In memory of Nancy Hays Gurney, Jan 4, 1956 – May 3, 2005
Fifteen years since the world has seen your smirk . . . since I’ve felt your hug squeeze the breath out of me, your soft raspberry bathrobe against my cheek . . . since I’ve heard you say both my first and middle names, playfully exasperated, hands on hips.
You meant so much to so many.
You had a literal skip to your step. You wore your mood and heart on your sleeve. You were silly and nosy, with a soft spot for barn cats and people cast out from society. You rarely backed down from a bet. You loved Asti Spumante and the color periwinkle.
You were my Aunt Nancy. You were my second mom growing up. You were my neighbor. You brushed my hair; you pulled out my wiggly teeth. You taught me to swim and dive. You fed me peanut butter and fluff sandwiches. You were my coworker at Grammy’s store.
Yours was a love I didn’t need to question or earn. It was constant. I was adored.
How lucky am I to have been gifted that? To have been shown that? To have been taught that?
Looking back, when I was twenty-three and your life was drawing to an end, I didn’t know nearly as much as I thought I did—least of all about death. I was young, trying to find myself, pretending my way into adulthood. Before moving, I crocheted hats for you to keep your head warm and took you to chemo infusions. After moving, we sent each other cards and care packages on special occasions and “just because.” When your daughter called to say you weren’t doing well, I didn’t know what to think.
I knew enough to drop everything and show up, impossible as it felt.
I knew enough to grab a piece of stationary and a stuffed animal holding daisies you had given me.
I knew enough to pour my aching heart out onto that paper, roll it up, tuck it in the arms of that teddy bear, and then place it in yours.
I knew enough to ask for a private moment with you; to carefully curl up on the hospital bed; to read that note aloud; and to let a few tears drop as you whispered your final words to me, “I love you,” too tired to open your eyes any longer.
I knew enough to stay put after you died as we surrounded ourselves with loved ones and stories, creating photo collages of your legacy and gathering for services.
Time is fickle in grief: it softens the sharp edges of longing while blurring the crisp details of memories. I find I can’t “hear” the sound of your laugh any longer. Your presence persists, though. My kids and husband know of you. My son is named for you. We serve peas (your favorite) at holiday meals in your honor. You are spoken of and treasured.
There’s still much I don’t know even after facing more losses since yours. I know I couldn’t have said words like these aloud at your funeral (my heart was too broken), but I know enough to realize it’s never too late to reminisce or celebrate or heal.