Indiana University Overseas Study

Girasole

giuliana_adriana

Myself and my nonna on my birthday

Myself and my nonna on my birthday

Just as fireworks were lighting up the broad American skies, my nonna took her last few breaths. Her name was Angela Rosa, but she was a sunflower.

Sunflower translates as Girasole in Italian, which literally means “to turn to the sun.” That is how I remember her—always turning to the sun, to the small pieces of joy among a thousand pains. She had lost her husband, lost a son; she had survived fascism and cancer. In the very end, she was in pain, her body a cage in which all she could do was remember and think and write, thus leaving hundreds of poems and memories behind. Her 90-year-old brother, her priest, her badante and friend, and we her family: We were her sun.

A young Angela with her first child, my father

A young Angela with her first child, my father

In the heat of the Italian sun, the funeral was held the very next day and a wake during the interim. In Italian fashion, posters are normally placed throughout town to announce a death (in place of our newspaper obituaries) and the house was kept open for people to visit with prayers and memories and to find a sort of peace.

In a Catholic state, the funerals tend towards being a mass, complete with priests, hymns, blessings, and incense. It was an anomaly that a few were permitted to speak for a few moments at the beginning.

We were three who spoke: her son-in-law, myself, and an old friend. A theme of all three short speeches was her tenacity and her patience. I read a stanza of one of her poems, entitled “Girasoli” :

My nonna putting flowers at her husband's grave

My nonna putting flowers at her husband’s grave

Cerco per i miei figli la gioia solare, il calore dell’amore.

Nella dedizione quotidiana, canto l’inno alla fatica alla gioia alla speranza.

Perché sia buon raccolto.”

I choose a sunflower as the image of my life.

I search for my children the radiance of joy, the heat of love.

In my daily dedication, a sing a hymn to effort to joy to hope.

Because it is a good harvest.”

Her chair, now empty, beside pictures and poems.

Her chair, now empty, beside pictures and poems.

She was buried in a mausoleum, along the countryside, placed beside her husband. It is lines of marble walls with dark-etched names disguised by beautiful flowers and well-cured lawns with aging headstones, all open to the self-same sun. A few family and friends watched as her casket was set and cemented inside. Thus the day closed, and closed an Italian life.

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