“Dear Nonna (grandmother in Italian),
Today is your birthday. I told my son, your precious sweetheart, that you are celebrating in heaven with Nonno, surrounded by God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, our Blessed Virgin Mary, all of the angels, saints and our family members and friends that have departed from this earth. While I’m not sure if he understands anything that I am saying, he smiles when I tell him about you. I told him how wonderful you were and how you loved people, to be in a group of family and friends was when you were happiest. Everyone who met you, even for a moment, loved you. Your laugh was infectious and I can still remember how comforting it was to hug you and lay my head on your shoulder. It may seem strange to others, but I miss the way you smell. Even the sweetest smelling gardenias pale in comparison.
Exactly one week from today, it will be eleven years since you passed away. In Italian, to say “I miss you” it is “mi manchi", which literally translates to "you are missing from me.” That is exactly how I feel about you, Nonna. The grief that I felt when you passed away still consumes me and there are times when I double over from the mere thought of living out the rest of my life without you and Nonno. Memories of your love, life and legacy fills the voids and the only consolation to these sorrows is to pray that you have both been welcomed into the Kingdom of Heaven and there will watch over us until we are reunited.
While you are not physically on this earth, you will always be with me. You were both with me when we received the concerning news during my pregnancy, undoubtedly immediately kneeling before our Blessed Virgin Mary, imploring her to intercede to her Son and listen to our prayers. You were with us in the ultrasound room on the sixth floor of the Prenatal Diagnosis Center of Women and Infants for the Level II ultrasound which, thanks be to God, showed our boy was healthy and growing as he should. You were also with me when I first held that sweet boy in my arms after he was born and drew a little cross on his forehead, thanking God for His magnificent blessing. But you and Nonno are not just with me only in these life-changing, challenging, magical or exciting moments, I carry you both in my heart always and forever.
Before his nap, my son climbed onto my lap with his favorite blanket. I continued my story of you celebrating in heaven and I began to tell him parts of your life. The usually rambunctious, energetic toddler, snuggled close and listened as I told him how when Nonno saw you for the first time, he told his friend that he would marry you. How you and Nonno were married before Nonno had to fight during World War II. How Nonno risked his life by fleeing his camp to see you during the long five years at war, because he missed and loved you so much. How you and Nonno, among so many others, bravely left your home country of Italy to come to the United States of America—leaving your parents, siblings, other family members and friends in hopes of a better life not for them, but for your children, grandchildren and generations to follow. How you traveled from Italy to the USA on a cruise ship with Nonno and your young son while almost nine months pregnant. That here in America you worked mostly third shifts for 18 years in a General Electric plant as a press operator, which, when you were older, caused you to have a knee replacement, arthritis and sciatic pain.
How you managed to make a wonderful life for your family with very little or almost no sleep. That during the day, instead of sleeping when you could have, you would take care of the family: cook, clean, wash, fold, run errands and even put up new wallpaper in the apartment. That you always made time for family and friends; saving Sundays for worship at church and then picnics in the park with friends who turned into our extended family. How you sacrificed in even the littlest things—you would take out the trash all year round, in the snow, rain or sun, so that my grandfather and uncles wouldn’t have to. This was all done out of love and complete dedication to your family. I explained to our son as his eyelids began to get heavy and his breathing slowed, that when I was little and my mother had to go back to work, you took care of me with Nonno and how I was blessed to spend my childhood surrounded by so much love.
Nonna, thank you for everything that you have done for us. You loved us all with all of you—just as Christ loves us. I wish I had fully appreciated you when I was younger as I can now. However, I feel this ability to recognize and appreciate the full goodness in a mother and grandmother can only come after having children of your own. Your sacrifice and dedication to our family fully embodied Jesus’ vision and His love for us all. It was, after all, God’s plan from the very beginning to make us all like His Son, Jesus.
“Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.” Romans 12:1-2
So as I close this letter, I want to wish you a happy birthday in heaven. I love and miss you terribly but am so thankful that you left such a lasting impression on me that you will never truly be more than just a thought away. I love you, Nonna.”
As always, thank you for reading. God bless you and may the Blessed Virgin Mary be with you always!
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