Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Goodbyes are so hard

Most of us are lucky enough to have a handful of friends who we love like family. Holidays, weddings and birthdays are all great excuses to get together. But really, no excuse is needed. You know they're right there whenever and for whatever reason. They know you're there, too. Calling any time, night or day, is OK — and that goes without saying.

Allison and I have been friends since seventh grade. That puts our friendship at the ripe-old age of 19. She thought I was cool because I wore Tretron tennis shoes, and I just wished my perm looked as good as hers.

From the first day we met, we were like sisters. We drove our parents crazy giggling all night during sleepovers. And we fought over stupid little things like whose middle name was spelled "correctly:" Mine is L-E-E and hers is L-E-I-G-H.

Her parents became my surrogate parents, and her grandmother treated me as her own grandchild.

During the Blizzard of 1993, which dumped a foot or two of snow on my hometown overnight, I was stuck with Allison's family for the better part of a week. City streets were impassable, and the power was out for several days, so we made our way next door to her grandmother's house because she had a kerosene heater. We huddled around that heat until our skin burned, but we were never really "warm." So we made the best of it by playing games and sledding down the one hill in their backyard.

Her grandmother, a tiny woman with an enormous laugh and an even bigger heart, cooked us dinner each night on that heater. And, much to our delight, she served us vanilla snow for dessert. We were in awe of her ability to make things work despite no power and our dwindling supply of food. But she just shook her head and laughed at us. We hadn't been through the tough times she had known, and thank goodness we probably never would.

Once I was old enough to date, Nannie (pronounced "Neenie" with a thick Southern drawl), dished out advice on men — whether I asked for it or not. She delighted in watching Allison and I smile for photos with our prom dates . And when it was time for us to go to college, she always wanted to be sure we were doing alright.

Her candy dishes were always full and her door was always open for company. I last opened her front door two Sundays ago. It was blazing hot in that house. But she was bundled up under multiple layers of clothes. Lung cancer was running its ugly course.

As usual, Nannie asked about my love life. I told her I was single, and she looked at me with a small smile and said, "You're probably better off without any men. Just make yourself happy."

We talked about my life and my plans for the future. She asked about everything: My career, my family, my car and the last guy I dated.

She was tired. Her usual sassy personality had dwindled a bit. And that big laugh we all loved so much was no longer an option.

Nannie passed away yesterday morning. I think we both knew last Sunday's visit was the last talk we would have. But we never would've said it.

Tomorrow is going to be difficult. Saying goodbye and not hearing her tell me to come by for dinner anytime is going to break my heart.

In a way, we've already said our goodbyes, silently. But I would love to tell Nannie how much I'm going to miss her.