Just over one week ago, my Nonno’s sister in Italy passed away. The last time I saw her, she was feisty, fierce, radiant, hilarious and strong yet gentle, considerate and selfless. I didn’t see her often, but the few times I did were enough to know that strength goes a long way in life. At 89-years-old, she left this world with not only a great family to remember her legacy but also many great memories of her snarky comments, her independence and her delicious cooking. I can still imagine her shaking her head at a silly comment made by my Nonno or Dad, muffling something in Italian under her breath and laughing hysterically with my Nonna and Mom about those silly things brothers and husbands do. The day before Zia Filomena passed away, my parents had wanted to call to see how she was feeling. One thing lead to another, and we ran out of time.
Exactly one week later, on June 24, my Grandmother’s sister took her last breath in Toronto after over a month in the hospital. After a bad fall on Mother’s Day, and one thing leading to the other, another great woman left this world. Zia Iole was hard of seeing and hearing before her fall, but that didn’t stop her from acknowledging every person in the room at a family function, nor did it prevent her from contributing her (often very strong-minded) two cents to most conversations. My Zia loved her family very much and would call everyone, “Stellazione,” which in Italian means “Constellation” or “Big Star” in English.
The day before she passed, I was angry that my family hadn’t gone to visit her in almost a week. On Sunday night I said, “We should go see Zia now.” After persisting and battling my Dad’s, “She’ll be here tomorrow,” we were in the car to pick up my Grandmother and see her, for what we didn’t know would be Zia Iole’s last night.
Saying the word, “Goodbye,” is extremely difficult. I didn’t know she was going to die that night, but my intuition was telling me that her heavy breathing, limp limbs and closed eyes didn’t indicate anything good. Before leaving the hospital Sunday, I put my hand on hers and rubbed it gently. “Say ‘See you soon!'” Zia Iole’s daughter encouraged me. It didn’t feel right. I just smiled.
I drove home with my family that night and felt nothing but peace. Something inside me was telling me that soon, my Zia would no longer be suffering, living a life that she would never have wanted. I was and am sad that her journey was coming to an end, but happy she would be no longer hooked to machines feeding her and helping her breathe.
The next morning at 6:50am, we got the call.
We’ve all heard stories of losing the ones we love and never getting the opportunity to say goodbye.
When my Grandmother’s younger sister passed away, my parents deemed I was too young to know of her death the moment it happened. I walked in my front door after spending an afternoon with my friend and saw my parents and brother huddled in conversation. “Leviana,” they started. “What?” I said, with an attitude, no doubt. “Zia Franca died this afternoon.” I probably screamed at them for keeping it quiet and letting me enjoy my afternoon when I would have rather been by her side. I had a soccer game that night and wearing her son’s favourite number, I decided to play. I was pissed. Extremely pissed. To the point where I scored two goals from centre field. Do note that I never scored goals.
When my Grandfather was passing away, I was at my first high school party and on the way home, I noticed my mom taking a different route than usual. Picking up that she was going to my Grandparents’ house at almost midnight, I said, “Is Grandpa dead?” in an extremely loud voice, until she explained to me that he would be soon and that she was taking me to say goodbye.
That was probably one of the most traumatic but rewarding experiences in my life. I remember what looked like 30 cousins, aunts and uncles all sitting in the living room sipping my Grandfather’s signature wine. “How was your party?” I was asked on several occasions. I was not in the mood for small talk.
I walked into my Grandfather’s bedroom, where he lay in his bed, surrounded by his sisters, brothers, wife and children. My Dad looked at me and said, “Say bye, Leviana.” I just remember feeling 10 pairs of eyes staring at me as I made my way towards the strongest man I’ve ever known and kissed his left cheek as he breathed heavy and appeared to be in excruciating pain. Then, I was about to sit down to appreciate his presence when my Dad said, “Follow the light, Papa.” And then the tears came.
I’m not really sure what happened after that, but I somehow went home and sat on the bathroom floor, crying. I called my best friend at the time, balling my eyes out. Then slept in my parents’ bed until my Dad came home at around 4:00am telling me he was getting some shut eye before the sun rose, which meant funeral planning and more crying.
My Grandmother’s older brother passed away a few years following my Grandfather’s death. We had known he was in the hospital, but all had high hopes that he would be coming out soon. So, we waited. We waited until it was too late and we got the phone call on a Friday evening from my devastated Grandmother saying the words everyone hates to hear.
Life goes by too quickly. When you spend so much time with someone, you almost forget that there will be a time when that will no longer be possible. When everything you loved and feared will all at once, disappear.