Thursday, November 10, 2016

In Mourning // 11.10.16

Sometimes, life presents you with situations that are incredibly hard and tragic to deal with, but you must find the light to push through them. This post is the most personal I have ever gotten in my writing on this blog, but after some thought, I decided that it was extremely important to me to share it. 

Let's begin the story several months ago. My Nonna and I sat in her kitchen and I was talking to her in Italian. She loved whenever I broke out all of the things I've learned throughout my five years of Italian classes to speak to her. You see, growing up around the language, I learned a lot, but could never speak it on my own. I was eventually able to understand everything that was being said (which meant my mom and Nonna couldn't hide things from me anymore haha), so now being able to put a smile on her face by speaking her native language back to her made me feel so happy. 

I went away to college in September, so any visit or phone call with her brought me back home for even just a little while. 

She had fallen ill after I left for school and at first, it was believed to be a stomach virus or cold of some sort. Once she recovered, she still had no appetite and wasn't eating. This posed concerns for her doctor, who admitted her to the hospital for testing. I remember my dad calling me to let me know what was going on, and after having a rough day to begin with, the news was even harder to swallow. I know that just because someone is admitted to the hospital doesn't mean that you're going to get bad news and I wish that it was the case this time, but it wasn't. 

All I was told was that my Nonna would be staying at my house and that she was sick. I wasn't told the specifics until I had stopped home with my friends after taking a drive to go pumpkin & apple picking. It was on that day, at the end of October, that I found out my Nonna had been diagnosed with stomach cancer. 

Tests still needed to be run in order to find out what stage at this point. She was still talkative, but tired, and seeing her for a few moments, and having her meet my friends, brightened her face. 

I had to return to school that night, and being that it was Halloween weekend, was able to get my mind off of what was happening back at home, even if it was just for a little while. I was grateful to be able to talk to some of my closest friends and just say what was on my mind. I completely let down any wall of strength I put up and cried. 

It was difficult. I became somewhat distant with my group of friends at school and I was aware of it, but all I could do was apologize. They understood why I was. 

As days went by, I spoke to my mom and dad everyday and everyday I'd ask the same question, "What stage is it?" I needed to know all of the information I could possibly find out because that's how I am as a person, yet everyday my mom would say it wasn't good, but they were seeing what they could do. 

I hadn't intended to go home that following weekend originally, but my family thought it would be a good idea, so I did. The first question I asked when I got in the car was the same as I had been asking all week. My dad told me that it was Stage IV stomach cancer that had spread to her liver and was also pressing on her spine. I knew it was bad, I just never thought I would actually hear the words that would let me know just how bad it actually was. 

Going home wasn't easy. The first night I was back, she was already asleep and I didn't get to see her. My own curiosity and need for information got the better of me and I looked up everything I could find about Stage IV stomach cancer. It has a 4% survival rate, and at that point, I completely broke down, but I didn't let anyone around me see it. The following day, I saw her in the morning and the difference from only a week prior to then was drastic. She was weak, couldn't walk, and it pained her to talk. 

I had to run an errand, so I was out of the house that afternoon for a little while and when I returned, there was a nurse running through the procedural questions with my family: "Would you like life support?"; "If and when your heart stops beating, would you like us to perform CPR?" 

I couldn't handle it. I saw one of the strongest and most independent women I know become entirely dependent on those around her. It made me upset and angry because it wasn't fair. I told my mom and dad I was going out for a little while and met up with one of my friends at home. We bought candy, ordered pizza, and watched movies. Those few hours were exactly what I needed and they took away the anxiety I felt from being at home. 

I spent the next day with my family. My cousins and I went to brunch, which was good for all of us, and we spent the day by my Nonna's side, making Halloween crafts despite the fact that the holiday had already passed. It put a smile on her face and at that point, it didn't matter if the holiday had passed, we knew we had accomplished our goal. 

That night, two of my friends were back from college for the weekend and I got to see them, which made me so happy. I started crying when I saw them. They gave me the biggest hugs and after an intense day, it allowed me to take a deep breath and focus on spending time with them. 

I felt guilty that I had the escape of being at school, while my younger sister was at home and had to experience these difficult days over and over again. I wanted to get her out of the house, so I took her shopping and we bought plenty of clothes for the upcoming fall and winter chill. We met one of my friends for lunch, and I'm so glad we did because he had my sister laughing so much - something I hadn't really heard since I returned home. She's the sarcastic jokester of the family, so to hear her laugh meant the world. 

Even over the course of the three days I was home, I could see how things progressively worsened each and every day. I didn't want to be home because the circumstances made me upset, but I also didn't want to be at school in fear of missing out on what little time I'd have left with my Nonna. It quickly became a realization that the hug and kiss goodbye I gave her may very well be the last time I ever got to do so. 

Focusing on school became a way to take my mind off of things, but things were still difficult. For some reason, on November 10th, I woke up around 4 a.m., entirely on my own. I checked my phone, and nothing came up on the screen, but then it started ringing. It was a call from my dad informing me that my Nonna, the greatest person I've ever known, had passed away. She went peacefully in her sleep and was no longer experiencing the pain and suffering that came along with battling the monster that is cancer. 

