Monday, May 25, 2015

For My Nonny

This weekend was a bittersweet one. My precious grandmother passed away in the early hours of Sunday morning, after a 4-year battle with Lou Gehrig's Disease. I've posted about her a couple of times, and mentioned her frequently, as she was one of my best friends. My mom was an only child and I was the first-born, and so Nonny, as I call her, and I were incredibly close from the very beginning. Grandmothers are incredibly precious people, and I've been been blessed with incredible ones.

My best friend told me one day when we were talking about Nonny that she had seen few relationships like ours. I had never really thought about it, because it's how it had always been. Nonny requested a picture of my outfit every day, and we talked on the phone every afternoon on my way home from work. Those two traditions started when I began working, but our close-knit relationship began long before that. When I was three years old, Nonny wanted me to learn to play a musical instrument, and she ended up choosing the violin. She brought me a tiny violin and began taking me to my lessons, which were an hour away once a week. Those violin lessons gave me musical talent that I will forever cherish, but it honed in on a relationship that is one of the best I've ever known. She didn't just take me to lessons; the days I had violin were "our" days. She would make an event out of it. It could have been dinner, a trip to the park, a shopping excursion - no matter what we were doing, we had a great time. And it wasn't just the events. Our car rides were never boring, and we made up stories or songs -- after listening to violin music, of course.

The lessons continued, and my grandmother wanted me to continue learning, so we also went to a violin camp every summer. They started in this area: East Carolina University, Sweet Briar, Emory and Henry. Then one day, we decided to go to Miami for violin camp. Again, it wasn't just violin. It was a trip that the two of us shared, and we spent extra days traveling to different places with me as the GPS,. This was before Siri, after all. Then one day, Nonny handed me a booklet of camps in the US and said pick one, any one you want. I through out the option of Hawaii, and believe it or not, she was all for it. Nonny is a traveler, you see, and she instilled that in me from an early age. The two of us packed our bags and headed to Honolulu, where we didn't just play violin, we did so much more. We visited beautiful beaches, swam with dolphins, experienced Hawaiian culture, a trip to remember.

As I got older, the violin lessons came to an end, though I still played and we continued to spend time together. I eventually graduated and headed to college, and we picked a day where we would talk on the phone so I could tell her all about my week at school. Then, we started talking any time I made the trip home on the weekend. We could fill two hours with no problem. Her house was on the way home to my parents', so I would stop by frequently whenever I was home and we would still spend time together.

College continued, and I competed for Miss North Carolina. She and my mom were my rocks through that process. We traveled to South Carolina together to pick out my wardrobe, do photos, and work on interview, and she was in the crowd every single night cheering me on. Near the end of that same summer, she was diagnosed with ALS, a disease that I had heard of very few times, but would be three letters that I would come to despise.

At first, the disease had very little effect. Nonny would trip occasionally, which is what gave her the warning signs in the process, but other than that. Everything was still normal.We continued our conversations and visits and adventures, and all was well. The summer before I moved to my very first apartment, we spent countless hours picking out things to make it perfect. She randomly picked out canvases that she thought I would like or created flower arrangements to make for a girly room. I got Sophie that summer, and we would put her in her doggy bag and go shopping, hang out on her dock, and the like. Eventually she started using a cane, but again, nothing major, and her disease fell to the back of my mind. 

The summer of 2012 was one we spent a lot of time together, but several memories really stick out. She was staying with me at my apartment in Raleigh so we could go to Miss North Carolina that week, but during the day, we went shopping {clearly, we like shopping} or would just hang out at my apartment and chat. One particular memory sticks out from that week. We were heading to a shopping center that Nonny wanted to visit, and we completely missed the turn. We kept driving and driving, but neither of us noticed because we were so immersed in conversation. We finally turned around and drove back, and we never ended up at the shopping center but it didn't matter, because we had each other. When your grandmother is your best friend, the conversation never gets old.

