Tomorrow marks 11 months since the person I loved most in the world, my nonna, died. I was thinking about her last night and thought about all the parts of her I miss. I miss her hands. In fact, I miss holding her hand. I never hold hands with anyone, but I held nonna’s all the time. I used to play with her rings and imagine what my own wedding rings might look like. I miss her voice. Even after over 50 years in America, she still had a thick Italian accent. I miss the way I felt like the most loved person in the world when she would open the door and smile. I miss things I hadn’t seen her do for years. I miss her stubbornness, her laugh, and even when she yelled at us kids (we were a little ridiculous when we were little).
Almost a year ago, I had the worst day of my life. I watched the person I loved most in the world take her last breath. One of the reasons I want to take part in the American Heart Association’s fundraiser is because she had a massive stroke.
It took me a while to figure this out, but I now realize that when you have had the worst experience or day of your life, it leaves you pretty fearless. My nonna never seemed scared of anything, and I was always the complete opposite. She took a risk and came to America from Italy. She raised three kids on her own after having several worst days ever (her father, step mother and husband died within 13 years of her coming to America). She lived alone because she wanted to and for a long time had no fear. She wasn’t afraid to be alone. She never remarried and never seemed too interested in letting someone else complete her.
I looked at her life and experiences and thought I could never be as strong as her. After she died, it was like I couldn’t allow myself to have the fears I had because they seemed so superficial. The idea of being alone used to scare me. Who would I be if there was no one beside me? All of the sudden, I knew it didn’t matter. When nonna died, I was on a secure path; one that involved almost no risk. When she passed, I realized how easy it could have been for her to just stay in Italy. It was her home, her life and she took the risk to change every detail of it. I decided I could live the life that seemed safe (not that teaching is easy, it just seemed like what I should do and not my passion) or I could change everything and take the risk of exposing my eating disorder to others and work to become an ED therapist. I knew how long and difficult the path would be and for a long time thought I was too weak to succeed. My nonna’s death sparked something in me. I feel now I don’t want to succeed just for myself but for her as well.
In her life, nonna meant so much to me. There are some things I’ll never be able to think of without thinking of her. In her death, nonna means just as much. I cannot be scared of reaching my full potential, or what other people think of me in my pursuit. I can only be me. My nonna was unapologetically herself and now I am too.
Love today. Love who you are because you are uniquely you! With today being MLK day, I really think it’s important to realize that risks can change your life, and they can and do change the world!