Good-Bye, Nana Bets

by Tabitha Kidwell

My grandmother died last week. But really, Nana Bets has been dying for a long time. When I say her last July, I knew it would be the last time. All through the fall I was waiting for a call from my dad to let me know she had passed. And even before that, she had been fading away, little by little, for almost the past decade. We had started worrying about her memory before my grandfather died in 2010. By the time she was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in 2014, she would forget if she had eaten, and would cycle through the same conversation topics every ten minutes. When I saw her last summer, she had forgotten the very mechanics of eating, pulling sandwiches apart layer by layer. Extended conversation was out of the question. She seemed to still remember me, and would smile and laugh when I showed her pictures of our family, but there was very little left to remind me of the Nana Bets I remembered.

Now that she is no longer physically present, tethered to the earth by a body and mind that are gradually failing her, those memories seem more solid. Now that I’m not worrying about the life she is leading, I can be grateful for the life she led.   I’ve been reminded of details I hadn’t thought of for years. How she always had packs of Big Red and Juicy Fruit in the glove box of her car, along with a kangaroo-fur pouch full of cash that she called her “mad money.” How we would stop to buy berries at roadside stands on the way to summer vacations on Lake Erie. How she would give us grandkids $20 or $30 cash for our birthdays, and would take us to any stores we wanted to spend it. The real treat of that present was to have someone willing to take you to the dollar store and Toys R’ Us and watch while you decided what color of silly putty to buy.

In short, Nana Bets was an exceptional grandmother. Even more than that, she was an exceptional person. She skipped the second grade. She briefly worked as a fashion model in her late teens. She went to college as a single mother in the 60s and earned a degree in education even though she was never able to pass the required swimming test. She taught elementary school in Columbus Public Schools until she left the classroom to help start the school counseling program. She married my grandfather in the living room of the house where they lived for the next 44 years. They went on bike and ski trips, traveled all over the world, and got their pilot licenses and a little Cessna airplane.

I wish I knew more about the life she led before I was a part of it, but once I thought to ask about those memories, they were already lost. What I do know is that she had a huge impact on my life. She taught me to be curious about the world. She took me to movies and bookstores. She came to my band recitals and to my school plays. She insisted on hugs when she arrived and departed. She purposefully, unquestionably let me know I was loved, even through the teenage years when I felt decidedly unloveable. She has been a positive presence throughout my life, and has helped make me who I am. Even though she is no longer here, her legacy continues to shape who I am. I wish we could have had more time together, but I am so grateful for the time we had, and for the person she was.

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One Comment to “Good-Bye, Nana Bets”

  1. May your beloved grandmother rest in peace.

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