Tag Archives: death

For my mother, upon your death, a spark of dust

Mom,

We are sitting here together in the peacefulness of your bedroom. A place you redesigned to include a beautiful bathroom, with a wide tub against a window, a warming towel rack – your dream respite. You did such a stunning job. I’ve always loved sitting in your bedroom, reading or talking to you. I am glad we are here now, together as you start your path to a different phase of life – that of death.

Mom, I hope that in your passing, I will be less afraid of death, as it, many times, colors my actions and anxieties. But this death, yours in this room, I want it to be a whispered song. I want you to listen  to the wind chimes outside of your window, the wind blowing through the trees in our backyard, and breathe in the solemnity of home you have created here.

For me, seeing you in our home brings me great comfort, knowing that you are safe and in the care of people who love you. Even though you have suffered through this terrible disease, we have helped determine how you will die. You will die in your own home, in your own bedroom, with your family and loved ones nearby. You will die without pain because of the medicines we give you. You will die having been able to say I love you to the ones you hold so dear, and hear them say it to you. We have been given a gift of that time – to say goodbye, to fill out hearts with each other.

I will miss you so desperately. I know my heart will break thinking about you not here. Even now, it grieves knowing the future.

I was talking to Dad a few days ago; he has been saying that cancer is the malady of all disease. I said that cancer reminded me of the Nothing. Do you remember that, from The NeverEnding Story? That is one of my favorite books. The Nothing eats away at everything around it. You put in a hand, and you lose it. A toe and it’s gone. The Nothing in the story is death. Everyone runs from it. Many are driven insane if they come too close. But the Nothing will be come for all of us, no matter what we do; disappearing our friends, our loved ones, our world. You have put in your uterus, your brain, your lungs, and your bones. The Nothing has touched each part to take it away from you, so that you may disappear entirely.

I have always loved stories, Mom. You helped me develop that. You let me read by the light of the bathroom when I was little. You gave me free reign of any book in the house or library. One of my most cherished memories of you is waking up and walking into your bedroom in the morning. I would find you propped up on several pillows, reading a book and drinking coffee. You particularly loved mysteries, and later, rather smutty vampire novels. You loved fantasy and science fiction, to be lost in another world.

About a month ago, you told me a story about how you had only gotten glasses when you were 8 years old. Until then, you were barely able to see. When you put on your glasses, you said you looked at grass with amazement. You were really able to see its lush green-ness for the first time, and marveled at how the blades were separated like little soldiers.

It flabbergasted me – to think that for the beginning part of your life, you had lived in a blinded state. This surprised me more because I knew how much you read as a child. I imagined you straining your eyes against weak lamplight to read your favorite books. It must have been such a comfort – to see another world so clearly when you could not see your own.

I don’t gravitate to the same genres you do. You know I love personal narrative and memoir – I love to read the stories of real people, and I love to write about my life and the people I experience. When I first started to write, and call myself a writer, I talked to you about it. I was hesitant because I wasn’t sure you’d understand. But you did, of course, because you are a lover of words like me. I told you I wanted to write a book, and you were so excited. I was surprised, but more by my own lack of foresight than anything. Of course you would love it if I wrote a book. My first real piece was published in a literary magazine – about you – and you kept it in your bedside table drawer. I knew you were moved and proud of my work.

I love these kinds of stories, Mom, because they help people come alive. I love that they help us with legacy, giving us the backbone of family gatherings; they help us remember each other and the bonds we share. They hold a way for us to look at our past reflectively. They help us carry on.

The NeverEnding Story is just that, Mom — it is a symbol of cyclical life. The Nothing is death, yes, but it is also a carrier of stories. Stories do not disappear into the Nothing – they are contained within it, and are recreated as something new yet familiar. Once the Nothing has swallowed all of Fantastica, Bastian is left with a single spark of dust. That is what you will become, Mom: a single spark of dust that is filled with possibilities. You’ll be fueled by our storytellings, our continued lives on this earth, our marriages to other loved ones, our births of new children, our dedication to the lives of those in pain or need. You will live on through those actions and words, helping shape our lives until we, too, are called into the Nothing, to be reborn into something more.

