“Tonight I will drink wine…the expensive stuff on the back of the shelf in the basement…and I’ll order gnocchi from the only restaurant I’ve found that gets it even close to hers…and after we get our kids to bed, I’ll cry as I finish the second glass of wine, because one won’t be enough, holding my wife’s hand when I can finally let this all sink in…
I often write about the collateral beauty of a situation…Of the wonderful mistakes that come from unfortunate circumstances…or how to find the rainbow at the end of a rainy day…
I’m not sure how to spin this one…
I’m not sure how to recognize anything but the collateral damage from COVID-19 as I work my way through this post…
When my father mentioned there had been a few cases of COVID-19 at my Nana’s nursing home community a little over a week ago, I simply held my breath. As romantically naive of a dreamer I am, I am fortunate to have equal capacity for reality and logic. I understood what that could mean: outside visitors hadn’t been allowed for weeks, but now there was a good risk it would spread throughout her community, and my fierce and stubborn 98-year-old Italian little woman of a Nana, could fall victim.
I knew feeling helpless would make things worse, so instead, I imposed on my family asking each subset for selfie-video messages I could compile into one message for her. It took less than 48-hours and each son, niece, nephew, granddaughter, grandson, great-granddaughter, and great-grandson had provided a message that was quickly compiled and sent with a request of desperate gratitude to make it to her. Her wonderful nurses obliged, just 24 hours after they let us know she had spiked a fever.
Later that day, they shared that she watched it with a tear in her eye, and despite her heavy breathing, with peace and gratitude.
I’m having trouble finding the silver lining in this because all I want is the chance to grieve with my family, those same 20+ individuals who rallied around getting messages to her so quickly, who know the ache of losing the matriarch of our family.
During the last week, I found myself easily distracted by my less than silent household, running after one twin to ensure they don’t send the other to the ER, because seriously, unless someone’s dying, we are not going to the ER, and wished I could give my dad that distraction as he anticipated as he now mourns the second loss of a parent.
I forced a brave smile while on facetime with my siblings as we small talked around the situation, asking if each other is ok, all mimicking the ‘fine’ response and ignoring how each other’s eyes well up or voices crack, because we knew Nana may not make it. Now that the day is here, I wasn’t able to force the smile as my sister and I broke down instead.
Today Nana left us. Since I first heard this day would be a possibility, I have cried in the shower because it was the only place I felt like I could let go of the weight of this without worrying my children. But now that today is here, I yearn for the opportunity to have a wake and a funeral for her where there are acceptable places to be publicly broken for a moment, with others equally looking to sit in the sadness this loss has caused.
Reflecting on her legacy, the most important lesson she taught was Family is Everything.
Nana lived her life with it as the consistent deciding factor, because to her, family gave unconditional love the unconditional requirement.
To be a family meant you were invited to dinner on Sunday, the day that woman would stand on the hard kitchen floor without rest, making pasta from scratch while gravy simmered on the stovetop, just so all the people she loved would gather around the table and find sustenance from her love to start another week. ‘The way you show someone you love them,’ she’d say, ‘is to work for it, as long as it takes, and make the outcome worth the wait.’
To be family meant anytime you attended a family gathering, large or small, you gave each member of the family the respect and love they deserved both when you arrived and right before you left with a hug and kiss – EVERYONE. From a young age, we were trained to know each relative, even in the extended family, and to this day the greatest insult to an Aprea is if you leave without a hug or a kiss goodbye. Just last Christmas, after Luca had a full-blown episode and we had to leave the celebration abruptly, my wife looked at me shocked when I explained I had to go back inside and say our goodbyes.
