Saying Good-bye to Nana
Last Thursday, I delivered a eulogy for my Nana, who died at almost 96 after suffering with Alzheimer’s for 15+ years. I wanted to share it here in case anyone wanted to get a sense of who she was or what she meant to me and my family.
On behalf of my family, thank you for being here. Even if you did not know my Nana well, if you know any of us, you know her. Nana and Grampy shaped a large part of who we are, and we come together today to celebrate her.
In the Jewish tradition there is a saying when someone dies: “May their memory be a blessing.” After she was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and started living at the Atrium, I asked family members and friends to send me memories of Nana. They used words like warm, caring, compassionate, loving, thoughtful, welcoming.
She would be the last to accept this praise, just as she was always the last to eat the holiday meal that she had prepared, spending most of her time leaping out of her chair to get something from the kitchen. She would probably instead say “Glory be!” and “Now, dahlin’” as she recited another rosary.
Her mother died when Nana was 18. Although she was not the oldest in her family of eight siblings, she was the one to take care of them all, including her father. When she told me about this, she said,
“And my pa came to me, and he said, Anne, you’ll help me, won’t you? And I said, sure pa, that’s just how I said it. Sure, pa, I’ll help you. And I did.”
She devoted the rest of her life to taking care of others. Having lost her own mother, she found one in her mother-in-law and cared for her until the end of my great-grandmother’s life. Her three daughters-in-law called her not Anne or Mrs. Ruth, but “Ma”: a symbolic syllable of deepest affection. When my brother discovered that he and AJ were pregnant with their first child, my mom asked them if she could be called “Nana”: the best tribute we can bestow.
My Nana’s children and their friends remember her as the neighborhood mother. Everyone was welcome in her yard and, maybe more importantly, in her kitchen.
She loved children. When my cousin Michael was brought home from the hospital, Nana held my hand and practically dragged me down the back stairs to run down the driveway to see the newest member of our family. Many babies in Lynn and beyond were warmed by her crocheted baby sweaters or blankets.
For each holiday, Nana sent each grandchild a card with two one-dollar bills and “Love, Nana and Grampy” scrawled with thin Palmer penmanship on the inside. When I was in college and brought home friends for Thanksgiving, she started sending them cards, too. My first-year roommate said, “I remember when I first met her and she just welcomed me as if she had known me for years. And every time I saw her after that, it was like I was one of her grandchildren.”
She nurtured the Ruth competitive spirit playing board games with us and Bingo for quarters. She read books from the child-height bookshelf in the main room. Her cookie jar perenially held peanut-shaped cookies that I thought only came from Nana’s kitchen–it wasn’t until I was in college that I discovered you could buy them in a store. She made sure each of us never forgot that she was proud of us, that we were loved unconditionally.
She and Grampy were the center of our extended family, the Celtic knot that wove us together. They showed us what a solid, faith-filled and faithful marriage looks like. Neighbors, friends of friends, parishioners at St. Pius were drawn to them. The mailman, delivery person, construction workers doing street maintenance: they loved my Nana. She brought them cold drinks, cookies, and friendly conversation.
She spent her entire life giving to others. Now she has entered heaven to embrace her parents, her siblings, and her husband, and to be embraced by Christ and Mary and all her beloved saints. She is free from suffering and at peace.
She leaves some tangible things: Aunt Rea’s eyes twinkling with generosity. Uncle Bill’s red(ish) hair and good humor. Uncle Jim’s bear hugs. My dad’s smile of pure joy as he plays with his grandchildren.
She also leaves the intangible: the bond we have as Ruths. Hers was a strong, centering influence in our lives, and that influence holds us together even without her presence. She turned everyone she knew into her family; so we too take the memories and love from 214 Maple Street into our own lives, sharing Nana’s generosity, her fairness, gentleness, and patience, with everyone we meet.
May we love as fully. May we serve as selflessly.
May her memory be a blessing.