2 weeks ago we farewelled my darling. Nellie Florence. This was the reading we did.
Nellie Florence, otherwise known as my Nanna- she was my caretaker from the tiny age of 2 to the age of 6 until I started school. Mum worked for Nan and Pa’s furniture removalist business, and Nanna opted for taking care of me.
I do not remember one cross word. The only time I got into trouble was when it was cousin time, and for some reason when my cousin Kelly and I got together mischief prevailed. My influence of course. She admitted to me years later that often she would have to leave the room, for her terse response to the folly was masking amusement she had to hide for fear of encouraging “silliness.” But every school holidays when I came to visit for weeks on end, it would be Kelly, Kirst and Nanna time. Did we drive her nuts? You betcha. There was that one time we played hide and seek in Nan’s car; only we didn’t tell her? The police were called… oops.
Nan taught me from the time of being very young that it was the small acts of faith that build the bigger ones and I would ask isn’t God too busy to look after little things? And she would say “No! Because we all have angels and God around us all the time, his messengers and they help. So always send a prayer up!” We literally taught that to send a prayer you were physically sending a request from the heart, and she taught us that. So from the age of 3 I knew, you asked for a car park? You got one. In the busiest street of Burleigh Heads. You got a car park. She taught us the importance of service to others.
It was ingrained. Others before self, others before self to the point where even now, its super ingrained! But it was service, service to others. And she showed this throughout her life. As an RE teacher to little children in primary school, it wasn’t that she was Bible Bashing as such, it was that she had an activated REAL relationship with God that lifted sorrow from her, like nothing else. It was her total saving grace all of the time, and she walked in grace all of the time. For her, the idea that other people weren’t enjoying that, and didn’t have that safety net, that sense of joy and faith horrified her. It was NOT for the select few; it was for everyone. She was genuinely worried for other people and she desperately wanted them to know the joy she knew and that peace.
When she saw people were in pain, she would talk to them about her joy and her faith, and for many, it was sometimes a bit much. But for others, I don’t know how many of you are in the room today, but I know that there are many many people that sought that grace and found it through her shining the torch through a dark time.
Another beautiful part to Nanna was her forgiveness. Her forgiveness for others was so strong that sometimes it challenged us. You would think “How on earth could you possibly forgive that act” or “this person” and she was steadfast in that forgiveness. And one time I said to her in this certain situation “How? She was my Nanna, but as I became older and more mature from a girl to a middle-aged woman, we would have this womanly chats about life and I would ask her “How? How could you forgive?” “and her response would be “But carrying around the hate, and carrying around all that anger, that’s not about them, that’s too heavy for you. It hurts you. It’s not about them, it’s about unburdening your heart from their deeds and letting them go.” Now that I am getting older I am realizing, it’s not about saying whatever that person did is ok, it’s about releasing the heaviness and handing over the weight of hatred or anger.
We have been so incredibly blessed to have her in our lives.
There was a very tumultuous time in her life after Grandad died and we saw events happen for her where she was deeply betrayed by people she loved and cared about; she predictably forgave them. She moved forward but what came next many saw as “oh she’s just getting old” but what we saw in her was pain. She had forgotten how loved she was, to the point where some relatives would visit and she just didn’t answer the door. It wasn’t because she didn’t want to see them, it was because she didn’t believe she had anything to offer. She had lost her value to herself. She had given herself over to service in her life so much, that to not be in service to people due to old age and ill-health had to her losing her self worth.
She stuck to her routine, just passing the time. Life had lost its shine, while she stuck to her beliefs as firm as she possibly could, the nature of people had let her see a side, she probably, in all honesty, didn’t realise was there or didn’t look apon. It infiltrated. She had a stroke.
And for many many years, my sister and I had wondered how great it would be to move to Bendigo if only to look after Nanna. I remember as a little girl saying to her “Nanna, you take such good care of me, why?” her response was “because I love you and one day you might take care of me” well that must have stuck! So right through our adult lives, my sister and I have had this idea of how wonderful it would be if we could care for her. So we went to visit her after the stroke, and it wasn’t looking very good.
We checked in with Papa G as we call him- (AKA the mighty Gandalf of the 4th dimension, AKA God, AKA- Universal KingPin, and yes there is a feminine aspect. Have you seen the Shack?) do we take her with us? The resounding answer was Yes. Now is the time. The thing was the consensus in the family was that there was no way in a million years a 89-year-old Nellie Florence was leaving Bendigo, uh uh no way. It’s just not going to happen. She’s not going to leave. We went to her- we said to her- would you let us, would you be brave enough just to bring yourself to this new place so we can care for you? You will be treated beautifully, and you will have a visitor every day. To our absolute shock, she very quietly said “yes”. All she wanted to bring with her was her nighty, her favorite teddy, a picture of Jesus and a few family photos and that was it. It was a new start. She actually became excited again. We found the best nursing hotel aka del la McEncroe we could search for and it was beautiful.
