Grief

On August 21, 2016, my paternal Nonno passed away at 86 years old. His health had been declining for several years and he had had many health scares in that time. On August 1st he had been placed on hospice and we were told that he might pass in a few months or as soon as a few days. In one of my classes that I had just completed the previous quarter, Adulthood and Aging, my professor told us that most people are on hospice for less than two months. The last time I saw him was on August 14th, and I could tell that despite being surrounded by his entire family, he was not present mentally. By August 19th, we were told that he was declining faster than expected and he might live one more week. My dad got a call from my Zia very early in the morning on August 21st that my grandfather was extremely irritable and that she was going to bring him to the hospital. My dad left immediately to go be with his dad. He passed that morning surrounded by his wife and kids. We had been running errands and immediately went to go spend time with our Nonna. I was instructed to try not to show how upset I was because everyone was afraid that my crying would make Nonna more upset. She seemed a little sad, but otherwise fine. She told me not to be sad because he wasn’t hurting anymore, but I felt as if someone had ripped a hole in my heart and couldn’t help crying.

Nonno was the first person in my immediate family that I had lost. And while I knew that he wasn’t in pain anymore, losing him was very hard on me. I had been having anxiety attacks for weeks before he passed because even though I have always known it was going to happen, I had never lost anybody that was such a huge part of my life growing up. Not only was finding out that he had passed hard for me, but everything became much more real during the interment. We were all gathered there for the interment; his wife, both his children and their spouses, his three grandsons and their wives, his two granddaughters, and three of his five great grandchildren. We had all seen him the week before on the 14th, but little did we know then that we would be saying goodbye to him on the 25th.

It took me almost six months before the overwhelming feeling of loss had begun to subside. Christmas had been hard on all of us, but me, my mom, and my sister had some special gifts in mind. After Nonno had passed, we had taken three shirts from his closet and his engraved set of poker chips. He had always worn plaid button ups and we turned these shirts into remembrance pillows. I have one, my sister has one, and my Nonna has one that she has since placed on his side of the bed. With the poker chips, we created a keychain for every single person in the family. Each generation got a different color and my grandmother got one with all three colors. The person who appreciated the keychain most was my three year old cousin. We have been told that he carries that poker chip around with him all the time and whenever he goes to my Nonna’s house (his great grandparents) he still goes around searching for our Nonno. He understands that Nonno went to heaven, but he doesn’t yet realize that Nonno is not coming back. School helped me from being upset during the day and gave me something to think about besides how much I missed my Nonno, but at night the raw feelings made their way to the surface. Eventually, I found myself thinking about him without breaking into tears, but it is still hard sometimes. I still miss him.

As my grief was starting to decline, my maternal Nonno’s health started to decline as did the health of my paternal Nonna. (Sorry if things start to get confusing. I am Italian on both sides of my family, so growing up I have two Nonnos and two Nonnas.) They both went to the hospital in November, and we were worried about both of them. Our weekends consisted of traveling two hours to see my maternal Nonno and Nonna and then on the drive home stopping to visit my paternal Nonna. I was worried that one of them would pass on November 21st, the day that marked three months since my paternal Nonno had passed. By November 21st, both my nonni had their health improve. As the new year started my paternal Nonna was seeing her health remain consistent, while my maternal Nonno began to decline more rapidly.

It had started with weakness in his legs and a loss of appetite and in February, my maternal Nonno had begun to fall more frequently and his kidneys were starting to shut down. If he did dialysis, his kidneys might get better, but it would make his heart worse. We were hoping that he would make it to the end of March, until spring break, but he was declining rapidly and was put on hospice before Valentine’s day. As February 21st came closer, I had a feeling that my Nonno would pass on that Monday (February 21st was a Tuesday, I had figured it out wrong, but I had a feeling my maternal Nonno would pass exactly six months after my paternal Nonno did). Almost every week in January and February, my parents went to go see him and me and my sister tagged along if we didn’t have too much homework. We saw him for the last time on February 19th, and while we were in the car my Zia called to tell us he hit his head early in the morning. We saw him and helped him bandage his head until someone from hospice came to check on him and talk to us. She was saying that he might have internal bleeding from hitting his head and that he might pass in a few days if there was indeed internal bleeding. I had to go take a walk to the park nearby because hearing the hospice worker talk about the possible timeline of the rest of his life was reopening the hole in my heart that had almost healed.

