“It’s Nannie,” my mom’s voice cracked and drifted over the phone.
She didn’t have to say anymore. I knew what it was about.
A few years before, when I was a junior in high school, Nannie was placed in a nursing home while she continued to battle dementia. By that point our family had been dealing with her increasing forgetfulness and need for constant care for some time. The last few years of her life were spent in that nursing home, with one of her daughters by her side nearly every day.
I had not been to the nursing home in a few months. It was December now, life at college was busy, and I hadn’t been going home as often. Reality sank in while my mother spoke with me on the phone.
I remembered the last time I had seen my Nannie. It was a weekend that I had spent at home and we made one of our regular trips from Duncan to Chickasha after church to visit. It was already to the point where she wasn’t talking much and it had been a while since she had recognized me. Most of the time, if she called me anything, she called me “Wynema,” my grandmother’s name (her daughter — we look a lot alike).
But that last time was different. My mom and Granny were standing beside Nannie’s bed and my mom was holding on to her hand, what she always did the entire time we were visiting. Nannie was very special to my mother, as she had welcomed Mom into the family as the first spouse of one of her grandchildren and we had lived next door to her and Pappy my entire life — and my parents since they were married.
I stood in the doorway of her room. I don’t know what brought it on, but there are moments of clarity in the life of someone with dementia that you don’t question. You’re just grateful that they happen at all.
Nannie looked up at me standing there and spoke (another thing she wasn’t doing much of).
“Why, Elizabeth. Come in here and have a seat.”
It wasn’t much. It was a little slurred. But we all heard what she said. Granny looked at me with surprise on her face and tears started welling in my mom’s eyes. I did as Nannie asked and pulled a chair up beside her bed.
That was the last time. Now Mom was calling me to say that there wasn’t much time left, not even enough time to get home, but that in the next few days I was going to be needed down there.
I hung up the phone and sobbed.
I logged on to AOL Instant Messenger and told Chupo what was happening. Then I gathered up the stuff I’d been working on and finished a final paper for one of my more important classes. It was dead week at OU and I had had many of my classes canceled. Next week was finals and thankfully I only had a few exams to take at the end of the week.
My pace up the South Oval was brisk, much faster than it needed to be. And it was so cold. When I arrived at the front entrance of Gittinger Hall I was out of breath and was close to losing my composure. I stood there at the front for a while and calmed myself before heading up the stairs to the third floor, praying that my professor would be there.
I ran into her in the hallway. She could see that I was flustered and asked if everything was okay. I pulled the paper out of the folder in my hands and explained.
“My grandmother is dying. I’ve got to go home and I won’t be here to turn this in.”
(Also, mark that down as the second and last time I turned something in early during my college career.)
She was sympathetic and understanding and sent me on my way with her prayers.
I made it back to the dorm room and waited on the call that did not come until the next day. Nannie had passed and I was going home.
In the meantime, I was doing a lot of thinking about what I wanted in life and what I had been settling for. It was a huge period of growth for me, the rest of the month of December, but it turns out for some people that is scary and they aren’t willing to deal with real life, grown-up commitment stuff.
Change, it was a’comin’.