My Family / On Writing

Sundays – For Nonno

One year ago today my grandfather, Tony, passed away from pancreatic cancer. He was admitted to hospital seven days prior feeling lethargic, tired and ‘not himself’. We found out on his second day in that he had pancreatic cancer that spread throughout his abdomen, and that the disease would progress rapidly. Death was imminent. He was given a private room in palliative care. We spent every day at the hospital with him, taking shifts, eating, working – bringing our worlds into that small dirty-yellow walled room so we could be with him.

Nothing else mattered. It was all about him. Bringing ourselves and our families to his side. Watching and waiting for an end we hated before it came.

That happens when someone is in hospital from illness or accidents that could and do take life. We gather. And in the midst of a reality we wish like hell would not be real we continue to gather and try and fight it with love and family togetherness.

One year ago today, my nonno passed. He was alone. The nurse had just left the room to call my aunt and tell her she was going to change something about his I.V.. Upon her return, he was gone. My sister was the first one there. Missing his going by mere minutes. Thus began the frantic and terrible calls amongst family members sharing the news we all dreaded.

We gathered once again in his room. His still body an unbelievable sight. Some of us touched him, talked to him, held his hand, fixed his hair. Some of us didn’t. I couldn’t. Just stared at his chest begging it to rise and fall. Waited for his eyes to open, his lips to curl into a smile. I cried so hard from a space beneath where my ribs meet…a new hole dug and reserved for my nonno…the man who was the father in my life – consistent, strong, dedicated.

And you think you can’t possibly continue crying, sobbing, breaking yet over the funeral services, the visitations, the mass and the burial, so many tears come out of you it’s absolutely miraculous you don’t dry up and blow away on a sad wind.

I read at his funeral mass words that I hope made him proud. And I’ll read today before we eat around his table. I hope it makes him proud again.

I dream about him quite often. Mostly, he’s just ‘there’ – one of the people in my dreamscape. And looks healthy and happy. The last dream I had of him, he snuck up from behind me so he was right in my face. He was smiling and laughing and so very excited and happy to see me. He told my everything is great. And I awoke not fully remembering what had made me feel so alive. Later in the day I remembered it was him. That he came in my dream to tell me everything is great.

I miss him. So much.

Here’s what I’m going to read before we feast in his honour this afternoon. I know it’s personal and there are things in it that you won’t understand but I want to share it because I think we can all embrace the words through love – salute sundays and those we love, whether they are alive on earth or alive in our hearts. It’s okay to talk about death because essentially, the talk becomes about life…and we need to share our stories – all of them.

A Toast To Sundays – For Nonno

it’s been a year since nonno passed. time has not been the same since. it passes but it feels different. like we are still waiting for him to walk in the door from his afternoon walks or come home from Italia bakery with fresh panini and lunch meat, stomping snow from his boots seven times too many…like he wanted to hear that he was back in the house…that he had arrived. it doesn’t seem that long ago that he was stashing m&ms in the china cabinet, drinking beer and eating chips while he watched the price is right. i’m pretty sure my memories are all jumbled because mostly i wish he just wasn’t gone. that i wasn’t always waiting to hear his voice or see his face or hear his spoochies that he always denied having done…

nonno was not a man of great intimacy on the outside…

he wasn’t a man to run and hug you or pat you on the back…or even to say i love you, but when i think about him and how well i knew him…i realize that he was capable of intimacy in his own way.

when he offered you a shot of grappa or whisky it was his way of welcoming you in his arms…

when he told you to eat slowly, enjoy the food and eat more it was his way of sharing what he was able to offer…

he was generous but in ways that sometimes didn’t reach our home…

he worked hard because it’s what he knew how to do – to provide for his family…and maybe it wasn’t always gentle or maybe it wasn’t always fair…but it was him…the best of him that he was ever able to know and give…

he was private in ways that brought him to prayer and quietness day in and day out…i think he prayed for guidance because he didn’t know the way…maybe he never did and maybe he was never aware to admit it…but he found guidance in Jesus and so he followed…

and even though i never heard him say i love you to anyone but miller, for whom  his affection seemed to overflow, i knew he loved me and that he loved us all…

family meant everything to him…

it was his reason…

nonna, you were able to give him the gifts of four amazing children and for that i know he is forever grateful…and for your gigantic heart and unwavering and unconditional love, you were the thread that sewed this family together…mended it and made it stronger when nonno was not one to pick up a needle…the two of you lived a life of enduring love…

the last thing he said to me was thank you and he said it so many times in his last days that i think it was his heart giving the last that it could give before his body could give no more…

his going was as peaceful as i’m sure he prayed it would be…and I’m happy for this gift he received…a gift I hope I get as well…to pass peacefully, painlessly floating to heaven on a cloud of love…

i remember being surprised that we were able to stay in the hospital room with him when he passed…i didn’t know we could stay…and it was weird seeing him there his chest not moving…and i really didn’t know what to do but cry and stare…

some of us jumped right into bed with him…tried to warm his hands and feet one last time…tried to make ourselves accept his stillness…

it’s a year later and it’s still something i can barely accept…

there are days when he’s on my mind and i remember his belly and dark hair…the jutting  bone on his foot and the thumbnail that was thick and layered like cardboard…when i remember him fully and completely filling the house with his snores or his loud tv or his requests for ‘maria!’…

and there are days when i don’t think of him at all…and i’m okay…and it’s alright because when he was alive the same would happen…life kept me busy…it keeps us all busy and we don’t always think of the people we love and need and who love and need us…and that’s okay because sunday always comes…

and the opportunity for everyone to join and gather and remember and celebrate…or yell and swear…or dance and laugh…or cook and do dishes (even you mom)…sundays alway come…and we are gifted once again with the gathering of family…

it doesn’t matter how much we drank on saturday or how angry we were at each other on wednesday or how much we missed each other on thursday or that we didn’t think of each other at all on monday…sunday arrives and we show up…

this is nonno’s legacy…holding us together in his living days and beyond…for as angry as we’ve all been with tonin…we’ve always loved him, tried to understand him, and we’ve always shown up on sunday…

the thing about missing someone you really love is that when that person dies you’re never quite the same…and it’s not bad or good…it’s just different…it’s a different experience of life…it’s a different experience of missing…and it hurts differently when you know you’ll have to wait to die yourself to see him again…

but guess what…heaven has sundays too…and you know that nonno’s waiting up there with the best damn bottle of grappa earth’s never tasted….and his arms are open and the words ‘i love you’ are just bursting from his lips…and most likely a few elastics are around his wrist because you’ll never know when you’ll need to ‘lid’ something up, even in heaven…

…i’d like to make a toast to sundays…to nonno, bisnonno, tonin, daddy, tony…‘till we meet again…

 

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