We interrupt this sweet life with a dose of bitter reality in the form of the death of a loved one. My own Italian family is big and aging. My father is the youngest of nine children and my mother is the eldest of six. Although I was lucky enough to know all four of my grandparents, I now only have one still alive. And the aunts and uncles and older cousins, who were fixtures in my life are leaving us for Heaven, too. Saying good-bye is never easy. I can honestly admit that my naive youth is long gone. Once you start to realize that family is ever changing, and the people with whom you’re breaking bread today may be gone tomorrow, there is no turning back. It makes enjoying and appreciating the sweet life more of a challenge because there’s more urgency to tend to it at the very same time that you’re grieving for what once was.
Nostalgia, after all, brings with it a sadness that washes over everything you do. You may take a vacation in a beautiful place. You might even relax for a moment, but then you start to wish that your departed loved one was with you, and even the gorgeous sunset before your eyes seems more distant and even a bit cloudy. What you wouldn’t do for one more hug or one more bit of advice no matter how outrageous. Let’s be honest here, most old Italian people say some crazy sh.. , which makes you miss them even more.
My one consolation is that I get closure in the form of a wake and funeral. When I attended my first funeral in Italy, I was shocked to see that Italians don’t get quite the same luxury. They handle death very differently from Italian Americans, even though most of us are Catholic. If you’re interested, I recently dissected the differences for the Our Paesani column on ItaliansRus.com.
While the stereotypical Italian widow wearing black from the moment her spouse passes until the day she dies is going out of style, it still exists in small pockets. In Ischia, the island that is home of my ancestors and husband, you’ll find a couple of these 90-somethings clutching their Rosary beads and heading to church every evening. They may stop to pinch your cheeks and ask how your parents are doing. They may even dance at your wedding or your son’s baptism. But every time you see them you are reminded that a piece of them died along with their spouse.
I’m starting to get it. They simply choose to wear on their person the darkness they feel in their heart, that sadness that washes over everything. It’s a sign to the world that their world is somewhat gone, that their sweet life isn’t as sweet as it once was. But survival isn’t just about getting by. It’s about taking the challenge from God to savor whatever sweetness you can after a piece of your heart has been taken and to make the most of the breaths left in you.
Di Meglio uses the written word to help families create memories and stick together. You can follow her on Facebook at Francesca’s Newlyweds Nest and on Twitter @ItalianMamma10.