting condolences from family who hadn't seen me since I was 4 feet tall with a full head of hair. I chain smoked in between encounters, holding back tears with the knowledge that, if the flood gate opened, there would be no closing it.
Mom was in and out of bouts of hysteria. One must also keep in mind that this was the first time most of my family had been made aware of my full identity, followed by their meeting Frankie. Most seemed to shrug it off, recognizing that this was neither the time nor place to share any disagreement or disapproval. In all honesty, I didn't care. I needed my love there for me to make it through this, just as the rest of them would need their rocks had it been their loss.
The wake ended and the funeral began. Most of it went by without flaw, including my performance. I held onto the memories I'd had of all the times I shared music with Nanny, whether it be from other performers or myself. I envisioned her being the only person in the room, looking intently into my eyes, smiling her simple smile, basking in the fact she she no longer had to imagine but was now caught up in the reality that is being present with her Savior. I imagined them together, with my Papaw 21 years gone, holding me up, giving me strength, pushing my voice up to the heavens, making my fingers hit the right strings, rubbing the back of my head to calm me and give me courage. This would not be my final offering, but it would be the one which received more energy and intention than I had ever embedded in a performance before.
The drive to the cemetary was slow, paced. Sitting under the tent was a first for me, but I realized now just how necessary it was. Placing my freshly kissed fingers on the casket for the last time before departing, I sent Nanny off with my love, my gratitude, and my appreciation for the man she'd helped make me into. I took a rose, now wilted and gone, but whose scent and image I will remember. I'm now also quite thankful for the sun shining all day, sky cloudless.
The past two days have gone smoothly for the most part... calling the insurance companies, getting and copying the police report, sorting through some belongings, laughing at the fact that Nanny was not so great at checking expiration dates on canned food. Nanny lived simply, loving deeply, having a rock-solid faith, albeit not very scholarly in nature. She cared for everyone who crossed her path, in acts such as clipping coupons, making grocery runs, cooking meals... she loved to feed people, not fancily but deeply with rich food, cooked with intention and patience, relishing the time at the table after a heartfelt grace. She loved hugs, never passing one up.
Before we left, I spent more time than I could imagine burying my face in her pillow, her blankets, her bath towel, drowning myself in her very unique smell, imagining her laying down for an afternoon nap. Hearing her voice on the phone catching up with Gene, Pansy, Brenda, or any number of her dearest friends. Me sitting down on the side of the bed, rubbing her back, talking about Papaw, school, recipes, childhood stories, or anything else under the sun. The two of us trying to fit into the recliner, both with wide hips. The way she made iced tea unlike anyone else.
Frankie and I are now back home, with a new addition to the family, our new kitten, Kylar. We only took a few material things... an air conditioner, a set of china, some glass pieces, some pictures, a chenille throw, some DVDs, a new home phone, some canned/boxed food, and a Willow figurine I had given Nanny several Christmases ago. It sounds like a lot, but it's not... not in comparison to the richness and fullness that was her life. I'm left the co-owner of a house, her house... but I would so rather have her back, sitting by me on her sunken-in couch, trading back scratches while watching CSI or Criminal Minds... or maybe even a UK or Reds game.
I know I will need to move on soon, but for now, I lean back against Mother God's chest, feeling her hearbeat, my breath matching hers, her arms holding me tight giving me comfort and grace with which to live and love. I'm still her hands and feet, and while I am mourning now, joy will come again soon.