New year, new hope

420_about_what_guides_us.imgcache.rev1304091173588I’m not the kind of gal who likes New Year’s to begin with, but this time around, celebrating in the fullest was especially important.

Most people think my dislike for the holiday stems from the fact I’m born on January 3rd. That, in some odd way, ringing in a new year steals my birthday thunder. But really, that’s the furthest thing from the truth. The real reason I’m not a fan of January 1st is the pressure that comes with it. You’re expected to go out, make resolutions, find the perfect party dress, and stay up until midnight for the celebratory countdown. It’s a lot of pressure, especially after the Christmas holidays are over and you’re already tired/stuffed/overspent etc. There’s pressure in the business world too. For some it’s a new fiscal year – a time of change and renewed expectations. And let’s face it…it’s always a little daunting coming back to a full email inbox after the holidays.

The real reason why this New Year’s was worth celebrating, however, was because of my grandmother. On the day before Christmas Eve, my family was told she had only 48-72 hours left to live. Coming from a close-knit Italian family, it was a devastating blow during the holiday season. On that side of the family, I’m the youngest grandchild. And on that Sunday, I visited her in the nursing home for what my parents said was presumably the last time. It was an awful afternoon, and she was severely ill. I didn’t cry, but when I got home I was so overwhelmed with emotion that I needed to write something down – to help me process all of the heartbreak. Here’s the posting I did on one of my personal blogs:

“We have the same initials.


But her hands and hair are soft with age. Her feet twisted round, poking out through the thin nursing home sheets. Her arms bruised from the IVs and the blood test and the poking and prodding.

She is just shy of 92.

She is my nonna.

And she is dying.

The doctors think she has anywhere between 48-72 hours, unless by some act of God the medication they’re now trying clears the infection spreading in her lungs

Today she asked to see me. She pulled my father in close, and whispered my name. And so I road up the highway on this grey winter day, rubbing off my dark red lipstick (which she always hated) on the back of my wrist, and arrived at her bedside.

What do you say to someone who knows they are dying? When the person you are looking at is a pale, ghostly imitation of the woman who once served you chicken cutlets and roast potatoes in the dining room of her family home. I was a child then, when she knit me slippers. When she still went outside in the garden to complain about the squirrels ravaging the tomatoes.

Here she is, now, unable to speak. The heavy gurgling in her chest is the only sound she’s making. My oldest cousin is here rubbing his eyes raw and red. Before today I’ve never seen him cry.

My father paces outside the door while his sisters argue about drugs and doctors and power of attorney and who did the right or wrong thing at what time and whether or not any of this could have been avoided.

I’m not a religious person, but I do believe in God. Or maybe just in some higher being up there. But recently I’ve been thinking about what to say to him about my nonna. She’s had an incredible life. Lived to see her children and grandchildren go on to do successful things. She’s seen five beautiful great grandchildren come into this world, bringing with them the joy of youth and promise.

But she’s tired now. And while everyone is fighting for her to pull through the merciless physical trauma she has endured over the last month, I can’t help but feel that she’s asking all the grandchildren to come visit her for a reason. So as she was sleeping, with no one else in the room, I told her it was ok to go. That we all loved her. And that she still looked beautiful. And that my late nonno has been waiting decades for her. To talk to her, or dance with her again, or probably just argue with her…as us stubborn Italians are known to do.

Before I turned to leave, Silent Night came on the little radio in her room playing carols.

I’m not sure if she heard me, but I hope she did.”

On the weekend before Christmas, my father’s family had picked out the casket and made the funeral arrangements. That Sunday night, not long after I left, she was rushed to the hospital with congenital heart failure. We had all assumed this was it.

The specialists were called – a gerontologist, a cardiologist, a speech pathologist…and the prognosis was grim. But on Christmas Eve she began to recover. She began keeping food down. Her vitals grew stronger. The water in her lungs began to clear. Her advanced dementia seemed to be more under control than usual. She sat up, she spoke up and she responded when called. She recognized all of us.

I know I’m going to sound like a TOTAL cheeseball, but it really was a Christmas miracle.

I’m so happy to say my nonna is going to be okay. The day before New Year’s Eve, it was confirmed that she would live for at least a little while longer. Instead of days, we now have months. So this New Year’s Eve, we popped that bubbly and toasted to the fact that somewhere up there, an angel was watching over my nonna. This whole experience has made me even more aware of how important it is to celebrate the simple fact that a new year brings a fresh start. It also brings a new sense of hope – the promise of renewed faith in the simple fact that you’re lucky enough to be surrounded by friends and family to see one year change to the next.

It’s going to be a hard life for my grandmother, no doubt, but our family will be there to support her every step of the way. Even more amazingly, she’ll live to celebrate her 92nd birthday later next week. She may not be able to eat cake, or open presents, or even read her cards like she normally did in years past.

But little does she know that, ironically, she’s giving us the best gift ever this year.

The gift of her still being alive and present in our lives.

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