I love and miss you, with all my heart, with all my sparks of dust.

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Going Home to Dolly

My nonno, my Italian grandfather, passed away this morning. That means I have no more grandparents. Want a grandparent? Don’t ask me! I’m tapped.

Ah, gallow’s humor. Or is it gallows humor? Who is Gallow if it’s his/her/their humor?

My nonno…I won’t lie, he wasn’t this outstanding citizen of the world. He was cranky and miserable; he didn’t treat his children well as they grew up. He always said, “Everyone’s out to get you,” and “Don’t trust nobody!” or “I just want to die,” in this morbid, slightly paranoid way. But I loved him.  When my nonna was alive, they lived only 5 minutes from my parents’ house for the majority of my childhood.  They were my brother and mine’s regular babysitters, always taking us to their home or coming over to visit. My nonno would teach me how to draw and paint; he was a self-taught oil painter who used to make his own brushes out of cloth strips. His oil paintings covered the walls of our house, mostly landscapes and single portraits.  My nonno said he never painted smiling people, because the world wasn’t like that. We would have dinner with them at least a few times a week.  My nonna was a phenomenal cook and would bring over baked ziti, foccaccia, profiteroles, meatloaf…believe me, you’ve never had Italian food like hers, not even at the Olive Garden. And my nonno would call her “Dolly” – “Dahhlly,” he would say — that’s what she has on her gravestone now under her name.

One of nonno's many oil paintings.

One of nonno’s many oil paintings.

Nonno was a captivating storyteller and a jokester. As my nonna was ailing, I started recording both of them telling stories of growing up in Italy, fighting in World War II, raising their kids in a railroad apartment in Brooklyn. Nonno didn’t like Jewish people because he had worked at a garment factory for a Jewish guy who was cheap and mean.  But when I brought home Dan, who’s Jewish, nonno immediately liked him because, “He’s a good guy.  He got a job.” When really, it was the fact that Dan sat and listened to his stories, asked him questions and spent time with him when the rest of the family wanted a break. Nonno would tell me, “that man — he really loves you!” I didn’t want to acknowledge what he saw for a long time, but he was right. He knew a soulmate when he saw one.

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Nonna

After my nonna died, my nonno was revealed in a way. Without her, he said he had nothing to live for, and so was nothing to the world. I know there are statistics regarding long-term relationships about the surviving partner dying usually within a year from their partner’s passing; that’s what was happening to nonno. Even though nonna and nonno fought like crazy, drove each other nuts, they Loved in a big, capitalized way, even into their 80s. It wasn’t the healthiest love, but it gave their lives meaning. Nonna and nonno met in Italy when they were in their early teens; nonna said she knew she was going to marry nonno from that very moment. Nonna was constantly jealous of the older woman who lived across the street from them in their retirement complex. Nonna thought this woman was trying to steal nonno from her, especially when the woman put up a sign in her garden that had an innocuous quote about love on it. My nonna called other women “chickens,” implying that nonno was indeed a rooster, but her rooster only.

I realize that in a way, I loved nonno because of nonna. As an elderly man, it was hard to love nonno because his outlook on life was so bleak.  But with nonna, either alive or in memory, I loved him because she made him a better person. As a child and into adulthood, I could see that they complimented each other in how much they loved their family. We were the center of their universe, and that space overflowed with affection everyday of their lives.

I am sad because my nonno will not be at our wedding. I was really hoping he would make it because I wanted a grandparent there – it just felt important to me as a representation of my life cycle. But also because I wanted something of my nonna there with me; that through his eyes, she’d be able to see her earring that I made into my engagement ring or her wedding picture I’d put up at our ceremony…I miss being able to talk about my wedding planning with her because I know it would have brought her so much joy.  I don’t speak about my wedding in serious or detailed terms with many people, but I would have told her everything, over and over, as much as she wanted to hear it.  Ultimately though, what I want is my nonna and nonno together, when they are their happiest. And that’s how they’ll be at our wedding this summer.

There was a nurse, no doubt of the chicken variety, who was with my nonno when he passed this morning. She said he had a little smile on his face as he stopped breathing. I’m positive it was because he was finally going home to his Dolly.

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