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My Grandma Died Yesterday But It Will Not Be On CNN

Yesterday, my grandmother died.

She was 90 years old, beautiful, graceful and full of wisdom as only someone who's lived nine decades could be.

We called her Na-elen, (pronounced Nay-elen) short for Nana Helen, and for the past 10 years, she's been battling cancer off and on, first in her breasts and then in her bones, and when I was in Virginia last week visiting with her, I sensed that she had had enough.

I wrote about my grandmother, Helen Nurse, often. One of my most recent writings was a post for BabyCenter when Elizabeth Edwards passed away from breast cancer. I wrote, among other things, that when my grandmother passed, remarkable woman that she is, that it would not be announced on CNN.  Sanjay Gupta would not report on the details of her disease.

Today, this is my CNN.

When my parents called to tell me the news, my mind was immediately flooded with memories–I don't think there was a recital, concert, graduation, art fair, award ceremony, or sticker-placing-on that Naelen wasn't present for. Not just mine, but for my niece too. While I was growing up, she lived about eight blocks away from us in St. Albans, Queens and she was a fixture in our lives. 

She had one of those fancy, heavy glass candy dishes at her house and it was always full of peppermints.

She introduced me to raw onion in a green salad, and I'm still a fan.

She never let me leave her house empty handed, even if it was just a few peppermints. On top of the ones I had already snuck into my pocket.

And though we were raised not celebrating Christmas, she arrived every December 25th with presents for us colorfully wrapped in the Sunday comics with nary a mention of the holidays. It was our unspoken code.

I always went to her house to see the latest issue of Ebony or Jet (does anyone under 50 subscribe anymore??) 

She was lively, vibrant and addicted to Regis and Kathie Lee, later, Kelly!, which made her more up to speed on pop culture than I was. Sometimes that was embarrassing–to be filled in by your grandmother.

And she was the kind of grandmother who always, I mean always, made sure you were eating.

When I was visiting her last week, trying to give my Aunt some assistance with her care, she wasn't talking much. I knew this was not good. And she was not eating much, which wasn't like her either.

Last week, she didn't want to eat, but kept asking me if I had eaten. This is my grandmother in true form. We played a game about how much Cream of Wheat she would eat before I went to have my own breakfast, and when she completed her end of the deal, I had to come back and show her my plate of toast and eggs, to prove that I was indeed, eating.  Even with a failing memory, she hadn't forgotten that.

Years ago, when I found out I was pregnant but not married, I remember feeling so embarrassed to tell her, but she was so understanding. Later, when I was facing my pregnancy alone, she reminded me, "one monkey don't stop the show."  She said this again years later, when the husband moved out. 

But what I remember most, and tried to tell my children today, is Naelen's bravery and grace while her body was being attacked. She rarely complained and quietly endured pain, treatment after treatment. 

And when I was overwhelmed or in a personal funk or a business funk or a personal funk caused by a business funk (because my business is personal), I remembered what she was enduring and realized I had much for which to be grateful.

She was my reality check, adding a healthy dose of perspective when my own troubles clouded my vision.

Last October, we had a fabulous 90th life anniversary party for her, and she was truly our queen for the day with her grandchildren, great grands, nieces, nephews, and friends around her. I'm so she glad she had that experience.

Last night, I couldn't sleep. I was thinking of my grandmother, crying over my grandmother, and consumed with emotions. I felt emotionally spent and empty and exhausted. And not knowing what to do because my parents are in South Carolina, my sister and aunt are in Virginia and I have never lost someone so close to me when my family is so far away. 

I was lying in my room alone.

I didn't know what to do.

So I did what Naelen would have wanted, and had something to eat. 

 

Thank you for listening,

Kimberly

If  you've lost someone recently, this can be our collective CNN. I would love to her your stories.

 

Naelen holding baby Kayla. Check out the chubby cheek, Seals resemblance.

My sister (pink dress), with Naelen center stage at her 90th celebration

Comments
9 Responses to “My Grandma Died Yesterday But It Will Not Be On CNN”
  1. Chanel L. says:

    That was beautiful. Your Naelen sounds just like my Nana.
    She’s 81 and has always been my best friend. Can’t imagine what life would be like without her.
    Hang in there.

    Chanel

  2. Janice Gentles-Jones says:

    Kimberly, I am so sorry for your lost and even more sorry that your family is so far away. Your grandma sounds like she was a wonderful woman who had a positive impact on your life. Although she may not be physically here anymore, she will live on through your memories, through the actions that you perform that you learned from her and through the stories that you share with your children. Losing a love one is never easy so take it one minute at a time and know you were one of the lucky people to have such a special grandma. God bless you and your family.

    Sending you a hug,

    Janice Gentles-Jones

  3. Tamara says:

    I’m so sorry to hear of the passing of your “Naelean”, My heartfelt sympathies are with you and your family…

    I get your emails all the time, and often wonder how I began getting them, I don’t have any children and then the other day I was in Barnes and Noble and saw your book on the shelves and became in engrossed in it and said I can’t wait to until I get pregnant to purchase this book, I’m going to get it now and have when/if I do get pregnant. (my short story about you and how you’ve touched my life).

    So as we celebrate International Women Day and the most important woman in my life ~ I salute you Ms. Helen, for the Phenomenal Woman you were and the life and legacy that you leave behind! Rest In Peace as Heaven is rejoicing b/c another angel has made their way home!!!

    Kimberly stand strong ~ cry when you want, laugh when you want, sneak a peppermint or two from the candy jar, and make sure you eat something b/c Naelen would have it no other way!!! 🙂

  4. Kimberly, very sorry to hear about your Nana. You have definitely been on my mind these last few weeks and I have sooooo been meaning to reach out to you. Please know that you, the kids and your family are in my prayers. I am so glad you had the opportunity to visit with her one last time. Sending love, comfort and more blessings than you can hold from the Price-Rutty household…

    Andi

  5. Kimberly,

    Thank you for sharing your story. You are an inspiration for grace under fire. I was not blessed to grow up with my grandmothers’s and I now have a little bit of insight into the amazing power of a grandmother’s love.

    Blessings and prayers for you and your family,

    Nicole

  6. Shondra says:

    Prayers of comfort and wonderful memories of your grandmother to you. She sounds like a woman of true grace and strength. It is a blessing that your children were able to know her, and that she lived a long fulfilled life. Praying for you and your family.

  7. Katoia Wilkins says:

    Kimberly,

    My condolences to you and your family. Thank you for sharing your beautiful story about your Naelen. My heart is heavy for you having your family so far away during this difficult time.

    It’s amazing the memories that stick with us and you have shared some wonderful stories of your life with your Naelen. Cherish those memories and continue to share those stories with your children her legacy continues!

    Much Love,
    Katoia

  8. Shavone says:

    My condolences to you and your family. Thank you for sharing your story of your Naelen. I have not been able to experience having any grandparent in my life. My grandparents passed away before i was able to know them. My paternal grandmother was a distant relative, who may not known how to express her love to me.

    I’m glad appreciate hearing about your experiences with your grandmother and hope that my children are able to have the same joyous experience with their grandmothers.

    Sympathy for you and your family.

  9. Pat Barksdale says:

    Kimberly,
    My mom passed away 9 years ago March 11, 2002 and I miss her immensely and always find comfort in laughing about the funny things that she would say and do. My neices and nephews idolized their Nana and the memories that they have of her. We often celebrate in music and dance because she loved when we all got together and danced. My thoughts are with you and when you’re feeling alone, just smile and go get something to eat!

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