“Where’s Nana?” column for Dec. 10, 2013

When you are little and the world seems so big, it’s hard to understand why someone you love is here one day and gone the next.

Actually, that can be hard to understand at any age. I’ve been trying to make sense of it all my life and I still don’t get it. Or like it. But I’ve come to accept it as one of the harder facts of life.

Randy doesn’t accept it a bit. He is 3 years old and smart enough to notice that his nana — that would be me — shows up at his door unannounced, only to disappear later like the UPS guy dropping off a package.

Yes, there are differences. The UPS guy wears a crisp brown uniform. I dress mostly in rumpled black. And he never sticks around to play with Randy, even for a minute.

I always stay at least a few days, long enough to make Nana pancakes (they’re the best) and read stories (about Curious George) and trick his parents into letting him stay up late.

The UPS guy never does that.

But sooner or later, I always drive away, not in a big brown van, but a little rental car. And I’m gone for a very long time. A month. Or two. Or three.

Then I get messages on my voice mail: “Nana, can you go to the park with me today?”

How do you keep saying no when all you want to say is yes?

Randy lives in California, with his parents and his brother, Wiley, who is almost a year old. Wiley doesn’t care how long I’m gone. I can’t prove it, but I think he likes the UPS guy better.

Their cousin Henry and his parents live only a few miles away from them. Henry is 2, and likes me a lot, but he’s not quite old enough yet to take issue with how long I’m gone.

Henry’s mama says when he sees an “older woman,” he will point to her and smile and say “Nana!” She tells me this, I know, to make me feel missed, not old. Either way, I love it.

The reason for my vanishing act is simple, but not easily explained, especially to a child.

My husband and I live 500 miles from our children and our grandchildren, in the desert overlooking Las Vegas, with an interesting array of wildlife and all sorts of things to do.

Like many of our neighbors, we didn’t plan on the job change that brought us here. But after a few years of trying to make the best of it, we’ve been surprised to find how much we like it.

The only thing we don’t like is the 500 miles between us and the people we love.

I was almost Randy’s age when my parents divorced. I lived with my mother and will never forget how much I missed my dad. But when I visited my dad, I’d miss my mother, too.

My grandmother helped me come to terms with it.

“When someone loves you,” she said, “you don’t have to be in the same room to know you are loved. Love stays forever, even when they’re out of sight.”

I remembered those words years later when I lost in slow succession my grandparents, my parents and my first husband.

My grandmother was right. You don’t have to be in the same room to know you’re loved. She’s been gone some 30 years and I feel her love every day.

I want my grandchildren to feel the same way about me. So I am teaching it to them, starting with Randy. The last day I was with him, I held his face in my hands and said, “Where is your nana when you can’t see her?”

He studied my eyes, waiting for me to tell him. So I did. I told him and I showed him, then I made him show and tell me.

“Will you remember?” I said.

He nodded and smiled.

Then I left. Again. The next day his mama emailed to tell me this story. That morning Randy came out to the kitchen to ask, “Mama, where is Nana?”

“She’s gone home, honey,” she said, “with Papa Mark.”

“No, Mama,” he said, grinning and pointing to his chest. “Nana is right here in my heart.”

Take that, UPS guy.


  1. Love it Sharon. My wife and I have a grandchild a few hours away and we’re only able to visit our son and his family every couple of months or so. That’s a great lesson to teach and a great lesson for any of us long-distance grandparents to learn!

  2. Vickie Cahoe says

    Dear Sharon, Please never stop writing your syndicated columns! You are so able to get to the heart of the human spirit, and evoke emotions which we have all felt at one time or another in our lives…You are an amazing woman and I thank you for touching my heart so many times! All the best to you and all those you hold dear… Sincerely, Vickie Cahoe Reading, Pa

  3. Lorrie Bridges says

    Sharon! Pacific Grove misses you. 🙂 I became a Nana this year! Twice! One lives in town and the other in Roseville, CA. I love love love this column and will share it with my grandson who lives away from Nana. For now he think’s i’m 3D in an ipad! hugs and love- Lorrie and John Bridges

  4. Kate Sciacca says

    We had to leave our 8 grandkids in the Bay Area when my husband took a job in Carson City 3 years ago…. I sure appreciated this column… We are blessed though to be only 3 hours “over the hill” as they say in Carson- so a once every six weeks or so visit is possible…
    They grow up so fast, don’t they?

  5. Love…Love…Love this…Thank-you for always writing from your heart..can’t wait to read your column every Sunday In Evansville Courier…Life Section”…always…always touches my heart heart <3 Thank-you…! Linda Foster

  6. Love your column!!!!

  7. Rita Koontz says

    Wow! I love reading your column each and every week in my Sunday paper. This column hit a personal note for me. I am lucky enough to live across town from my grandchildren. But even though I do I want them to always carry with them the memories of the little everyday things we do together. Sharing your time with them is the most precious gift you could possibly give them. I lost my mother at age 4 and my grandparents raised me so I never got the true grandparent/grandchild relationship experience. They are very special little people! Making my mark on their lives is my legacy. Thank you for sharing your life stories.

  8. annette mcmanus says

    Dearest Sharon,
    As usual your story has touched a cord in my heart!
    At present I am in Barcelona with my Lola and Nico.
    But, like you, we will part and I .just make sure they are still feeling me in their precious hearts!
    Happy Holidays dear one. ALOHA

  9. vicki hamrick says

    Another winner!

  10. Our UPS guy gives our dogs Milk Bones and Tootie Pops to our grandson. But you are right, he is not the gift that a grandma is. We are privledged to share a home with this five year old and his folks. But we have other grand kids far away. So I enjoyed this column, as I do all of them. Keep them coming, they are worth waiting for, like visits from Nana!

  11. I hope you know the beloved legacy that you are leaving, not only for your family, but for all of us and ours, too.

    Your writing is a perfect picture of your heart, and the love just oozes out.



  12. one word – beautiful

  13. Peter Rankin says

    I know where you are coming from Sharon.We have two great grandkids as well. Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to you all from Peter and Connie.

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