Saturday, February 8, 2014

Lessons from Gloria


My beautiful godmother & Aunt Gloria
For as long as I remember, the same photograph has hung in my grandparents' kitchen. It's a picture of my Aunt Gloria river rafting with my Uncle Archie and their friends. 

My aunt was born adventurous and daring and fun, and it must have scared my grandmother to death. But like all of us, I think even my grandmother admired her daughter's seize-the-moment attitude toward life.

A year ago, Gloria died from brain cancer. But she's still challenging me to be brave, to take chances, to have fun, to be fully myself and not be afraid to show that to others. 

Encouraging people to be brave was kind of her specialty. 

She taught mobility to the blind. As in, "Here, let me show you how to navigate this dark world without being scared to death. Let me show you what's possible." 

Her clients included the young and old. People who recently lost their sight and kids leaving the safety of their home for the first time. She taught them how to get across town, how to order lunch in a restaurant, how to live an independent life. 

For those of us with good vision, she helped us see things in a new way. 
Her best college friend, Annie, says, "Glo would never tell you what to do, but she'd help you think about it differently." 

Gloria loved the water and being outdoors. She was a talented musician and had a gift for making everything fun. Picnics were added to long car rides. Beer tasting was added to vacation days.

She laughed easily, and people wanted to be around her, probably because she wanted to be around them. She made everyone feel important and special and that they truly had something to offer.

Even when she was running around, trying to do too many things at once and carry on multiple conversations, she seemed relaxed about life. Every day living was something to be enjoyed. 

My aunt and her family lived in the countryside outside Spokane, Washington. We didn't get to see them as often as we wanted, but our time together always made an impression. 

As kids, my sister and I told everyone how our Aunt Gloria tried to get out of the boat during a ride at Disneyland. She wanted to show us how on her high school senior trip she stepped out of the boat onto a rock and then jumped into the next boat, occupied by a friend who was riding solo. Only on our trip, Uncle Archie was the one riding behind us. As soon as he saw his wife stand up, he hollered, "Glo, sit back down." The demonstration was over, but a lesson was learned. You don't have to follow every rule. You can bend some. You can break others. 

My aunt was deeply prayerful and honest, and she had a sense of humor about God. I told her once that I hadn't understood the wedding feast at Cana. Her Italian response, "Christina, what's there not to understand? It's my favorite miracle. Jesus turned water into wine!"

About a year before her diagnosis, she started a morning routine that began at 5 a.m. She would workout on the treadmill and stationary bike while reading the Mass readings for the day, followed by her prayers and a novena to Mother Teresa, which we're pretty sure was said on a rotating basis for almost everyone she knew. 

She had lost weight, gave up alcohol and was arguably in the best spiritual and physical shape of her life. It was as if she was training for a battle she didn't know she would have to fight.

In the summer of 2011, my aunt started acting unlike herself. She said odd things, and one day she seemed to not know whether her youngest daughter wore glasses and she couldn't correctly answer a simple multiplication question. Archie took her to the doctor. It was a Friday. The experts said the tumor in her brain was so big had he waited until Monday, she would have died over the weekend.

Instead, she underwent the first of two brain surgeries and began a year and a half journey that included multiple rounds of chemo and radiation. The prognosis was bleak from the start. The cancer was aggressive and terminal. 

Gloria fought and fought and never admitted the cancer would eventually kill her. She went on living and even working because she was completely passionate about her job and her life. After more than 30 years of marriage, it was obvious she and Archie were still in love. A mom of two, Gloria's youngest daughter, Lindsey, had just graduated high school, and her oldest daughter, Elena, was married and wanting to start a family of her own. There's no doubt Gloria planned to be here for another 40 years. 

But we were on borrowed time. She could have died that weekend the tumor was first discovered. Instead we had the chance to watch her be brave a little longer. Of course, it wasn't long enough.  

At the start of 2013, she and Archie zip lined in Hawaii. Then on January 16th, the day before her 58th birthday, doctors said the cancer was no longer treatable, and she had a matter of weeks to live. 

Family members in California and Florida bought plane tickets to Spokane. These really weren't goodbye visits as much as they were let-me-sit-next-to-you-for-awhile visits.

She would nap, and we would nap. And we would bake, and she would eat. We all wore our pajamas.

Archie would sit holding her hand for hours, and Elena and Lindsey were often found asleep by her side. They were angels and warriors. Lindsey shared that during Gloria's MRIs, they would hold her hands and sing the Divine Chaplet to her.  

In the last weeks, my then 93-year-old grandfather made the trip from Sunnyvale to see his daughter. He blew her kisses and said, "Sweetheart, I've known you your whole life, since you were a little girl and would dance around." He asked to see her smile.

Four of my aunt's high school friends from California arrived as a surprise on Friday, February 1st. These were just a few of the famous CSAC women. (In high school, someone called them a "conceited smart-ass clique" and instead of being insulted the secret sorority of the CSAC was born. Adventures included impersonating nuns, and they lovingly nicknamed each other Sister Mary So and So. After the cancer, Gloria became Sister Mary Hole-In-Her-Head.) 

