My grandmother, whom we always knew as "Nana", passed away on July 31, 2016 at the age of 82. I could never begin to write a sufficient amount of words to describe Nana to anyone who will not have the blessing of knowing her in this life. Tonight I thought I'd just spend a few paragraphs unpacking her last words, which I think help to paint her portrait very adequately.
Not long before my grandmother drew her final breaths, she awoke and told my mom to go get my sister Annie. Once they returned to Nana's bedside, she looked at Annie and said, "I love you, Annie... You're tough!" And that was it. It's this "toughness" that Nana so respected and that she herself exhibited that I'd like to consider here.
Everyone who knew Joan Creavey knew that she was tough, from her first grade students to her friends to her family. Nana always had a strong personality and a deeply rooted confidence. She knew herself, she knew what the situation called for, and, most of the time, she knew how to accomplish whatever was needed (even if that meant a grandson needed to do a ton of yard work!) Over three decades' worth of first graders learned the importance of making one's best effort, always following through, and refusing to give up. Nana always demanded their very best and she was never one to settle for anything less.
The reason why this was the case is that she never lived her own life at a lower standard than the one she set for everyone else. It runs in her family, most especially her mother's Rosenberger side. Nana's life was characterized by a keen sense of duty and a firm belief that excellence is always possible and attainable. She always understood that we only get one shot at this life and it doesn't make any sense to live that life with an attitude of apathy or fear.
For Nana, tough never meant rigid, impervious, or unbreakable. Nor did she think that the tough person was the one who locked their pain or their emotions away in a hidden chest, never to be mentioned or confronted. "Tough" meant "durable." Nana believed that the tough person was the one who sticks it out, stands up for what's right, speaks his or her mind. The tough person doesn
't accept defeat in a despairing mood but rather gets back up and tries harder. The tough person doesn't sit around waiting for an entitlement. The tough person doesn't brood over old injuries. The tough person learns from his or her mistakes and tries earnestly to avoid repeating them. The tough person loves God, family, friends, neighbors, countrymen, and everyone else more than self. The tough person is humble enough to put himself or herself last in everything, and to give generously to those in need without a moment's hesitation. This is what Nana believed it meant to be "tough." That's why her last words are so profoundly meaningful to us all.
In the end, I'd like to close with a little reflection that might seem odd at first glance, but I assure you there's something to it. Nana always reminded me a little of both C.S. Lewis' character Aslan, the lion from his Narnia series, and J.R.R. Tolkien's Gandalf, the wizard of Middle Earth. Both of these great figures are warm and filled with love, deeply loyal, kind, and even gentle at times. They are generous, inspiring, wise, and protective. Nana was all of these as well.
But there's something else they all share - something much more exciting and difficult to pin down. Aslan and Gandalf are not tame. Neither was Nana. She, like them, was never afraid to lay down the law when the moment called for it. She had the passion and the fortitude to call you out if you were being less than you ought to be. She cared so deeply about your God-given potential for greatness that she didn't have much patience if you attempted to just phone it in. She was like a co-pilot who wasn't afraid to shout out a warning to you when you were flying too low and in danger of crashing. She loved you far too much to let you do that.
In a world so riddled with fear, indecision, and the unwillingness to boldly lean into the howling wind of evil influences, I for one will look to a woman whom I am blessed to call Nana, a woman in whose daily presence I spent most of my young life. I will press on in this often dismal and seemingly hopeless, fallen world with the faith that Nana is with me, praying for me, giving me the courage to fight and challenging me to refuse to stay down whenever I fall. May we all strive thus to believe in excellence, to love with every fiber of our being, and to be, in her words, truly tough.