I had a bag packed already with any clothes I knew I would definitely need, and then threw the rest of my things inside as well. Luckily, my school isn't far from home, and my dad came to pick me up. It just didn't feel real. 

You don't realize the power love has until you're in the presence of it to such an extreme. A hug can change everything. Being with family was in itself a powerful thing. I hurt, my sister hurt, my cousins hurt, my mom hurt, my dad hurt, my uncles hurt, my aunt hurt, and we all shared in this pain together. 

And that's the way things happened, but that's not what this post is meant to be about. It's not about the suffering she went through. It's not about how quickly things happened. It's about the person she was and the person she will always be with each and every one of us in my family.

My Nonna was the best cook, and I gained that love and passion for cooking from her. Whenever I'd go over her house, she'd want to make something, whether I was hungry or not. She made a killer lasagna. No one could ever replicate it. I've never tried, but I plan to in the near future. I only hope mine can come out as good as hers. I remember countless times of going over her house, it being just her and I, and deciding that I would be the chef that day. I'd use whatever ingredients she had in her fridge to pull something together for the both of us. I particularly remember making shrimp in her kitchen one day. She trusted little me to use the stove all on my own. I had absolutely no idea what I was going to do with the shrimp, but it was the only thing she had to cook with, and she always encouraged me to experiment. I threw some spices together, probably using any information I'd ever learned from watching Food Network, and cooked us a meal. She loved it and when my mom came to get me, she told her all about it. That love for cooking is something that comes from her, and it'll always be a part of me. 

Another memory that I'm often told about and remember faintly occurred when I was almost four. My Nonna took a wrong step and broke her ankle. She had to have surgery to fix it, putting in screws to keep it all together. My mom couldn't bear to look at the incision they made. It gave her the chills. Yet, four-year old me wasn't bothered by it. Every single day I'd go to her house and clean it for her, and it's something that she spoke about year after year. She would always say how brave I was for doing that, and it's still one of my favorite stories to this day, even though I don't remember it as much as I would like. 

I remember spending afternoons on the porch that sat above her garage. 

I remember watching TV with her in her living room and asking her all about the Italian game shows she watched. 

I remember her singing to me as a child and her teaching me how to play Cat's Cradle. 

During the holidays, my Nonna's house was the place to be growing up. My cousins and I would have the best time together with our family. We became our own version of playwrights in the basement bathroom of the house. Each occasion, we'd plan what show we would do. Usually, they'd repeat, but we were always creative in the way we performed. For instance, one time, we built a box out of the foam puzzle mats and had my cousin Anthony hide inside for our production of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. He was playing Santa Clause and our family loved it. Whether it be a Christmas-themed show, random little skit, or a series of songs that we all performed together with choreography, all of the ideas we had came to life in our office of a bathroom. In the end, they were always worth it because they brought a smile to our family's face, especially my Nonna's. 

She was one of the most generous people I've ever known, and she was so proud of myself, my sister, and my cousins. Every time we saw her, she'd find some reason to give us money or buy us lunch/dinner. "Prendi questi soldi per la scuola," (Take this money for school) she would say. Or, "Vai a pranzo con i amici" (Go to lunch with your friends). She'd never let my mom pay when we went out and I remember the many many times where they'd "argue" over who paid the bill because my Nonna always wanted to pay. I still don't know where she hid the money tree, haha. 

Everyone always looked forward to having her call on their birthdays and she was usually always the first. You'd pick up the phone and she'd start singing "Happy Birthday," or rather "Happy boyt-day," which is how she would pronounce it with her Italian accent. It would always make us smile and laugh. 

There wasn't a single bad bone in her body, and after losing my Nonno, her husband, whom I never had the opportunity to meet, she stayed strong and pushed through each and everyday. She was independent, went for walks, cooked fantastic food, and cared for her family with her entire heart. She traveled from her home country of Italy to live in the United States for love. She is and will always be an inspiration to me. 



Death never comes as an easy event to experience. This is the first time it has truly hit me directly and I didn't know how I would react. For myself, I found that I was in a limbo between shock and numbness. It made me question things, but I ultimately realized that while my mind was pondering the "What ifs" or thinking about what wouldn't happen anymore, I lost ground in the present moment, and that's where I needed to be most. I'm so glad I was able to spend time with her before she passed, I only wish I had more, but being able to tell her that I loved her, and having her tell me how much she loved me, is something I am eternally grateful for. 

My Nonna was one of the greatest people I've ever met. She always encouraged me to pursue anything I dreamed and to always continue my Italian. I'm sad because I wish I had her around longer, but I'm so happy that I have so many memories of her to keep with me. She's always going to be with me and has been such an influential part of my life. And November 11th is the anniversary of her and my Nonno, so she's with him now to celebrate and that thought in itself is comforting. She's with her family that has passed before her in whatever world exists beyond this life. 

Knowing how proud she was of me and where I am in my life right now fills me with warmth. She filled my life with so much love. She inspired me to be the best person I can be. She was my bright light that I will continue to carry with me each and every day and I only hope to continue to make her proud in all that I hope to accomplish.  

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