A lot more then grief – losing someone special when you are far

A year ago we were getting ready to go home for Christmas and plans for lunch, dinner and other celebrations were well on their way. I spent hours discussing menus and logistic with my mum and my auntie Anna and I enjoyed the dynamics and little squabbles between the two of them. This is certainly one of the best aspects of living on the other side of the world, things that would be annoying if you were there all the time, become quite endearing!

My Auntie Anna is my dad younger sister and she was only 18 when I was born, the first baby in the family. I immediately became her little doll. We have always had a special bond, she lived very close to us and I spent a lot of time with her while I was growing up. When I was six my cousin was born and perhaps I was a little bit jealous of his intrusion, but she had a lot of love to give and she never made me feel like I was missing out. In fact I embraced my new role as the older cousin and, consequently, Luca and I are incredibly close.

My mum is an only child and my auntie became the sister she never had. Although incredibly different, they shared everything and helped and supported each others throughout the years.

We were due to fly on the 28th of November and I was excited.

On the morning of the 26th I woke up early and I felt uneasy. I am always nervous before a flight and I can’t help becoming extremely tragic minded! I looked at my phone and saw a message from my mum. I couldn’t read properly and I searched around for my glasses but I knew something was wrong. My mum does not send me messages at night, she has mastered the time difference beautifully! It only took a second to get my glasses but I had already started to shake and Nigel woke up to my sobs. My auntie had had a stroke and died.

Ever since I moved here I have been waiting for that call. In my dark moments I picture different scenarios and circumstances. What would I do? How would I feel? It was 6 am on the 26th of November and it was happening. I had lost one of the most important persons in my life and I was on the other side of the world.

It took me only a few minutes to accept that it was real and that I had to act quickly. I called home and someone, I only realise now that I don’t even know who I spoke to, told me that she went for her evening walk and died, looking at the sunset, without even noticing. She just kneeled down and she was gone. She was 67 years old.

I knew I had to be there for the funeral, to say goodbye, and my family knew it too. Although in Italy funerals are often held the day after the death, they promised me they would wait for me. I changed my flight and Sofia told me she had to come with me. I will always be grateful to her for being with me all the way. We flew in the evening and we arrived the morning of the funeral.

In all my conjectures I had never envisioned that there could be something positive coming out of the tragedy. Although I still feel her loss, what happened in the days that followed my auntie sudden departure has left me with a lot more then just grief.

It took only moments for Nigel to step into action and call the airlines to change our tickets, I felt confident he was in control and I did not need to worry about anything. The flight was easy and I cherished the time spent with Sofia. I am not sure why I was surprised that she chose to come with me, I’ve always known how much she loved her Zia Anna but at the time it felt like the biggest present she could give me. When we arrived my brother and my cousin’s son, Lorenzo, where waiting for us at the airport. I had never felt happier to be home, even though it was for such a sad occasion. We all felt the same, we were sharing the same pain and it made me feel lighter.

I had told Sofia about italian funerals, how, unlike in Australia, we go and see the person to say goodbye and it was probably going to be very heavy, dark, sad and emotional. I was quite worried myself. But as soon as I got to the hospital all my worries disappeared. It was sad and emotional but there was no heaviness or darkness. There were hugs and tears, kisses and smiles. The sun was shining and I felt like everyone one there was somehow part of our lives. And there was my beautiful zia Anna sleeping serene, surrounded by love, lots and lots of love. Sofia arrived soon after with Lorenzo and it looked like she belonged there. She was completely at ease, with death, with love, with family.

A year has past and I am about to fly home again. I will be there for a special anniversary, to spend some time with friends and family, to pick up Sofia and possibly to visit some museums and churches! Of course I am still worried about getting that call or that text but I am also confident that I am not alone and I will be there when I need to be there.

Link alla versione italiana Perdere una persona cara quando si e’ lontani 

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Getting closer, when you are far

When I first left home and Italy I was 20 years old. A friend and I decided to go and spend some time in Paris. My mum was supportive of my decision but, like me, I don’t think she realised I would never come back to live home again. I think she thought I was going on an extended holiday, a little bit of adventure before settling down. In those first few years of my living abroad we didn’t speak or see each other much. I called her regularly but our lives were so different if was very hard to find something to say.

