I was 11 years old when my nana suddenly and unexpectedly passed away. I didn't like to sleep much when I was a little girl. I seemed to always have lots of thoughts dancing around in my head, especially at night. Sometimes I'd fall asleep then awaken for one reason or another. I didn't have nightmares very often or anything like that. I'd just wake up and was unable to fall back to sleep. The night Nana died was one of those nights.
I had just awakened when I heard a strange sound. It was a scary noise, unlike anything I had ever heard. I was in my bedroom on the third floor and the noise sounded like it was coming from our basement, where Nana lived. My father had finished our basement for her so she could have her own private quarters. He did a beautiful job on the space, making it very comfortable and beautiful for both Nana and Snookie.
I heard some sort of faint moaning. At first, I didn't know what it was until I was finally able to make out that it was somebody calling my mother's name.
"Jeanette, Jeanette." I knew it was coming from my grandmother because everyone else called my mother Jean. Only my father and grandmother referred to my mother as Jeanette. I was so scared. I had no idea what was going on. I was always afraid of the dark and lay there motionless, frozen by my fear. I didn't get up right away. In fact, I never got up to go to my grandmother that night. I stayed silent and still in my bed. Terrible thoughts were racing through my mind. I loved my grandmother very much. I was petrified at the prospect that she might die. That overwhelming thought was more than I could bear, so I pulled back the covers I'd been hiding under and ran into my parents' bedroom.
"Nana is calling you!" I said to my mother. She hadn't heard a sound. My mother dashed downstairs. Since she was a nurse, I knew she could help Nana get through whatever was happening that night. My mother called an ambulance right away. I overheard her tell the operator that she thought my grandmother Rose Granquist was having a heart attack.
"Come as fast as you can," she said.
The ambulance got to our home within minutes. They tried resuscitating Nana while getting her onto the gurney and loading her into the vehicle so they could race her to the nearest hospital. But it was too late. Nana died.
For years, I never told another soul this story. I was so ashamed of myself for being so paralyzed by my fear. My husband heard it for the first time as I was preparing myself to write this book. I have carried my guilt for not getting up sooner and helping my grandmother since that time. Could I have saved her that night? I don't know the answer to that. I will never know. Maybe she could have lived longer. I would have had my beloved grandmother with me for just a little more time if I had gotten out of bed sooner that horrible night. But the truth is, maybe I couldn't have saved her. She smoked and drank coffee for many years. Like my father, Nana smoked nonfiltered cigarettes. Those certainly wouldn't have helped an already strained heart.
If either of my children had experienced a sudden and tragic loss like this, I would do my best to comfort and reassure them that what happened was not their fault. But my mother had no idea that I felt I could have possibly prevented Nana's death that night. And even though logic tells me that I didn't need to carry this weight on my shoulders for all of these years, I continued to feel terribly ashamed about the way my grandmother died, spending so many years wondering, If only.
Thankfully though, I have taken many memories of my grandmother with me throughout my life. Her love of food and zest for living along with her resilience, courage, perseverance, determination and tremendous spirit are all traits I feel so lucky that she passed on to me. I can still imagine her in the kitchen wearing her housedress and pearls, whipping up something yummy. I'm so grateful that my mother gave me some of her jewelry and a green porcelain bowl Nana used all the time. I also have some sheet music from her days playing the piano in the Poconos. Maybe someday I'll choose one of those songs to work into my cabaret show as a way to honor the deep love I have for my nana. I know she smiles down on me every day. If you believe in guardian angels as I do, there is no doubt that Nana is mine.