My Nana Hazel passed away this week.
I have been living in Los Angeles for over six years now, and this new reality with the pandemic meant I wasn’t able to fly home to be with her or my family. It was only a few days ago my mum texted that her condition had worsened and that it might be time to say our final goodbyes over a call. There were so many things I wanted to say, but without being in Melbourne and Nana rapidly declining, it would only be a quick conversation.
Knowing my mum would call soon on FaceTime, there were a few options of what to say that went through my head. She had been deaf from a young age, and I knew it would be difficult for her to lip-read anything too intricate. We had tried FaceTime after my grandfather passed away, which was often successful, but there were many times she just couldn’t catch what I was saying without him there to translate. When my mum called me and held the phone to my Nana as she lay in her bed, we both said the same thing. “I love you very much, and you will always be in my heart.”
When I first started traveling for long periods, I took time for granted. It became more fluid as I passed through cities and towns on long bus rides, the journey never-ending as there was no destination in mind. Internet became so scarce sometimes that I spent three weeks trekking in the Himalayas before I was able to speak with my family. My Nana and Grandpa would email me, wondering where I was in the world and when I could be in touch. My ambition was to travel freely; I often took that too literally.
Now that I live in Los Angeles, it’s a reality that has become all the more urgent as my family and friends continue their journey through life, and the changes keep coming. Time doesn’t wait for anyone or anything. My cousin got married, my mum built a new house, friends had babies, and my Grandpa Stan passed away. Life has continued rapidly and without mercy.
When my Nana received a life-altering diagnosis, not 6 months after my Grandpa had passed away, I was determined to be even more present in her life. For years the choices I made became the sacrifices I lived with. I have missed many Simchas and opportunities to build memories. But although I haven’t been able to return to Melbourne often, I wanted my relationship with Nana to feel more whole. So we had a year of emailing back and forth, which was wonderful.
Every week I had a new email in my inbox where I would get to read about her days. She went through her ups and downs, moving on from my Grandpa’s death, and soon decided to dive straight into all the activities available at Emmy Monash. She would paint colorful flowers, meet with visiting young school kids, and take flower arrangement classes. She played bridge and rummy tiles and watched the sports she enjoyed with my grandfather. She became so busy that she would sign off her emails quickly to get to her next program.
She often wrote about Australia’s response to the pandemic and was miserable not being able to see her family for months. I would try to shift the topics in my emails to help relieve some of her worries, encouraging her to watch The Two Popes on Netflix, which she adored, and telling her about older films I’d seen in the hopes she had seen them too. Nana was fascinated by my work as a script consultant, and I would sometimes send her stories I thought she would enjoy. She would give unrelenting support when my job became difficult and encouraged me to continue thriving. She also wanted me to work for Nicole Kidman’s production company so badly so I could be closer to home, and I told her I wished it was that easy.
But above all else, I was able to show her my life in LA, knowing it would be impossible for her to visit. I would walk her around my apartment and send pictures of her painting I put up on the wall by my front window. I introduced her to my boyfriend, whose name she had difficulty spelling, and told her stories about our road trips. I showed her our blossoming sunflowers in the front yard and the fragile herbs that caved easily to the desert heat. I even took her on a trip to San Francisco, sending her a huge barrage of photos of our dog waddling in the ocean as my boyfriend laughed against the setting sun.
These moments reduced the distance between us, and the emails became an extension of the conversations we would have in person over coffee. She was always excited to see what life had in store and spoke of her pride in my journey. While she’s gone, I remember that nothing was left unsaid up until the very end, and if anything, I wish there was more time to say more. But I have over a hundred emails back and forth of laughs, triumphs, and insurmountable love.
For Nana, I will continue to give her love to my boyfriend and a pat on our dog Olive. It’s how she ended every email. She was an incredibly resilient woman who taught us all strength and what it means to be loved unconditionally.
You will always be in my heart,
Your beautiful boy Matthew