There is a saying:
It’s not about the years in the life but the life in the years.
Nana had both. At 100 years old she had seen, done, and lived through more than any of us can imagine. How different life and the world have become in the past 100 years, yet this tiny woman faced it all with enough spirit, love, strength, and faith to carry five generations of family on two coasts for most of that time without missing a birthday, holiday, or special event in any of our lives. Many of the things we learned in school as history, these things were her life, and she could tell you where much of it was wrong. To really sit and have a conversation with her, even recently, was to take a journey through time. You might not learn about the Great Depression or her days as a Rosie the Riveter, but you would hear about a lifetime of love and joy.
This is not to say she didn’t have heartache or problems, but she rode the waves and kept going. I won’t say she never said a bad word to anyone, because we always knew what was on Nana’s mind. She was stubborn, like most of the women in our family, but she was strong, and there is not a single picture of her that shows her doing anything but enjoying life, because she knew that the secret to life is to live it and leave the rest to…well, life.
Life. Nana’s attitude on life can be summed up in one sentence she said to me right before I left for college in 2001. While the advice I got was mainly about taking care of myself and calling home to check in, Nana’s words were short and sweet. “Be safe, but have fun.” Those words have come back to me every time erring on the side of caution turns to limiting myself with worry or insecurity. Every time I’ve thought things hopeless or finite, I’ve heard her voice saying “eh, we shall see” or what would eventually become her catch phrase, “God willing”.
Life. Nana imbued life into our family like a vein. Her house, and later her rooms, were wallpapered in pictures of family, both old and new. The last things she asked for were her cross and a picture of her family.
Life. Even towards the end she was still asking about my family and my life, because to Nana life was what mattered. All of ours. People she met. People she loved. People she believed in. People with whom she shared her life, all 100 years of it.
Life. It is because of Nana that I continue to choose the beauty, joy, and love of life over the struggles we face daily. It is because of Nana that I am not afraid to stand my ground and make my voice heard no matter how small I feel. It is because of Nana that every birthday song I sing is followed in my head by a tiny voice adding “and many more”.
And many more.
Go now, Nana. Safe crossing. Thank you for sharing your life with us all.