Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Saying Goodbye

I spent last week in my home state of Connecticut, and it was a bittersweet trip, to say the least.

Originally, my husband and I had planned this vacation for two reasons: 1) To meet our nephew, my sister's first baby, due July 7th,  and 2) to have a homecoming launch for LAST YEAR'S MISTAKE with my family and friends.

The launch went on, but sadly, I never got to meet my nephew. Mason Tod was stillborn at 22 weeks, and our family was devastated.

Unfortunately, that was only our first loss associated with this trip. Two years ago, my grandmother was diagnosed with cancer. In the weeks preceding our trip, her condition went downhill fast. We learned that the cancer had spread to her brain and spine. Every time I spoke to my mother, the news wasn't good. Until one night, it kind of was:

The evening my mother sent me this text, my grandmother had spent the morning not talking, not eating, not swallowing. But then, somehow, she got a second wind. And used it to ask my mom to read LAST YEAR'S MISTAKE to her. My mom and sister tried to Face Time me so Gram could tell me how proud she was of me, the same way she kept telling them. But the call wouldn't go through.

That happened a lot in the next few days. There was never service, and if the call did connect, it would freeze and I couldn't see anything.

The day before we flew to CT, my sister tried again. And this time, the call went through without a problem. Although my grandmother couldn't move, she could see me, and I could see her. She looked right at me and said hello, then told me she loved me. Her speech was strangled, but she still had a smile on her face. She watched my son play, and smiled when he said, "Nonna," the name her great-grandchildren called her. When she started to have trouble keeping her eyes open, I told her I'd see her tomorrow, and we ended the call.

By the time I got to her bedside the next afternoon, her breathing was labored. Her eyebrows moved when I spoke to her, but she couldn't open her eyes. Still, I know that she knew I was there. When I left her, I kissed her cheek and wished her sweet dreams.

Three hours later, my mother called to tell me Gram had passed away.

I didn't think that she was waiting for me, but now I believe it wholeheartedly. Anyone who knew my grandmother knows that it makes perfect sense. She never wanted to serve a meal until the entire family was together, and she wanted to take her last breath the same way.

It was my job to write a eulogy on behalf of the grandchildren, and I wanted to share it here as a tribute to my grandmother. Rest in peace, Gram. It means everything to me that I made you proud.

Grandma, teaching me how to make homemade gnocchi for Christmas dinner
We're here today to celebrate the life of our grandmother, Luisa Astolfi. It's hard to find the right words, because her passing is not just the end of her life. It's the end of an era.

For as long as any of us can remember, Grandma's house was our family headquarters. She loved nothing more than having her children and grandchildren gathered at her table every Sunday afternoon - a family that grew so often, the table had to be custom made to fit everyone around it. She made feeding an army look easy – even as she insisted on cooking at a tiny oven in her cramped basement kitchen, while the full-size, fully functional stove in her real kitchen sat collecting dust on its avocado-green surface.

Her food was famous and her door was always open. When she sold the house in Bridgeport to move in with Uncle Pat and Aunt Linda, nothing changed. That big, round table went with her. And no matter how many of us were squeezed into her apartment, she could always find room for more. When her grandkids asked if we could bring friends for lunch to show off our grandma and her awesome cooking, she'd say in her Italian accent, "The more the merry!"  She ended up acquiring a few honorary grandchildren because of it. Because everyone who met her fell in love with her, and if you weren’t her grandchild, you wanted to be.

Family was our grandmother’s pride and joy, and she was ours. She was the center of everything, the person we all adored and looked up to. She would’ve done anything for her grandkids – her babies, as she called us – and we would’ve done anything for her. It’s so hard to picture Grandma missing from that table, but even more difficult to imagine her missing from our lives. Sundays will never be the same, but one thing will never change – we are so proud to have known her, loved her, and been part of her family.