My mum at her happiest, in her garden, with her precious nipotine

My mum at her happiest, in her garden, with her precious nipotine

My mum hates to travel, she loves her home, her garden and her cooking. It must have been very hard for her to accept that her only daughter had no intention of settling down. On the contrary I kept travelling from place to place, living in grotty flats, doing all sort of casual jobs and having absolutely no plans for her future.

When I introduced her to Nigel she had been so worried that I was never going to find anyone who would marry me, that she loved him at first sight! Even if he was a tall, Jewish, Australian boy, wearing thai farmers’ pants and did not speak a word of Italian! I guess she knew by then that I would never go back to live in Italy and the idea that at least I would not move around so much appealed to her. Even if I was going to live in Australia.

Although she does not like to travel she has come to Melbourne many times over the years. She complains about the long trip (but who doesn’t!) and the life style here but she has made the effort and I do appreciate it as it hasn’t been easy for her.

We have had our ups and downs and she wasn’t always accepting of my decision to move and, for years, she found ways of making me feel guilty about having “abandoned” her and I resented her for doing that.

But at the moment our relationship is flourishing and I am thanking Skype for that! It took a while to convince my parents that there was a way to talk and see each other on the computer. They don’t like changes and technology scares them. But once they understood how Skype worked they never looked back.

Selfie!

Selfie con mamma!

My mum and I speak at least twice a week. Often it’s just a quick exchange, a little bit of gossip that she knows I would like to hear or something about the girls. She shows me the beautiful mushrooms she picked in the woods and I show her my bread just out of the oven. Skype has brought a new dimension to our conversations, now is almost like a “dropping in”. I can see what she is wearing and understand immediately how the weather is in Vallecrosia. She can see my new haircut and notice if I have a new top. She can comment on the girls too long hair and too short skirts and, although she is on the other side of the world, they can still experience this delightful aspect of an italian nonna!

I know it won’t always be this easy, my parents are still young and at the moment chatting on Skype is a wonderful way to feel part of their life but once their health will start to deteriorate it will not be enough. For now though, I enjoy this new found closeness with my mum, our laughs and our gossiping on line have become a pleasant part of our week and I am sure we are both cherishing our time together. I often wonder if we could have been this close if I lived next door to her but this, I guess, I will never know!

 

Internet friendships

A couple of months ago I watched a movie (Trust) about a young girl who was seduced and raped by an older man she met on the internet. He pretended to be young and slowly made his way into her life, by the time the girl met him in person and realised that he was middle aged, she was too dependent on him to do anything about it.

From Hawaii, Torino and Melbourne we meet in Riccione, with Claudia and Maura.

From Hawaii, Torino and Melbourne we meet in Riccione, with Claudia and Maura.

Of course I felt compelled to talk to Sofia about the dangers of meeting people on the internet. Again! Sof looked at me with a disgruntled look and told me: the only one in this family who meets strangers on the internet is you. You need to be careful!

I dare say she is right. Since my arrival on the big wide web I have met a lot of people and with a few of them I have become good friends. I have been very lucky so far and none of the one I met in real life has turned out to be some kind of creep and after a few emails, sitting and chatting in front of a coffee has felt as natural as if we had always known each other.

It all started when the girls were little and I felt the need to compare my experiences as a mother here, with italian mothers .  I had a solid support network in Melbourne, lots of friends with small children to share the day to day progress of our offsprings and the joy and sorrows of motherhood. So it wasn’t loneliness that pushed me to look on the internet. By joying parenting forum and reading how women in Italy lived such an important time of their life, I found a deeper way to stay connected and keep a stronger sense of belonging. I soon found out that big community weren’t for me and I began one on one correspondence with those women I felt closer to. Needles to say, we found a lot more to talk about then dirty nappies and sleepless nights!

With Carmela, after months of intense correspondence we finally meet!

With Carmela, after months of intense correspondence we finally meet!

I met Carmela who, being married to a muslim man, provided a great opportunity to discuss the relationship with our husbands’s different religious beliefs (Nigel being jewish). Claudia, who was at the time living in Hawaii and had two boys almost the same age as my girls, it was with her that I “chatted” for the first time and I remember spending a New Year’s Eve with her and Angela, in Canada, on icq, well before Skype existed! I met Maura, whom with her five children always finds time to come and see me whenever I am in Italy and Luisa, on the other side of the Ocean, in California, which I know I will meet one day.

