I wrote the below the week after we lost my grandmother. I decided to share this on my blog because Nanny- as we called my grandmother- loved my blogposts and always supported my writing. She subscribed to the blog and so many times after I would post a blogpost, or would send a lengthly travel journal update to our family, Nanny would write back enthusiastically about how much she enjoyed reading anything and everything I had to say. I want to be able to return this post whenever I am missing her, or feel like I am forgetting elements about her, in hopes these reflections bring me some comfort and laughs.
I love you, Nan. I miss you everyday. Here’s to you.
There is no one in this world like her. This past week, we lost my grandmother, known to her grandchildren as ‘Nanny.’ Janet Anne Kelly, whom I am honoured to be named after, was a formidable woman. I could list all of her achievements here and talk about incredible kindness and legacy she left the students she taught, her town and her family and friends, and I could also list off all of the charities she volunteered for and all of her incredible academic and other achievements, but those beautiful words can be found in her obituary. I want to write about who she was to me, her “little rainbow.”
To me, Nanny was an incomparable matriarch. A bonus parent. A confidante. A best friend to me. She is the woman who traded in her beloved Saab to buy a minivan so she could carpool me, my sisters, and our friends to dance while my mom was busy being a single working mom. Nanny was the one who kept my belly button piercing a secret from my mom when I asked her to “until it gets infected” (it never got infected). Nanny was a best friend to me, someone I saw daily, called weekly and try to emulate often.
Nanny believed in love; she taught us the power of family and the importance of true friendships that she fostered with care. She and her beloved sister raised their families, despite international borders, to care for one another as close family. She welcomed every guest in a conversation with an open heart; she had her opinions yet listened to all sides of every story.
Nan was independent and was perfectly content on her own- which in turn gave us so much more of her. Lucky us.
Nanny was absolutely hilarious. She always told me I was “full of it” when I was in a silly mood, but Nanny cracked us up on so many occasions. When we were kids, she would hear a firetruck siren in the distance and would grab her car keys. “Get in the car!” she’d say, and we would all jump in her car to follow the blaring alarm to see where in town the event was. She’d play along with silly ‘bits’ like being featured in theatrical cassette tapes Bridget and I would record, and she was always fudging or making up words, forcing us to laugh so hard we cried. Nanny also made the best peach cobbler- until the time she accidentally made it with 1/2 a cup of salt instead of sugar (which again, made me laugh uncontrollably). She’d just shrug, laugh and say “What are you gunna do?” Words to live by. That was her way.
Nanny was compassionate. She is the one who took in all of us when we needed a place to live. As the years went on and it was harder for her to hear well, she never complained and instead simply watched with joy the loud chaos and gusto that her family brought into her home and at larger family parties in Buffalo.
Nanny was a teacher. One of my favourite things about driving over the border with her was, without fail, the border officer was someone she taught, and they would act incredibly serious until they realized Nan was in the car—“Oh, hi Mrs. Doan!” they would exclaim, and gush about how good it was to see her, and about how she was their favourite teacher ever.
Nanny was an educator and an avid reader too. She read so much, she couldn’t even remember a book she read two weeks prior, because she was already on to something else and was immediately taken with it. I once asked if I could interview her about her favourite books on my blog and she declined, stating that once she moves on from a book, she has moved on completely. Being the teacher she was, however, she was always offering to help me structure my elementary school speeches, and helped guide me with math. I like to think that I inherited my love of reading from my two grandmothers; I feel incredibly lucky. Nanny always encouraged my strengths, my reading and writing especially. She was my biggest fan, and I was hers.
Nanny was a cheerleader. She came to every dance recital. She loved breakfasts at local diners, and adored a big glass of white wine- she wasn’t picky with what kind. She was always learning- taking courses, reading, playing golf, volunteering somewhere new, going to see plays, and playing bridge. And yet Nanny always made time for us. I would drive around to volunteering sessions for Meals on Wheels with her, just so we could hang out, and I could hear her stories as we tapped our feet along to Frank Sinatra in her car. She always let me be exactly who I was, while still calling me out on my bull. Every time I came home from university, my mom would joke that Nanny would see me before mom did: the first thing I would do was drop my stuff off and head to Nanny’s next door. We would talk for hours about nothing and everything. She was the best listener.
Nanny was a thoughtful warrior; she was bright and cheery and full of tenacity and strength. Her family name is Kelly- meaning ‘warrior’ in Celtic. I would ask her what it was like being in elementary school during the war, how she continued to move on after losing her mom, and what it was like when she got divorced. Nanny would talk about drills where they would put down the blinds and hide under desks. She would tell me how difficult things in life could be, like losing her mother, but she always talked about getting through it and moving on, and the faith she carried with her to help her navigate those difficult situations. Nan would tell tales of her family growing up; I would listen to it all and my only regret is not writing her stories down.
Nanny was filled with hope. She believed in the good in people, and she gave second chances, formed her own opinions, and let others in with a warm heart.
Ever since I was a little girl, Nanny called me her little rainbow. She addressed every card she ever wrote to me “to my little rainbow,” for as long as I can remember. As I write this, with tears falling down my cheeks, I think of the meaning of a rainbow: Hope. Promise. New beginnings. Peace. She may have felt that when her grandchildren were born, a new generation of hope is what we represented. But I think the reverse is true- hope, kindness, peace, trust in God… is what she inspires in me and so many of the lives she touched. Nanny is the kind of person that this world needs.
I know Nanny would always want us to continue looking for the little rainbows in life, to find peace and to cherish new chapters. And while we’re down here working to emulate her and keeping her memory alive, I’m hoping she is enjoying a big glass of wine held by a brightly manicured hand, on the other side of rainbow upstairs.
I love you and miss you, Nanny. I will work every day to make you proud. I’m so honoured to have known you and learned from you.
Your Little Rainbow