Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Learning About the Finer Things in Life

My Nana - Karen Elizabeth Christensen
Nordstrom. Starbucks. Clinique. Traveling. Dining out. Going to the theater. Fancy dresses. Broadway musicals. Christmas decorations. Fredrick & Nelson. Frangos. Baskin Robins. 4th of July fireworks. Downtown Seattle. Tea at The Empress. Butchart Gardens.

All of these things remind me of my Nana.

Today is my maternal grandmother's birthday. She would have been 71. My Nana suffered a stroke in November 2011 and passed away in her sleep from heart failure in December 2012.

When I was seven-years-old, Nana took me on a 10-day trip to Washington D.C. For a girl enamored by history, it might as well been Disneyland. In later years we traveled the Oregon Trail, visited San Francisco for a weekend, and enjoyed the splendor of New York City at Thanksgiving. When I was 16 she took my entire family to Disneyland for the first time. Best family vacation--hands down.

Growing up in Everett, WA, Canada was only a few hours away. My family and I spent many happy vacations and weekend trips in Vancouver and Victoria with Nana. For my 12th birthday we got dressed up--complete with hats and gloves--and had high tea at the magnificent Empress hotel.

It's because of Nana that I've been places and seen things I might not have otherwise seen.

No regular outing with Nana was complete with out a visit to Starbucks. My siblings and I would order our favorite butterhorns and hot chocolate. Nana would always get a venti unsweetened iced tea and then proceed to load it with several packets of sugar. We'd pile into her Blazer and head-off to run errands (she was always running errands), go shopping, or simply enjoy the drive.

Nana showed us her love by giving us experiences. She taught us to ask for the things we deserved and not be ashamed to walk into a department store like Nordstrom. She also taught me to take pride in being a woman. Nana knew how to take care of herself. I used to love watching her put on her makeup and spray her fabulous salt and pepper hair with hairspray. My mom and I both wear Clinique because of her. 

My Nana lived an interesting and somewhat selfish life. As I've gotten older I've realized she did the best she knew how. She was sexually abused as a child and as an adult, struggled with alcoholism. She was married several times, had a few affairs, and wasn't the greatest mother. Eventually, she got sober and made her career as a drug and alcohol counselor and consultant. She paved the way for addiction recovery in the State of Washington and died with over 30 years of sobriety.

While my Nana was a wonderful grandmother to my siblings and I growing up, the last five years or so that she was alive, her relationship with my family was tumultuous and volatile. When she died we were not on the best of terms, which made her passing that much more difficult. However, time does help to heal wounds.

When I think of her now I try to focus on all of the good memories and time we spent together, rather than the not-so-distant heartache and anger.

I wish I could tell Nana about my adventures here in Chicago. I know she would be proud of the woman I am becoming. There are moments of stillness when I look around and realize she's a part of me. That some of who I am and where I am in my life is because of her. I especially feel that way when I'm traipsing around downtown Chicago or dining out with a close friend at a new restaurant.

Nana taught me about the finer things in life and for that I will be forever grateful. I love you, Nana. Happy Birthday.

At Nana's Memorial Service - January 2013

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