Lisa and Nonna
Lisa and Nonna

I’ve heard it said that a bond between a grandparent and a grandchild can be a magical one. If I could properly find the words to describe my deep connection with my late Nonna, my maternal grandmother, this piece would be a lot easier to write. But I think the problem lies with this: there are no words in the human dictionary that can truly make you understand and describe the love we had. She was not just my grandmother – she was my best friend. She was my confidante. She was the one I called almost every evening around 7 p.m. while I was putting laundry away or getting my son’s bath ready. She loved hearing the latest gossip at work or getting updates about my friends and our relatives.

How much time did I spend with Nonna?

My parents would go on vacations when I was a teenager or young adult, Nonna would pack up a suitcase and stay with me for a week or two. Of course I didn’t need a babysitter, but it was a chance to spend time with me and me alone. We’d go for walks, go out for dinner and rent movies at the corner store.

Now most teenagers would probably balk at the idea of having a grandparent there for over a week. There goes the chance for wild house parties and staying out late with friends, one may think. But even as a young person, I knew in my heart that there would be one day when Nonna wouldn’t be with us, and I wanted to make the most of whatever time I could spend with her.

What was Nonna like?

At the end of each phone call and visit, she’d say thank you, and I never truly understood why until after she was gone. For a grandmother, the greatest gift she could have is the knowledge that her grandchild truly wanted to spend time with her and appreciated her. And I really did.

Nonna was the matriarch of our small family. She was the glue that held us all together. But she was slowly getting weaker, especially around late 2014. By early spring 2015, I received a terrible phone call at work that I’ll never forget.

A pivotal change – a caregiving granddaughter needed

“Nonna’s been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer,” my mother said into the phone, choking back tears. “And it’s very advanced.” I remember standing in the kitchen at work, one clammy hand clutching my cell phone and trying very hard not to cry. “How long…?” I managed to blurt out. “Maybe three to six months at best,” she said. I hung up the phone, wanting the conversation to end so badly.

What was I thinking?

I went back to my desk, my eyes brimming with tears, and sat down. I tried to work, but the tears kept clouding my vision. Three to six months. I couldn’t imagine a world without my Nonna in it. She was 86 years old – I knew she wasn’t young. I knew she had lived a long life. So many questions swirled in my head. What would we be up against in the next year? Would she suffer? Nothing could have prepared any of my family members for the challenges the next six months would truly bring.