These friendships developed through long emails, before Facebook and Skype allowed that instant contact that now we take for granted, and I believe that what we shared in those first few years, in our respective countries, has provided us with memories just as powerful as if we lived in the same town. Whenever our paths cross, virtually or physically, I am filled with the joy and recollection that I get when I meet old friends and I treasure their presence in my life.

Sometimes we cross that bridge, with Elena in Melbourne

Sometimes we cross that bridge, with Elena in Melbourne

Over the years I have kept meeting Italian people on the internet, depending on what phase I am going through in my life. When I was diagnosed with breast cancer, a few years ago, I found enormous value in reading blogs of Italian women who where experiencing the same and recently I have had the pleasure of meeting Claudia, who supported me with her professional coaching when I needed a little direction.

Elena is one of my closest friends in Melbourne. We live on different sides of “the bridge” which is almost like living in different countries and we catch up regularly on Skype. We met online a few years ago and after a couple of emails and text messages we decided to have lunch (or was it coffee?) in the city. Sofia was not happy about my unnecessary risk taking. How did I know that Elena was who she said she was? I promised her I would meet her in a public place and I would run if she tried anything untoward. Luckily Elena turned out to be quite harmless and, as Sofia had the chance to experience over the years, a lovely person.

I am aware that I have taken some risks and the internet can be a dangerous and treacherous place but I am also grateful that it has given me the opportunity to meet a lot of wonderful women which I hope will be in my life for ever.

 

Long distance friendship across time

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Shopping in Freemantle

I met Fiona in 1990 in Kota Bharu, Malaysia. I walked into Mummy’s Youth Hostel, tired after a night bus trip, and there she was. I think we became friends the moment we introduced each other because from that very moment my life has never been without her.

Fiona worked at the hostel in exchange for bed and board, I was just passing through, not really sure of where I was going. We spent about a week together in Kota Bharu, eating at night’s markets and laughing a lot, then we went our separate ways.

I was looking for a photo of the two of us at that time but I could not find one. I was a bit surprised but then I remembered that in those days (yes, I am one of those “vintage” traveller, I have to accept the fact!) taking photos was not that easy. You actually had to carry a big, chunky camera with you and then, once you took your photos, you had to find a cheap place to have them developed and you had no idea of what you were going to get! No previews and no deleting the duds, sometimes you even had to wait for a few days and then you got your precious little parcel of memories.

I like to think that we knew we would have plenty of opportunities to take hundreds of photos of us over the years. And we did indeed!

Fiona and I have never lived in the same city but for a few months we both lived in Europe, her in France and me in Italy. This was as close as we ever were. It was then that we decided we should try and meet in different places, explore new parts of the world while we caught up. And we did. We met in Paris and London, in Bali and Perth, Singapore and Melbourne and we explored lots of different places together.

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Posing in Singapore

Over the years of our friendship Fiona lived in different countries and I met Nigel and moved to Melbourne. We often didn’t see each other for years but we wrote long letters, with pen and paper and stamps. Our stories were travelling around the world in white envelopes or aerograms (does anyone remember those?) occasionally we even sent tapes and I still remember the excitement at every delivery.

Then we moved from letters to faxes. I remember the day Nigel came home from work with Fiona’s first fax. She only wrote it the night before, almost instant, almost magic! But the problem with faxes was that the print would faint after a few years, I never really warmed to the idea that Fiona’s precious words would disappear. Luckily faxes were soon replaced by emails. Now this was a true step forward and it was instant and certainly magic!

In the last years our communication has evolved yet again and we don’t have to write anymore. We can Skype and Viber, new words meaning we can talk and even see each other while we have our coffee in our different countries.

Fiona is living in Singapore now, only seven hours flight from here and only two or three hours time difference. We are on the same side of the world and it is wonderful to have her so close.

When we meet we talk and talk, usually non stop, jumping from one story to the next without really making much sense. Our days together have always been joyful and our separation never sad.

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Singing in Melbourne

As a romantic teenager I read Illusions by Richard Bach and, although I am usually terribly at remembering quotes, one line of this book got stuck in my head: “Can miles truly separate you from your friends? If you want to be with someone you love aren’t you already there?”. My friendship with Fiona is summed up in this one quote. I never really miss her, because she is never really gone.