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.
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” :
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.”
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.