By Anita Doberman: Columnist
Growing up, I spent a lot of time with my maternal grandmother, Nonna Dela. She lived so close to my home that I could see her balcony from our windows, and would often yell on top of my lungs, “Nonnaaaa, come outside to see my outfit,” in the early morning hours, before going to school.
I looked forward to being with Nonna Dela, and have wonderful memories of her telling me stories about her life as a young girl living in the outskirts of Rome, my mom’s adventures as a teenager, her fascinating parties in the 1930s (like the one time she “accidentally” spilled champagne all over a woman who was flirting with my grandfather), her experiences during World War II, her funny jokes and her gentle touch.
It’s with great sadness that this week I learned the news of her illness, advanced stomach cancer.
It’s strange to be far from my family during this time, odd to receive news through a harried and often unclear telephone conversation. I hear the exasperation and frustration in the voices on the other side, and perceive the fear in my mom’s tone and her siblings’ allusions about when and if I should try to go back to Italy for a quick visit.
Rationally we were prepared for Nonna Dela’s possible illness. After all, she is 86 years old and as she often joked, “something has got to get me one of these days.” But emotionally, when that possibility becomes a concrete reality, it’s a different story and it’s inevitable to feel sadness.
I spoke with my Nonna almost every other day throughout the years, letting her into my world and asking for advice about my husband’s parents, cooking, children’s tantrums and joyous moments, and random things life threw my way. She was always quick to answer with honesty and wisdom, and has been the inspiration for many things that I have done, including my five children, like she had, and my passion for writing.
She reminded me of where I came from. And that helped me understand where I wanted to go.
While this moment is difficult for my family, I can see how much my Nonna’s legacy is alive and strong within our loud, opinionated Italian clan. Her five children are at her side day and night; nothing matters but their mother and the help they can give her during this time.
As I reflect on my Nonna’s life and our relationship, I am overwhelmed by my affection for her and sad to prepare to say my final goodbye.
Last night, as I was putting my kids to bed, after talking to my sister, my daughter Eva, who is three years old, told me not to be sad.
“Don’t worry mommy. Heaven is a great. You get to eat all of the candy, all the time, and chocolate and lollypops and ice-cream”. She then added that my “Nonie Deli” would get to eat lots of candy all the time. I couldn’t help but laugh and tell her that she was right.
And much like my favorite sweet, dark chocolate, I was reminded that life is bittersweet, but that our hope and a child-like attitude is what keeps us going.