Friday, March 26, 2010


                                                                  Photograph courtesy of Michael Chapman

Lasciandosci con la speranza di rivederci un giorno.
Leaving you with the hope that we'll see each other again one day.

My aunt passed away on March 22nd. I don't feel it is my place to speak about her life here but I will say that it saddens me immensely to think it was, perhaps, not a happy life and ended with more than a dozen years of confinement to her bed due to a serious illness. Although not entirely a surprise, I find that we all are still quite shaken by the news this week.

At the cemetery where we gathered after the ceremony, a lot of unpleasant memories were stirred up. Being the main Catholic cemetery in Hamilton all of our relations (older brother C., father, grandparents, uncles, aunts) were all buried there.

I asked to see my brother's grave which I have never seen. He died decades ago at the age of six months from crib death (now more commonly known as Sudden Infant Death syndrome or SIDS) before I was born. Born on Christmas day, he was my mother's first child. She was only 23 years old at the time. My mother was so distraught when she visited his unmarked grave that my father refused to let her go any more. That's how they rolled back then. He couldn't see her suffer so he said no more visits to the grave. Consequently, the little boy never received a marker for his gravesite. My mother, after decades, could no longer recall the exact spot. I think, burdened by other responsibilities, she gave up trying to pursue it.

Luckily for my mother, and me, I was conceived three months after C's death and born exactly one year to the day that he died (June 20th).

Due to my sister F's tenacity a few years ago, she sought out C's gravesite after a harrowing day of wandering through the cemetery during an extremely hot day searching for it. She came across a grave which bore my exact name in another section and which indicated that the little girl had been born very close to the time I was born; this gave her quite a fright that day. But she persisted and found the exact spot where he had been lain. She also arranged for a small marker to be placed on it so now the little boy  can be found more easily by family.

Staring down at the stone marker with his name - he has the same name as my paternal grandfather and my younger brother - and the dates (born Xmas day, died on my birthday) sent a chill through me as I'm sure it did to my daughter J. We stood shivering in the windy, cloud covered cemetery threatening rain, staring down at the grave, red plastic flowers stiffly affixed to the spot by my mother. I looked at some of the other markers nearby ... all children, all very, very young. My melancholy deepened.

In the car on the way home my daughter J asked whether I would have been born if my brother C had lived. I said likely not as we were only separated by 18 months but my husband R quickly inserted, "But possibly yes ..." I think to soften the jolt of what I was saying. After all, no me, no daughter J ... a very disturbing thought to us all.

We drove on to my father's grave in another section - this cemetery is immense and not easily navigated. On the black gravestone's face were carved the words: Lasciandosci con la speranza di rivederci un giorno. It brought home the longing and passion my mother had for my father. How tortuous those years were after his death.

And how I resented going to visit my father's grave back then. After he died, we used to make weekly pilgrimages for a very long time, for months, perhaps years. I was also compelled by an archaic tradition to wear black for six months (it was meant to be for a year and I don't remember how I narrowly escaped this sentence). The medieval nature of this mourning still horrifies aand unsettles me. And I remember how angry I was at my fate ... losing my father, watching my mother suffer and being forced to dress in this way when I wanted only pretty clothes and happiness in my sixteen year old life. My little head was filled with so many unfulfilled longings and dreams.

It is all so long ago now but ... cliche of cliches ... it feels like yesterday.


Cheryl said...

What beautiful words. You are a gifted writer.


Michelle said...

Thanks Cheryl.

Maria said...

This is so sad, but so beautifully told, Michelle.

Michelle said...

Grazie Maria - spero che tu e tuoi siete bene