Nano of Oz


So things took an unexpected turn. My grandmother – affectionately known as “Nano”, passed away on the 24th of November. She had been unwell for most of the year (the dreaded C), but given her massive spirit – it was something I really didn’t think was possible.

It all happened so quickly, so there was no time to get home to say goodbye to her – I had a surreal moment when mum held her phone up to Nano’s ear (she was conscious, but not really communicating) – and I had to say my last words to her. It was heartbreaking.

Nano and Dara

We actually spoke often during the year – and I ended up speaking to her for nearly two hours about 6 days before she passed. She gave me her usual rant on her opinions of all family members, and then professed her undying loyalty for Tony Abbott and his Liberal party.

Interestingly (and quite comically), one of Nano’s last coherent sentences in the hospital was “I Hate Paul Keating”…she really was a Liberal (even though I tried to open her eyes to Mr Abbott’s homophobe tendencies) right to her dying day.

Nano - the character

She managed to make it through the night (the day she was admitted to hospital), and I am so happy that she had family right there with her, holding her hand when she passed. As Nemara said to me “there are often quite a few people to witness you coming into the world, it’s so important to have people witness you leaving it”.

Nemara always says the right things.

So the next morning I checked my email for the news. The email read: “Nano is hanging in there, she’s still with us”. Which didn’t surprise me – Nano was the kind of woman who demanded attention, and here she was on her death bed with a captive audience – she wasn’t going without an extended encore!

Prior to this moment, Nemara and I had been doing yoga every day for nearly 6 weeks – and I had been introduced to the concept of “dedicating your yoga practice” to someone. It was 8am in the morning, and knowing that Nano was in her final hours, and I was miles away in another country – I decided that the only thing I could do was go to yoga and dedicate the whole thing to her.

Quite fittingly (you know how divine intervention goes), the yoga class was all about breath – and that the only thing between life and death was this simple thing – breath. It was a yoga class of silent tears from the very beginning. The instructor guided the whole class through this amazing practice which included “picturing someone you love and surrounding them with light”, and treasuring each breath we take in.

It was perfect, and I found out a few hours later that Nano took her last breath while I was doing that yoga class.

She was 86. It’s still so unreal. She was a massive part of my whole life.

The thing I loved about her was that she was a total trouble-maker. My conversations would usually start with “so Nano, who are you in trouble with today”…to which she would list the family members she had caused a rift with – mostly in the name of attention. She was a highly strategic woman and was a true matriarch of the family. My relationship with her was one of fun and respect – I mostly just listened to her and then gave her shit for all the trouble she had caused.

Our conversations would always end in a laugh, and she always said she loved me.

Through our travels, I delighted in sending Nano postcards from all corners of the globe – with the running joke that I would always address it to Nano and her new “job”.

For example – she was forever complaining to Woolworths about the standard of food, so the very last postcard I sent her was addressed to “Val Nelson – Woolworths Complaints Division”.

We had decided that on account of her ill health, we were going to come home for Christmas. I decided to break the news in a postcard – it was the last one I ever sent her.


When I last spoke to her, she told me that she had burst into tears when she got it because she was so happy we were coming home.

Nano flower

We left Sydney on the 22nd of November 2013, and arrived back on home soil on the 24th of November 2014. Exactly one year and two days.

It was a solemn return.

We arrived on a Monday afternoon and the funeral was set for the Thursday. If you know my family at all, you would know of the “movies” we have created over the years (mainly by my brother) – kind of like elaborate slide shows for family members.

Tyson was slammed with work, so the responsibility fell to me.

I had two days and 40 photo albums to go through to create a 5 minute movie of her life.

In all honesty, it was both cathartic and so very, very hard. I spent two solid days with Nano and her history – looking at every photo, choosing the right ones, remembering her spirit…did I mention I can’t believe she’s gone?

I struggled for a concept (Donnelly video’s ALWAYS need a concept) – and then it came to me. The Wizard of Oz. Nano had often delighted in writing birthday cards and signing her name as “The Wicked Witch”…I had my concept. It worked perfectly. I found a soundbite from The Wizard of Oz (at the end of the movie) where Dorothy says “and this is my room – and you’re all here – and I’m never leaving again because I love you all so much” was the line that sealed the movie. I pictured Nano saying that to everyone in The Chapel at her funeral – the line still brings me to tears.

I threw “Sister Suffragette” in there (a Mary Poppins tribute), because Nano was a real “I have my rights!” kind of lady, and the final song (which was my brother’s suggestion – I’ll give him credit for that) – is actually Peter Allen’s tribute to the late Judy Garland. (One of Nano’s favourite musicals was “The Boy From Oz” – which is where this song features – her favourite song was actually “I am not the boy next door”, but I didn’t think it really went with the tone of what I was going for!).

It took me 26 hours, and at 2am on the morning of her funeral, I sat in the dark of my parents apartment and watched the final cut. I cried my heart out like I never had before, and tried to get some sleep.

Nano, dara young

Funerals are a funny thing. In a weird way. It’s this strange half-world where sounds and colours all blur into one, and people from your past and present come back into your world.

The chapel was packed.

Again – If you know my family, you would know that we are (a) A family of public speakers (mum has media training), and (b) we are all rather theatrical (we have Nano to thank for that).

My mum gave the eulogy which was delivered perfectly – she did an amazing job. My aunties then said their stories, followed by my brother, me, my cousin and my sister.

My 2 minutes at the altar went something like this:

No one knows why the name “Nano” stuck – but I have my own theory – she created her very own “brand” of grandmother. You see, when I think of the words “gran, grandma, nan, nanna or granny”, I picture a woman who is ahhh…gentle and soft and somewhat…passive.

Nano was anything but passive!

In fact, between her letter writing to council and her crusade against Woolworths, I was quite sure she was bound for world domination – or at least she must have been working for the CIA.

There was one day about ten years ago when her world domination abilities finally came to be.

I got an email from a very good friend of mine – Al Blatch – who knew Nano quite well and was well versed in her abilities to take over the world.

The email subject simply read: “She’s finally done it”.

I opened up the email, and to my utter shock and delight I saw the absolute unimaginable:

Apple had just released its new music player – The iPod NANO.

World domination was complete.

The world finally knew her name.

She delighted in this very fact (once I explained to her what an iPod Nano actually was), and I can’t help but think it was all part of her master plan.

I absolutely adored Nano and her wicked sense of humour – I will miss her terribly”

From the outside, the whole production looked like a slick, highly rehearsed broadway event! Really – it was succinct, emotional, sincere, funny and real.

Then for the world premiere of my movie – no one except Nemara, myself and the audio technician had seen it up until that point (suspense is best).

I put a notice on the back of the funeral order of service for people to head to if they wanted to see the video again (you never REALLY get to absorb these things in a chapel scenario)…and so far it’s been viewed 150 times since the funeral.

Actually I’ve only just been able to watch it again – I think it turned out alright 🙂

The end of the funeral service was certainly memorable.

Nano’s favourite song (and dance) was the YMCA. It was the obvious choice for her last song, and so with a room full of family and friends, and with Nano at the front of the room – we played the YMCA as her lasting tribute – actions and everything.

This is how my family grieves – through song and dance!

She was an incredible woman, and she had a massive impact on my life. I hope they have YouTube wherever she is, because I reckon she’d like to see the video I made for her.

So we’re home now, and for so many reasons – it will never be the same.

I miss you Nano.

Stay out of trouble up there.

Love, Dara