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“Just Call Me Kris”

November 20, 2013

“Just call me Kris” is what she said. Happened at a camp in the 1940’s. She was a camp counselor and there were too many other counselors with her name, so she said, “Just call me Kris.” And it stuck for the next 70 years of her life.

Kris in Youth

Kris in Youth

My Nana’s birth name was Marion. Her parents, her brother and her brother’s kids called her that. That’s about it. Oh, and the IRS. To me she was my Nana Kris, and she passed away this past summer at 86 and a half years old.

We knew it had been coming. We had put her in the nursing home a little over a year beforehand and she had been steadily declining in the last six months of her life. It is hard to watch someone die. I’ve seen it before, with both my Grandma (my mom’s mom) and my PawPaw (my mom’s grandfather). But it never gets easier, I don’t think it is supposed to. Maybe that is the part that reminds you are alive yourself. Maybe it gets easier in that you begin to know what to expect and how the process works, but the emotion that goes with it… the grief, never gets easier to deal with. As my father likes to point out, I would know, I’ve lost a lot of people in my life.

I made a point to get to the nursing home once a week after we put her there… usually on Sunday. But in those last few weeks I went more. Not that she could really recognize I was there. That slow fading away and memory going is a real witch. We had our last real conversation the last week of June. I had been there for about 15 minutes before she woke up and realized I was there.  She said she was happy to see me one more time before the end, and that she loved me and she was happy she had the chance to tell me that one more time. Oh, and that she  wanted me to get married and have kids. She knew it was getting near the end and even towards the end she still liked to be bossy. She didn’t really recognize me in the the weeks that followed. Briefly, for a moment on the afternoon before she passed, but it was just a moment and she was out of it again.

Those last 24 hours were rough. We knew it was coming, but I really thought we had a few more days than we got. I had been scheduled to go out of town that Friday- a grad school crew reunion on the coast. I was driving to work and had just gotten off the interstate when my Dad called and told me to get back to the nursing home. My Aunt Wen was scheduled to get into town from New York the next week, even changing her flights to leave that day didn’t give us enough time. I spent that Friday afternoon with my Dad, Aunts and Uncle in my Nana’s little room. I kneeled there by her bed and held her hand and kept telling her that we all loved her. We all took turns holding her hand, saying what we each needed to say, telling her it was okay to go, or not saying anything at all. And on a Saturday morning in the middle of July she peacefully passed away.

Kris sailing in the 1960's

Kris sailing in the 1960’s

I loved my Nana very much, but she wasn’t an easy person to love. Kris was, how shall I say this nicely, opinionated. Not only was she opinionated throughout her whole life, she didn’t have much of a filter when it came to sharing what was on her mind. Nor, did she do it with tact (or kindness). As she got older, it got worse and she rarely realized it. Honestly, she made it very hard to be around her many times- for many people. When I accepted my job to return to my alma mater, she criticized the decision as foolish and selfish, when she knew nothing about my field. She criticized everyone’s look and weight. For a family that genetically is a little on the round side (especially in the rear for all of the women) she was obsessed with slenderness. She hated red hair, God bless Emily, my cousin’s fiancee who has red hair, for her patience with Nana. Heaven forbid I ever mentioned my Grandma Pat, my grandfather’s second wife, without her pursing her lips and going into a rage. It was impossible to go out to eat with her, good luck to any server who filled her water glass too full- instant criticism. It wasn’t just a matter of trying to remember to respect your elder’s when you were around her, it was also a matter of trying to watch the line of when was it being respectful to someone who was older vs. telling someone when they were being intentionally unkind.

I realize that we often want to always say the kind things about someone after they pass, and don’t get me wrong, she had many wonderful traits, but I would lying to myself and every member of my family and good friends who read this would know I was lying if I didn’t write about this honestly. It wasn’t easy to love her, which to be very honest, makes me appreciate the relationship I did have with her a little more… because it wasn’t easy, it took effort and care. That may not even make sense, but it does in my head.

As I reflect though, I think that may be part of being a family and that love that goes along with it (storge or philia in Greek love types, look at that, busting out the old college elective courses). You accept the unpleasant habits along with the good ones. As critical as she was,  I never doubted that she loved me, was proud of me and wanted the best for me. She helped teach me to drive, even took me to my driver’s test that I passed (my second, I’m still bitter that I failed the first). She always praised my photography hobby, every nurse at her facility and every member of her choir knew all about her grandchildren. The reason I learned German and studied abroad in Germany was because she was so proud of our German heritage and passed that down to me. I have her blue eyes. And like most members of my family, I am pretty damn opinionated, and I can back up that opinion with reason… as can every member of our family. I’ve tried though to be kind (more often than not) when sharing that opinion, and I’ve managed to do it without needing prescription drugs 🙂

Nana, thanks for the various life lessons and the love that was there, even when it was hard to tell. Even though you pushed for perfection, you taught me that it doesn’t have to be perfect. I value everything you taught me, even the lessons you didn’t intend to teach.

Abschied meine Oma. Bis wir uns wieder treffen. “Farewell my grandmother, until we meet again.”

Kris in her 70's

Kris in her 70’s

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