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In Memory Of My Mother

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My mom, Maria Pia, passed away at 4 am on July 2nd. In New York, it was still July 1st and one of the strongest thunderstorm I recall, since living here, was shaking my night. The lightning and the rumble were terrifying Dorothy, my dog, and a feeling of total panic and despair invaded me. Without any reasonable sense, I started to hit the wall with my fists, crying and saying "I can't stand this, I can't". Thousands miles away, in my brother's arms, my mom was dying, failed by a weak heart. For once, in her whole life, she had a "weak" heart and that was fatal.

My mom was a warrior. She defeated, without fear, illness, difficulties and sorrows staying fierce and never losing her sweetness. Our discussions and fights, while I was growing, remain epic. I never surrendered to her wish to comb my hair neatly and nicely. I let my curly hair became my statement against her conservative side for a very long time. Until when we became two women deeply connected: I was there with her anytime she needed, holding her hands, trying to reciprocate all the nights she spent up, trying to ease my high temperature with a wet towel, that she used to pass on my forehead, slowly and lovingly. I went from "the rebel daughter" to the "fearless and brave" one. The one who choose to move to America to be free and happy and that she supported in this, without hesitations, even when my father's pain was so loud to get in the middle. She kept repeating me, "you are not happy here, go and be happy. You deserve that".

2016-07-03-1467559617-7842785-mammacandeline.jpg pic courtesy of Roberto Vitaliano

The last words she told me, few hours before her death, were "excuse me for everything, for any troubles or sadness I might have caused to you". There was no need for those words. She was fighting an infection but nothing too serious to threat her life. Or, that was what we all thought. Instead she might have known that she was going. And wanted to make it up to me for something. I am just grateful that I prompltly replied "Mom there is nothing to be sorry about. I love you and we'll talk tomorrow". I will never talk with her again.

My dad, Vincenzo, also told me that the same day, before leaving us, she took his hand and said "I always loved you Enzo". He replied "and I love you like the first day we met". I am so glad that this is what he will keep in his heart as a support to survive and that my brother and me, and my niece and nephew, we are so lucky to know that they loved each other this way for longer than 55 years.

2016-07-03-1467559659-9082214-mamma.jpg pic Angela Vitaliano

While I write these words, my mom's funeral already took place and she was cremated and there was no way that I could have made it on time there. Also, not even with the Air Force One, I could have arrived there in time to talk together one last time. To tell her that I am so proud when people say that I am like her. I will never see her again alive. And this is what I will have to deal with in the coming months.

In these hours, I found myself thinking about the movie Brooklyn, one of the most beautiful story about immigration and about the meaning (and the pain) to be faraway, so faraway that often you cannot "make it on time". My friend Riccy told me "you made a choice when you left and this is your choice". She was right. Still, it is not less painful or less unfair. Being away, in this rarefied loneliness, that many friends try to break with a very limited (but precious) success, is a torture. It is an unbearable pain. And you do things that probably are meaningless for many, like setting the alarm clock at 6.15 am, to be awake while in Italy they are taking your beloved mom to the Church for the farewall Mass. Or going through all the pics you have with her; or answering to all the messages of condolences, a thing that your other relatives will do in the days to come. Not today, not now. You do things to survive that barely help you to go from one minute to the next, realizing that she is not there anymore. And your being so faraway, because you left to be happy, sound useless and bitter.

But you cannot simply survive. You have to live up to someone's expectations and my mom's were high. And I find helpful, in these moments, a beautiful Jewish Poem, "When All That's Left Is Love" by Rabbi Allen S. Maller, because it reminds me the only acceptable meaning of death: another form of life, not confined in an human body. When the body is gone, all the love that was in that treasure chest, flew around freely and in a perfect harmony with the universe. And so the intolerable pain of the loss, magnified by the distance, becomes something else: we can breath our beloved through the air, they can caress our faces through the wind and we can look in their eyes through the eyes of somebody else that we equally love.

2016-07-03-1467559752-2777536-13516384_10153749183702379_5583045363602842104_n.jpg pic Angela Vitaliano

And we can keep them alive honoring their lives and memories. I have plenty . And I have her as my inspiration and example: she lived a whole life with dignity and pride. She never made the lack of money being and issue for us. We always had healthy and delicious food on the table, we were always neatly dressed and combed, the bathroom was always enough warm when we had to take a bath during the winter, she helped with homework, she told us stories at night and during the day when we asked for, she loved my dad and she accepted and loved all our friends. She adored her nephew Cristian and her niece Serena; she used to stop, during the Ramadan, in the street to talk with Maliko asking "are you hungry? when can you eat?", like a mom would do. She asked me to let her see Dorothy (my dog), with FaceTime, until the last day. She, a catholic girl raised in the most conservative family, married the love of her life, Vincenzo, a communist and atheist that, until the last time she went there, used to wait for her outside the Church on Sunday. But more than anything, she, a woman from Southern Italy, set me free. She let me fly. She reminded me that I deserve to be happy. She loved me for who I am. And I am and I will forever be her daughter.