Noni.

Charlotte Centrella

My blog was my first attempt at writing when I started it in 2009, and it’s been my closest and sometimes only friend from that point on. It was the one place where I could speak my truth, not knowing or even caring if anyone heard it. It was for me. My soft place to land.

Over the past year it’s been hard to keep up with posting, as life has taken on an increasingly crazy warp speed.  And for that I’ve felt guilty, because these quiet nights when I sit with a glass of wine and spill my guts, have been sorely missed.

This week has been some of the highest highs and lowest lows of my life, and I’ve not been able to take a moment to even try and process all I’ve been through this past week. So tonight I needed to go back to my roots, grab a glass of wine and let it out.

Last weekend I flew to Monterey California to see my Noni (Grandma). When I arrived on Friday she seemed frailer than I’d ever seen her, but her eyes still shone bright when she saw me, and I fought back tears as I kissed the top of her head. The sight of her flooded me with emotion, and I’d spent the majority of my flight getting wasted and sobbing at the thought that this could be my last voyage to Monetary to see her. She sat up in her chair and asked me how I’d been. How my book was coming a long, and I told her I had a surprise for her. I’d asked my publisher to overnight the advanced copy to her house the next day so that together we could read the dedication, and so that she could finally hold it in her hands.

This was a moment I’d dreamed of for years. Ever since my first attempts at writing my memoir four years ago. She’d read all the books I’d written, waiting for the day when one would actually be published, and now the day was almost here. It was her love for reading that got me into books in the first place. When I was 21 I lived with her for two years, and I’d spend all day sun-tanning at her pool and nights waiting tables. One day she said, “What do you do all day at the pool?” She was sitting in her reading chair with a book in her hand. When I told her that I just laid there all day, she said, “You need to bring a book with you! From now on, if you are going to spend the day at the pool you have to do it with a book!” I tried to protest. Tell her that I hated reading, and wasn’t much good at it, but she insisted. She gave me $20 and told me to go to the bookstore and pick out a book that looked interesting and READ IT.  She said I could take the whole summer if I had to, but I HAD to start reading.

The first book I ever remember reading front to back in my entire life was the book I picked out at the book store that day. It was The Book Of Ruth, one of Oprah’s book club selections. To my amazement I actually started enjoying it, and before I knew it I’d spent that summer reading through all of Oprah’s book club picks.

sarah centrella and her Noni
1999 When I lived with her

She smiled when I told her my book was done and that we’d get to see it in the morning. I told her how grateful I am to have been blessed by the gift of her love and guidance in my life. How those years I spent in my early twenties shaped the woman I am today. How every good part of me I can trace back to a lesson she’d taught me, and how she was the first example I’d ever witnessed of a mother who loved and adored her children, and children who returned that respect and admiration. That alone is a gift I could never repay because it taught me how to be a loving, kind and affectionate mama. She also taught me to smile and make it look easy no matter what you are going through. It was her that told me problems don’t get better by talking about them, they get better by fixing them. And that if I had nothing positive to say, I’d better keep it to myself. Her courage and strength is legendary. She raised six kids, all of whom went on to be great successes in their own right. She was a pilot when  women didn’t fly planes. She graduated college when women didn’t go to college. She traveled the world and has been to every continent but Antarctica. She went parasailing in Mexico in her late 80’s. Nothing scared her. There was nothing she wouldn’t try. She’s lived alone and drove up until this year. She is by all accounts a force… all of this I told her while she sat in her reading chair last Friday. She smiled and told me how proud she was of me, and I fought back tears.

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We sat at the table while my aunt made dinner. We laughed. We drank our cocktails, we played along with Jeopardy.

The next morning Noni didn’t get out of bed. She’d had a cough and wasn’t feeling well so my aunt and I told her to rest. But all day she slept. And my book never came.

Sunday was a blur. It all happened so fast. My aunts and uncles began arriving, and we moved Noni to her favorite reading chair so she could be the queen bee, watching as we cooked, held her hands, laughed and cried with her. She was slipping away with each passing hour, and as heartbreaking as it was to watch, it was also one of the greatest honors of my life. To be there with her for her final party, to see her smile at me when I walked in the house with an arm full of pink roses. To lay my hands on her as the priest blessed her and gave her last communion. It was a beautiful honor.

Monday morning Noni was no longer able to communicate, but she smiled and leaned her cheek into mine when I kissed her and told her “You are the great love of my life.” With a broken heart I left Monterey for the last time.

My Noni passed away that evening.

I don’t know what life looks like without her in it. I’ve tried to stay so busy this week so as not to think about it, fearing I couldn’t take the reality. I was never able to show her my book or to watch her read out loud the dedication… so here it is.

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Noni you are forever loved. 

 

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My twin. TOP LT: None as a girl, me as a girl TOP RT: Me our last night together. Below with 2 week old Kanen her name-sake. All 3 of my kids are named after her.

 

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I drove my kids 13 hours by myself several times to see Noni, on this trip the girls were 2 in 2009

 

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Toni’s 90th birthday party

 

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Toni’s last visit with her great grand kids… my three and my nieces in May 2015 at 92 years young.

 

 

Sarah Centrella is the author of the book Hustle Believe Receive which teaches you how to apply the #HBRMethod to change your life and live your dream.

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