That same summer, we took a trip to Europe, which was easily two of the best weeks of my life. Nonny was using a walker at that point and we used a wheelchair as walking far distances was difficult. Nonny has always been a traveler, and her disease did not stop her. We visited Switzerland, Austria, France, Germany and the Netherlands, and every single second of the trip was incredible. Nonny and I were roommates for every piece of our trip. We were seat buddies on our flights, sat together on each train, and of course stayed together in each hotel and in our room aboard our river cruise. I will never forget those days, because though we had always adventured together, I felt like I could really see her in her element. She went on three more trips after that one, experiencing new places with her close friends. 

I finished up my senior year of college, and was so glad that she was in the audience to watch me graduate. She was again in the audience for my final time competing for Miss North Carolina, and was still so proud when I came home without a crown. I was scheduled to start working at the end of the summer, but the time between graduating and then we spent so many days together. I would get to her house in the morning and would not leave until after dinner. We would play cards, shop, eat lunch or dinner, look at her iPad, paint pottery - anything and everything. That same summer, a watermelon mysteriously began growing in her front yard at her beach house, and we watched it grow from the size of a phone to a full-sized watermelon. The night I left her house before starting my job, which would be four hours away from my family, I remember not wanting to leave. She said to me, "This has been the greatest summer of my life," and I felt the exact same way. I knew our relationship would never change, but the flexibility I had of being right near her was going to change. I drove home that night in tears, and contemplated changing my job plans because I didn't want to lose that. I mentioned it to her, and she would never have it. She was excited for me and my new adventure, for my first "big girl" job. 

Nonny went with my parents and me to help me move in to my apartment. Though she couldn't physically do as much moving, she directed traffic, helped me with decorating, and did things to make my apartment a home. Again, I cried as she and my mom drove away and left me at my new home, but my entire family had faith that I could do it. The four hour drive home and four hour drive back to Huntersville was filled with our conversations. Four hours and we still had something to talk about, plus the talks we had every day on my way home from work. 

Eventually, I moved back to Raleigh and was thankful to be closer to my family, and the rest is history. I was able to see my grandmother a lot more, though by this point, the disease was starting to take hold without relief. Nonny was in a wheelchair for pretty much any outing, but don't worry, she could still text, "Where's my picture?" This last year happened quickly in terms of progression, but I think it had a lot to do with what was left to progress. She slowly began losing the ability to use her hands, which was hard for me to watch, but I was so thankful she still had her sweet voice and we still had our precious time together. Eventually, she was in a wheelchair unless she was in the bed until she could no longer get out of bed, but our conversations never ended. Now we're here, and I have the best guardian angel in the world.

It still seems surreal. I got ready yesterday and thought I can't wait for Nonny to see my dress today, only to realize that she was seeing it from heaven. I've reached for my phone numerous times to send her a quick text, and I know I'll be doing that for a long time. I'm so thankful to have someone in my life who I miss so much already. My life is forever changed because of her, and it is forever changed now that she is no longer here on earth. My family and I celebrated my birthday tonight at one of the places I went to frequently with Nonny, and I could feel her with me. 

Nonny always believed in me, no matter the feat. She believed in this blog, and read it most every day. She always had faith in me, but never failed to give me her opinion, and I value her opinion more than anything. I've never felt a pain like I've felt in the last few days. Though we are so thankful she is now at peace and no longer in pain, it is still incredibly hard to believe this is our reality. The next days, months, and years will be hard without her, because my 24 years of existence have only included her, but she has taught me so many incredible things: be strong, even in the face of despair, cling to your faith, speak only kind words. I could write a book about what she means to me and what I've learned from her, and I feel like this doesn't even do her justice, because she is just that incredible. The legacy that she leaves behind her is nothing short of amazing. She's a mother, a grandmother, a sister, a wife, an aunt, a teacher, and a best friend, a best friend who will never leave my heart. I can still hear her say I love you, my baby. And I love you, my Nonny. 

ALS is a motor neuron disease that affects the brain's ability to control muscular movement. To learn more or donate to the cause, please visit
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