One of the most special people in my life is my Nana. She’s not my Grandma. In fact, we’re not even related.
My parents lived across the street from her and her husband before I was born. As a nurse (and her husband a doctor), she took my parents under her wing during my mom’s pregnancy with me.
Ten days after I was born, her husband died suddenly. Even though I was only an infant, our bond intensified on that day. You could say we were inseparable for the next four years. I would eat dinner with my parents, then Nana and my mom would stand at their respective front doors, tell me when to cross the street and I would have dinner #2 with my Nana.
Years later, my sister and I are still very close to her. However, I’ve grown up my entire life saying, “She’s not my Grandma, she’s my Nana. There’s a difference.” Here’s the difference:
A Grandma would bake cookies for you.
My Nana had us over every Saturday to teach us how to make cookies and bread. I participated in every step of the process. Then we would watch musicals and dance and sing around the house while the cookies baked or the bread rose.
A Grandma would tell you to never go to a party with drugs or alcohol.
My Nana told us that we would, in fact, end up at a party with drugs or alcohol. And, when we did, we should call her and she’d come get us. Day or night. No questions asked.
A Grandma would come to every event you have, no matter how painful.
My Nana told us from early on that she couldn’t sit through a five-hour dance recital. She would come to every other event but not recitals. Instead, we put on our own mini-recital in her living room.
A Grandma would tell you how pretty you are no matter what.
My Nana is honest. She told my sister and I when we needed a haircut, when our clothes were too tight or when we were wearing too much make-up. She also told us when we looked beautiful.
A Grandma doesn’t drink around her grandkids.
Starting too young, and to this day, I can make my Nana the perfect dirty martini. Just like she likes it.
Over the last few years, my Nana has suffered strokes that have stolen her character. However, she is still my biggest fan – even from her recliner in the nursing home. She has the staff read her my blog and then calls my mom to comment on it because she can’t remember my number. (Miss Laurie, please skip the next paragraph.)
But she’s not the same person. She is angry more than she’s happy. She’s tired more than she ever was. And she’s confused more than she remembers. It’s very, very difficult to watch her this way. It’s also hard to have the tables turn, and to be optimistic for the person who has always been my rock.
She made us try new foods. She taught us to swim. And she challenged me to be open-minded and to stand up to bad friends. Really, she challenged me on a regular basis to grow and be a better person.
And even though it’s sad to see her like this now and sometimes very difficult to visit, I have so many good memories that I can look back on. When she struggles to read the paper or remember my daughter’s name, I think of her baking cookies with me or telling my sister to cut her hair. She may not be the person I remember anymore, but she is still the person I love.
Melissa Cruickshank is married with one daughter. She works full-time.