My siblings and I, we went and decked out that room like it was the Hamptons. We had a ball. It was as though the Queen mother herself was moving to Leopold. It was going to look the Goods. I still remember the nurses being like “Oh my gosh, what’s with the posh designer room?” There were lots of pink things, angels, memories of her children and grandchildren and great grandchildren. And she got a visitor every day.
We had access 24 / 7 and she was a late night owl, so it would be nothing for us to pop down there in our pajamas of a night-time and tuck her in, or have cuppas and chats about life and love and nursing home gossip. I am pleased to report, with only being there for a couple of months, she turned to me and said “I really am loved aren’t I? I really am loved, I must be with you all doing this for me and wanting to be with me.” And I said “How could ever have thought you weren’t? You aren’t just loved, you are adored. You are the reason we are all here. You.”
And her great-grandchildren would visit and we would say to them, this lady right here, is why you exist and without her, you simply wouldn’t, ” and the nursing staff adored her, they loved her. She was beautiful, she was cute, she was appreciative, she was loved, and she told them and us, while she was there that the last 2 years have been the best in a decade and that is pretty special.
As she relaxed, the stoic sternness of propriety dropped just a fraction, she was as sharp as a tack, and her humor shone through. She developed the giggles and would have us all belly laughing until we couldn’t breathe. She would share stories about being a young woman growing up in Bendigo. Of romance, of funny tales, setting up the dance hall on a Friday night and having races on the cleaning cloths and laughing until it hurt. Of her love for Pa, for her children. Funny stories about her children when they were small.
This recent stroke, it all happened very quickly. I went to her bedside and said to her “I don’t want you to go” She looked at me puzzled and asked why? Because she knew where she was going and therefore I should know better. You see, we spoke about dying her and I. Quite a bit. We had these awful dark humored jokes about who would get there first. Who would be waiting to greet who? There was no fear at all. She would have assumed that I should know where she was going. And she said “Oh, no it’s time for me to …” and motioned her hand upward with the biggest smile. I said “I will buy you a puppy, or do you want two visits a day? What do I need to do to keep you here, because I know its so selfish but I don’t know how to be here without you in it” I tried every trick in the bloody book to keep her here. I should have known better.
She smiled and she said “It’s all fine, it’s okay, it’s ok darling, you are going to be just fine and I am going to be here still.”
When Nanna passed, I had my hand on her heart, and it just stopped. And she didn’t die. She didn’t die. She left. And when one leaves, it means they have somewhere to be.
It occurred to me afterward, that not only did she teach me so much about life, and about living, but she also taught me about my dying that it was a journey and it was not to be feared. So, that was her gift to us. She was a teacher, that was her thing.
For the record, you know you never know when you are going to leave. This is true. But when a doctor tells you that you are, when your body tells you and when a Nanna feels that she is; a feeling happens. I can’t explain it. But the knowing is what sets you apart everyone else. And it isn’t depressing, it isn’t morose. It is a fact of life. We come into the world and we all leave the world.
When I was a child Nanna read to me the Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, she was a CS Lewis fan and his theology, and as some of you will know, Aslan the mighty lion in the tale is CS Lewis’ Metaphor for Jesus. Not tame at all, but powerful and fierce, protective and strong.
A few nights ago I had a dream that Nanna was a young woman, I was walking behind her, and she opened the door of a wardrobe. We stepped through, and she waited. She was not old; she was young and beautiful like the photos I have seen of her in wartime, elegant and classy. She stepped onto the snow, and it crunched under her shoes, and I thought- Oh wow, she hasn’t seen snow before. A massive golden-haired lion walked up, she looked at me with excitement and knowing. She climbed upon his back, stroked his mane and whispered something into his ear. He turned and walked away, she smiled and waved farewell to me, riding this massive lion. I was almost envious and knew I had to come back into the real world and woke.
So I will leave you my favorite CS Lewis Quote:
“All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and the title page: now, at last, they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read: which goes on for ever: in which every chapter is better than the one before.”
Chat soon Ponderers xxx
For those that are interested, one of our favourite movies that has been adapted from The Shack stars Sam Worthington- check out the trailer: