Two weeks ago, my mom, dad and I went to Crystal Beach to finish cleaning out Nana's house because we had just put it on the market and I wanted to be able to finish that project on my schedule, not a buyer's schedule. Plus, I thought it would sell better if it was empty. Oh, yes, you read that correctly. BOTH of my parents, who have been divorced for 30 years, went to Florida together to help me with this chore. But that's not what we're here to discuss.
One of the "must do's" while we were in Crystal Beach was to attend Sunday morning church at Crystal Beach Community Church. As a reminder, my step-grandfather was the first minister at CBCC, Nana was the second member of the church, the pews in the church are there due to Nana's efforts and sizable donation after my real grandfather died in 1961, my mom grew up in the church, my parents were married there in 1970, and I was baptized there in 1971.
As always, we sat in Nana's pew. It's actually the pew that has the plaque with my grandfather, Jesse Paulk's name on it, but I always refer to it as Nana's pew. It's the fifth pew from the front on the right side. I suppose there are other pews to sit in, but I've never sat in them. Ever.
Growing up, I remember attending church with Nana each Sunday when we visited. It wasn't optional. We just went. Nana never missed a Sunday and we never missed a Sunday with her. Without fail, at some point during the church service, she'd always reach over and take my hand. She'd wrap her little hand around mine and just hold it as long as I'd let her. Sometimes she'd pull my hand onto her lap and pat my hand with her free hand as she held it.
Nana's been gone for 3 1/2 years and in that time, I don't think I've ever felt her presence. I've seen her in dreams, but I've never felt her presence. Until that day two weeks ago.
The first hymn on Sunday was "Lord, I Want to be a Christian." As I was standing and attempting to sing along, I could see Nana and suddenly felt her presence. On my left side, I felt her right hand wrap around my left one. I could feel the softness of her skin, the delicateness of her hand, and the warmth and coolness that always permeated from her skin simultaneously.
My eyes welled up with tears, as I tried to subtly wipe them away. Needless to say, it didn't work. I spent most of the ceremony crying.
I cried because I miss Nana and because it was the last time I'll ever be in Crystal Beach. It was the last time I'll ever be in the only church I've ever felt comfortable in. Three and a half years after her death, it all felt really real and final and I just kept thinking about how soon, there would be no one in Crystal Beach who remembered her and it would be as though she never existed. I also cried because I felt guilty for having failed to take care of getting her name on one of the (almost) floor to ceiling windows on each of the walls.
Throughout the service, I couldn't shake the feeling of Nana's hand wrapped around mine. It was comforting as I dealt with the grief I still felt.
After the service was over, I was taking a picture of the plaque on Nana's pew and Mom was explaining the story of the pews to some new church members when the minister walked up to greet me.
The plaque on Nana's pew.
Pastor Susie welcomed me back to church, asked about the house, and then asked if I'd seen Nana's window.
What??? Nana's window?! No. I hadn't seen it.
And then she walked me over to it. Sure enough, there was Nana's name. Exactly as she'd want it.
In an instant, I was sobbing again. The only words I knew to say were "thank you." I can't remember the last time I felt so much gratitude.
I had dropped the ball and not gotten back to the church with how we wanted Nana's name on the window and when we'd be down to dedicate it, but there it was. Nana would never be forgotten. And she really was in church with us that morning, just as she would be forever. And she really held my hand.
The bottom pane of Nana's window.