On February 20th, 2017 at just past 1 pm, we got a call from my cousin that my maternal Nonno had passed. He was 89 and 3/4 years old. I couldn’t believe it for we had just seen him the day before, just about 24 hours had passed since we had left. We were torn between driving going to be with my maternal Nonna and staying home. I didn’t want to go, but my family knew that they also couldn’t leave me home. Both me and my sister were taking his passing very hard. I went for my Nonna and my mom. My Nonna was angry that he didn’t say goodbye, while the rest of us were still in a bit of shock. On February 24th, we held the funeral. We had a private interment and again I found that the hardest part. We were all their, our tiny family; his wife, his two daughters and their husbands, and his four grandchildren. We used the flowers from the arrangements we had ordered to place at his plaque, my great grandparents plaque, and the plaque of my cousins’ other Nonna.

I still miss my Nonno greatly. School was a distraction, but I feel that it prevented me from grieving early on. It wasn’t until summer started that I finally felt allowed to properly grieve him. It was hard on his birthday in May because I kept thinking how he would have been 90 years old and how even though he had been saying he was 90 practically since he had turned 89, he would have been able to say it and we wouldn’t have been able to correct him. I find that I still think about him a lot and when we go to visit my maternal Nonna every few weeks I still expect to see him there about half the time.

Though we have not created any remembrance things for my maternal Nonno, we picked out some of his shirts to make pillows.

This past year my family lost two great men. My Nonnas are learning to live independently after being married for 62 and 54 years (paternal Nonna and maternal Nonna respectively). I still find it hard to think about them without crying, and visiting my Nonnas makes it harder. Whenever I visit either of them, it hurts all over again. They still both live in their homes, and it is so weird to be at their houses. It makes my heart ache all over again and sometimes I dread visiting. I know that my Nonnas like to see me and my sister. I always go even though it is hard for me because they lost someone who was much more important. Between visits it is a little easier for me, but when I am at their homes there is so much to remind me of my Nonnos. The photos are the hardest for me to look at because while they captured good memories, it just acts as another reminder that they are gone now. I can usually hold myself together while I am there, but once we are in the car I find it becomes harder to keep the tears at bay and I tend to be more moody/irritable as well. I still try to hide it because I don’t want my anyone to see how upset I still am about their passings. I feel that my maternal Nonno’s passing was harder because it was more unexpected.

I feel that the interments were almost as difficult as hearing about their passings because until then, I do not remember seeing my Nonnas cry. Having the whole family there made it a little better. After both interments, we went to have dinner before we left. After my paternal Nonno’s funeral, we went to a restaurant and then to see my maternal nonni until traffic let up. After my maternal Nonno’s funeral, the whole family went to Nonna’s house and ate dinner and have some drinks and just spend time with each other  and tell stories about our Nonno until we had to go home. I feel that this was the right way to spend the night, remembering my maternal Nonno and being with my Nonna when she needed us.

When it was time to go home I felt a sense of sadness, not because I was upset about their passings, but because I felt like we were leaving them behind. I couldn’t imagine what it would be like to not have them around.

There are somethings that I find provide me with some relief from the sadness.

  • Both my Nonnos got to see all their grandchildren graduate high school.
  • Both my Nonnos got to see all their grandchildren become adults. (My sister was the youngest of all the grandchildren and had just turned 18.)
  • Both my Nonnas have family nearby to help them.
  • I have so many good memories to remember them by.
  • They are watching over us now. (We have even more guardian angels!)
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