To be family meant every wrongdoing or mistake would be forgiven, and the only worst-case scenario would be a disappointment, never disownment. Telling my Nana my life was not going to be what she expected, or necessarily wanted, as I’d met the person I intended to marry and that she was not a ‘he’, was one of the most difficult moments of my life. I watched her heartbreak in front of me, fully aware I was the cause. Years later, at my wedding, she said it was the happiest group of people she had ever been a part of, celebrating such a ‘happy day.’ And then, when the twins were born, followed by her great-granddaughter Alex, she told me how she couldn’t have been prouder. All she ever wanted for her granddaughters were to have families and raise them with love and full bellies, the way she had raised hers. She may not have wanted, approved of, or accepted my marriage to a woman at first, but the fact that a woman was going to give her the family she had dreamed of for me, made it better somehow.
To be family meant you never gave up on each other. I can remember the first time I asked her why Papa had his own room, and she said even if it required separate bedrooms so your spouse’s snoring didn’t drive you over the crazy edge, you still slept, loved, and raised your family under the same roof because that’s what commitment is. My guess is it wasn’t just the snoring, but as so many of us are dealing with the stress of COVID-19, and maybe taking it out on our spouses because our typical outlets of dealing with stress aren’t an option (PICK ME), I’m trying to remember that commitment I made to say for better or for worse, and be grateful my wife doesn’t snore…(Love you, babe.)
Lastly, for Nana, to be family meant on the sad days when you lost a member of the family, that you should feel it in every ache of your being, because when you are family – from the moment you enter it, to the moment you leave it – you are never alone. Losing a family member, any member, is like losing a part of yourself, and it should be painful as it reflects the love you had for that person. My heart is broken today, but I know it will heal quickly, for it is mourning the loss of an INCREDIBLE woman whose legacy will live on in the family members she left behind.
I am not alone in this. The death toll COVID-19 has taken on our nation is tragic, and families everywhere are forced to mourn in non-preferred ways. Many states in the US still haven’t seen the peak, but we are about to.
To all those out there who have lost a loved one, sincerest sympathies, and empathy from someone who also has a broken heart. May the pain you feel in their loss merely remind you of the love they gave you while they were here, and their memories continue to warm your heart for all your days ahead.
To those on the front lines, both in the hospitals, doctors’ offices, and EMS services, thank you for everything you are doing to take care of those we love, even though it puts your families at risk. May your sacrifice save the lives of the ones you can, but may you not take any of the weight of the ones you can’t home with you. You are our heroes, plain and simple, and may there be so many Sunday dinners in your future where the topic of conversation is lighthearted and not so heavily weighted by the severity of your current days.
To those staffing the nursing homes where this disease is spreading like wildfire, and particularly to the incredible nursing staff at Orchard Cove who made sure my nana got to see her family one more time, thank you for caring for our loved ones like they are your own.
To the Apreas who I wish I could be with so much, I love you, and I know we will find a way to be together soon. I can’t wait to take the first hour together to say hello to each of you, and the last to say goodbye, as each hug and kiss will have been completely worth the wait.
To my kids, Jack, Luca, and Alex, thank you for filling our days with distraction, learning experiences, laughter, and love. You make every single day worth living, and you can thank your great Nana that she taught me about the unconditional love we will continue to shower on you every day, and how to make the most laboriously fantastic eggplant parm there is.
To my wife, my irreplaceable partner in this life, I promise to buy your breathe-right strips if you ever start to snore, and honor the commitments we made to each other on that ‘happy day,’ pushing through whatever craziness this COVID-19 continues to throw our way, because you are my chosen family, and…
Family IS Everything.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Christina Young. You can follow their journey on Instagram and their website. Do you have a similar experience? We’d like to hear your important journey. Submit your own story here. Be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.
Read more stories about those affected by coronavirus:
‘The dreaded texts started coming in from my friends and their husbands about that Zoom call. My anxiety was through the roof.’: Woman says ‘don’t allow yourself to sink, rely on the people who love you’
‘This morning I was tested for COVID-19. I am angry I had no choice but to be exposed to it.’: Woman exposed to virus against her will due to insurance malpractice, ‘We didn’t need to be in this position’
Encourage others to cherish every moment. Please SHARE on Facebook or Twitter