In Italian, “nonno” means grandfather. But my nonno Salvatore was much more to me than a grandfather. He was like my father, he was my best-friend, confidant, dance partner, I was his side-kick. I loved him so much and still do. When he passed away when I was only 10 years old, I felt devastated. While I don't think that anyone fully "recovers" after losing someone that they love so much, I know that I have grown stronger and, somehow, closer to him even though he is not physically on this Earth any longer. I think what devastated me the most about his passing was watching him suffer so much.
Salgi is Born
After having acid reflux for years but always being reassured by doctors that it was “just heartburn” and to take antacids, my grandfather started having difficulty swallowing and would choke on food. Finally, his doctor became concerned and scheduled an endoscopy to check his esophagus. We then received the terrifying diagnosis of advanced esophageal cancer. My nonno underwent surgery and aggressive rounds of chemotherapy and radiation. A little over one year from his diagnosis and on Father’s Day of 1998, my nonno passed away.
Fast forward to 2011, my mother started to experience similar symptoms that my grandfather had. Thankfully, her test results showed that while she had some slight damage from reflux, there was nothing precancerous. PRAISE GOD! That is when she and I began researching heartburn and esophageal cancer. We were shocked to find that since his passing, esophageal cancer incidence (those who are diagnosed) had increased over 800%.
We also found out that:
So on November 21, 2011, my nonno’s birthday, we started a nonprofit to raise awareness, encourage early detection and to fund research of esophageal cancer: The Salgi Esophageal Cancer Research Foundation.
Carrying out the mission of this charity has been bittersweet. We’ve met so many amazing people that have been affected by esophageal cancer and have also met others who have had a loved one affected by this horrific
cancer. But we’ve also felt our heartache from losing my nonno grow deeper whenever we speak to others who’ve lost a loved one or hear that someone we’ve met who was battling esophageal cancer has passed away.
“We know certainly that our God calls us to a holy life. We know that he gives us every grace, every abundant grace; and though we are so weak of ourselves, this grace is able to carry us through every obstacle and difficulty.” ~St. Elizabeth Ann Seton
Thankfully, we have been able to use this heartache to help propel us forward and focus on the mission. I believe that this strength comes from my nonno who, along with my nonna, were two of the strongest people that I’ve ever met. The foundation that they both formed for us has helped tremendously and the strong connection that I had with them has sustained me in times of sorrow, despair and defeat.
O Sole Mio
When I was a baby, he would rock me to sleep "faccia a faccia" which means "face to face" (cheek to cheek) and he would sing O Sole Mio. It was very difficult for me to hear that song, until December 2015, when my son was born. Since the first day when he was born, my mother and I would sing O Sole Mio to him and our little love would stop crying almost instantly.
I have a theory that our babies are in heaven before they are born. I like to imagine that they are “up there” with God, Jesus, Mary and all the angels and saints, but are also in the presence of our family members and friends who have attained heaven. So, I take it as a bit of proof to my theory when my son would immediately stop crying and gaze up at us, knowingly, while we sang that beautiful song which still pierces my heart each time I hear it or sing it.
My nonno and nonna were the backbone of our family and they were both loved by so many people. When both my nonno and nonna passed away, nine years apart, the line at their wakes were endless. They moved to the United States in the 1950s and while most of their family was back in Naples, Italy, they made so many friends and some, to this day, are like family to us.
Growing up each Sunday morning, my mother, nonno, nonna and I would go to Mass together. After they passed away, and for a long time, it was very difficult for me to go to Mass because it reminded me so much of my grandparents and the constant heartache that came from losing them. Now, after years of facing that heartache head on, I instead feel their presence while at Mass, especially since we are blessed to attend the same Church that they called “home” for so many years—that we now consider our home.
Today, in celebration of my nonno’s birthday in Heaven, my son and I went to Mass this morning. It was the first time that I had gone to Mass just me and my son. I was nervous, but am so glad that we shared that together. While we were unable to make it to the same Church that we usually go to and were rushing to get to a later morning Mass, we made it on-time and celebrated my nonno’s birthday in the very best way possible.
Would you please pray for me that my nonno and my nonna are in Heaven? Please join me in saying one Hail Mary:
Hail Mary, full of grace.
The Lord is with thee.
Blessed art thou amongst women,
and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.
Holy Mary, Mother of God,
pray for us sinners,
now and at the hour of our death.
As always, thank you for reading. God bless you and may the Blessed Virgin Mary be with you always!
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