Tribute to My Grandmother

This is a heartfelt tribute to the woman I call NaNa. It’s the story of our enduring love and my healing after loss. I hope our story inspires you to reminisce about your loved ones and share a few tears and giggles along the way.

February 3rd is the day I lost the closest thing to a mother I’ve ever known. I miss her today as much as I did the moment she left this world. There are times I’d give just about anything to talk with her, cry to her and simply share space with her.

During her final days with us, my grandmother maintained her unwavering selflessness as she gradually and gracefully began her ascent. We said our goodbyes, I told her she’ll always be a part of me, I’ll miss her like crazy, and she could go when she was ready.

And so she stayed a while longer.

Julie's Grandmother - 1925

Our last days together were full of heart-hugging mini miracles. My sixteen-month-old baby was used to receiving a big “Hello, Darlin!” from his NaNa. When he arrived for a visit and her welcome was absent, he leaned in at different angles so she could see him better. When still her reaction was void, he took his little hand and rhythmically stroked her arm, as if he knew she needed his touch.

After a mostly unresponsive day, I was combing her hair and telling her she looked beautiful when suddenly she arose and asked for her lipstick. She always made me laugh at the most inappropriate times.

Then, there was that rainy night when I slipped into my car, bone-weary with emotion, bellowing a desperate, barbaric shrill. I begged for a sign her suffering would soon end and her transition to peace would come.

When I composed myself enough to drive home, I cranked the ignition and froze. I had been listening to talk radio when I arrived that day. But it was Elton John’s Circle of Life piping from the speakers as I left.

The next day, her kidneys shut down and her breathing became frighteningly laborious. But that generous heart kept beating. Her breathing would calm when I spoke, so I never shut up.

It reminded me of the numerous times she flew in for a visit and we stayed up all night gossiping like good Christian girls.

We shared everything. We even bought two identical gifts for birthdays and holidays. We’d see each other wearing the gift we’d given and want it back. Hence our motto: Indian givers buy two.

I was beside her bed that Friday night and still talking. Sharing stories with her gave me the connection I needed. More importantly, repeating the stories was assurance I’d never forget them.

NaNa 1926
NaNa 1928

I recalled all the times she made green coconut icing cupcakes adorned with jelly beans for my Easter-ish birthday. How she bathed me in a minnow-ridden horse trough when, as a toddler, I fell face first into a cow patty.

My favorite was awakening on Christmas to a smoke-filled house. We burned the turkey and giggled all the way to Honey Baked Ham.

And how she begged me to drive from Los Angeles to Oklahoma to spend the millennium with her and her closest friends, sipping margaritas concocted with their favorite ingredient, triple sex.

I cried and giggled for both of us. I thanked her for keeping me alive during my darkest times. And I reluctantly asked her to commit yet one more selfless act. I asked her to accept comfort and peace and to let go, for me.

Thirty seconds later, as I held her hand and kissed her forehead, she removed her ever-so-stylish foot from the door and crossed to the other side. Besides having my children, it was the most precious experience of my life.

“To live in hearts we leave behind is not to die.”

—thomas campbell

There are few people who infinitely impress and alter your life for the better. How fortunate I was to have someone love me more and more each day no matter my faults. Someone who formed my moral compass, shaping the woman I am today.

I never knew life without her infectious laughter, comforting wisdom, and gentle touch. Thankfully, my boys will always know her joy, insight, and embrace because she instilled them in me.

I love and miss you every day, NaNa. I rest easy knowing you’ll have everything and everyone accessorized by the time we get there.

And don’t forget, Darlin’, buy two.

Julie Pedraza and NaNa, 1974

Give your loved ones a huge hug today. Share stories. Make memories. Love. ‘Cause when it’s all said and done, it’s truly all we’ve got. —xo

*I was raised in a predominantly Native American town in Oklahoma. I hold the Native American culture close to my heart. The use of the phrase ‘Indian giver’ within this article is not meant to be derogatory or hurtful toward anyone, especially Native Americans.

Indian Giver is defined as “a gift as a present for which an equivalent return is expected.” In David Wilton’s book, Word Myths: Debunking Linguistic Urban Legends, he explains, “To an Indian, the giving of gifts was an extension of the system of trade and a gift was expected to be reciprocated with something of equal value. Europeans, upon encountering this practice, misunderstood it, considering it uncouth and impolite. To them, trade was conducted with money and gifts were freely given with nothing expected in return. So this native practice got a bad reputation among the white colonists of North America and the term eventually became a playground insult.”

Twisted misconceptions. *sigh*