Tuesday, March 11, 2008

A Brief Eulogy

This has absolutely nothing to do with basketball, but it's my site, and I'll do what I want with it.

My grandmother, Franca Capozza Rugani (my Nonna), died today at just over 90 years and 7 months. She had been in the hospital for a little over a month, and had stage 4 cancer of an unidentified variety (by the time it had diagnosed, it had spread sufficiently that the doctors were unsure of the original source), so the end of her life was expected. I was able to go to San Jose during the first weekend of March to see her one last time and say goodbye, and have had plenty of times to come to terms with the fact that she would not be with us much longer. But the profound sense of loss is no easier to stomach.

My Nonna was a remarkable woman. She followed love halfway around the world, leaving her native Italy in 1947 to follow her (handsome) Italian-American husband - a US soldier in WWII - to California. She spoke no English, had no local relatives, and never bothered to learn how to drive. But she thrived in her new country, raised three children while working in a school cafeteria, learned English by playing scrabble and doing crosswords (among other things). Her children all went to college and graduate school, the first generation in the family so highly educated. All the while, my grandparents stayed in the same home, with little change. She lived in that house for 51 years, 7 on her own after my grandfather passed. The plates and glasses are all from the 60s. The upholstery was from the 70s until it changed just 2 years ago. The roses in the garden and the wisteria on the wall were annual features.

And she collected family. She opened her home to a young woman in community college in the 70s who was estranged from her own family. That woman has been a member of our family ever since. She became a mother to my own mom, who had lost both her parents by the time she was 16. My mom has said several times that she married my dad as much for Nonna as for him. She accepted diversity within our family - I have three adopted cousins, one Native American and Vietnamese (I think), and two Chinese. For countless neighbors, my grandmother's home served as a place of open doors, where one could always count on a willing ear (and a great Italian dinner). We had her 90th birthday party last August, and well over 100 people turned out, from all periods of my grandmother's life. Her friendships were strong and enduring.

By the time I went to college, my grandmother was too old to travel. She never met my classmates in college and law school, never met any girlfriends I had after high school, and I have always felt disappointed by that, because I knew that - although they'd never know it - their lives would have been richer simply by knowing her. She was a woman who took people at face value, who understood your flaws and accepted you nonetheless, who could vehemently disagree with your opinion while loving you all the same, and not letting the former affect the latter. And yet, although they've never spoken with her, anyone who has met me has also, in a way, met her. So much of who I am and who I want to be comes from Franca Rugani. The way she lived was a lesson and a model, and if I can follow even half of her lead, I can be proud of who I am as a person.

When my mom called this morning to tell me that Nonna had passed, my initial comment was "poor Nonna." And as we talked, and realized that she went peacefully - in her sleep and in her own home, with her three children in the house - and that she saw her family and many of her friends whom she dearly loved over the last few weeks of her life, we agreed that "poor Nonna" was not correct. She had a full and beautiful life, and about as good of an end as any of us could wish for. She's now on her way to meet up with my grandfather again after these 7 years apart. It is those of us left to go on without her who feel the loss. Poor us.

Nonna, I love you, and I will miss you greatly.

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