They rushed into the house carrying presents and singing "Happy Birthday" to Gloria. They brought bags of food on the plane, including two loaves of homemade pumpkin bread, homemade cookies, and homemade chex mix. One of them literally packed 15 pounds of fresh picked mandarins instead of clothes for the weekend. They were so loud and Gloria could barely speak, and I appreciated how, even though their hearts were breaking, they carried on as if this was just another one of their fun adventures, a birthday surprise for their dear Glo.

After visiting for four days, John and I left on Saturday, February 2. We never actually said goodbye. We said I love you, and I asked her to pray for the baby. I was 10 weeks pregnant and had only just shared the news. I knew this had been one of Gloria's prayers for me, and I felt blessed that she was able to "meet" Gianna, if only through the ultrasound photo I brought on the plane. 

My brother Joseph and my sister Nicole and her family were with Gloria on her last day. Nicole played the piano and helped Gloria hold her 6-month-old great-niece, Cecilia. Gloria listened to Cece coo as Nicole fed her, and Gloria would open her eyes and smile.

Sometime after everyone had gone to bed, Gloria passed away in her sleep in the early hours of February 8, 2013. 

My parents and brother Jimmy were set to arrive in Spokane that afternoon. I was very concerned that my dad hadn't seen his sister. But he said he went to bed about midnight, and she came to him in a dream. He said she looked wonderful and she told him, "Life is good here." He said he knew she was in a different place, and he wasn't surprised when the phone rang shortly before 4 a.m. with the news she had died. 

At the time, I was sure Gloria meant life is good in heaven. But the more I think about the way she lived, the more I think she also meant life is good here on earth. Life is good and don't be afraid to live it. 

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Saturday, February 1, 2014

Hello Out There!

Gianna listening to her godfather Dan.
I feel like a stranger in this space.

For someone who wrote at least a tiny, little sentence on a nearly daily basis for more than 5 years, it feels like it's been for-e-ver since I've blogged. Kind of like suddenly losing contact with a dear friend. And why yes, there are 84 unheard voice mails on my phone right now.

The amazing thing about friends is they keep calling. Neglected blogs, on the other hand, can't beg to be updated.

Gianna is 5 months old and weighs somewhere around 15 pounds. Her hands are chubby and her wrists are fat. She has rolls on her thighs, and her little legs look like drumsticks. 

She can very accurately reach for and grab things, like the glasses off her daddy's face, and she can roll from her stomach to her back.

Her face lights up if you give her a blanket, and then she will promptly try to eat it. Everything goes in her mouth, including her cute little toes.  

Her favorite people are Mommy, Daddy, Nonna and Papa.

The girl loves being sung to and has yet to realize both her parents are terrible singers. What we lack in vocal talent, we make up for in creativity. Our rendition of "Wheels on the Bus" involves a whole cast of farm animals riding all through the town.

She has a megawatt smile and a contagious giggle.

If there is one thing our sweet Gianna dislikes, it's sleep.

Sometimes at nap time she actually growls. It's her final battle cry before surrendering to sleep. At nighttime, she protests by waking often. And she is very particular about exactly how she wants to be swaddled.

It's really not a problem, except, of course, I'm exhausted. Last night, I fell asleep three times during our nightly prayers. Once while John was talking and twice while I was mid-sentence.

I don't always fall back to sleep when Gianna does. So then I just watch her breathe.

Speaking of which, according to a Facebook quiz, I'm the dreaded "helicopter" parent. (Of course, I am.) My sister took the same quiz, and she's "effortless cool." (Of course, she is!)  

Anyway, I hope to be back here soon.

A blanket! It's my lucky day!

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Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Our Christmas Miracle

It was the week before Christmas one year ago when two lines appeared and our world was set aglow. 
We knew in an instant life would never be the same. In nine quick months, we would have a daughter or son to name. 
Always and forever that Christmas will be a favorite in our family's history.

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Sunday, November 17, 2013

Twelve

People talk all the time about what they want for their children. Who they hope they will become. What they hope they will accomplish.
Of course, John and I want all the good things this life has to offer for Gianna. 
But that's not what I've been thinking about.
Our Little Love is 12 weeks old today. She brings me unbelievable joy every day. Joy I couldn't imagine and can't explain.
As I bathe in the blessing that she is to me, I don't think about her future. I think about mine. 

She makes me want to be a better wife, mother and woman. The truer I am to myself, the better chance I hope she has at really becoming herself. 

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Thursday, November 14, 2013

Sleepless in San Jose

We really aren't on a sleep schedule yet, but the baby does nap. More than once a day usually.
But not today. Today, Gianna decided to skip her morning nap and her afternoon nap and it's now after 11 pm and she is still wide awake. 

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Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Weekend Review

A weekend review on Wednesday. Sure, why not.
This last weekend was sort of a big deal because John went on a two-night spiritual retreat, and Gianna and I survived being alone.
(Well, as alone as you get when your parents live 2.2 miles from your house and your husband is gone for a whole 45 hours.)
After dropping off John at the Our Lady of Santa Clara Retreat House, we made a surprise visit to see Gianna's great grandpa, Big Papa Aldo.


Then we headed to Nonna and Papa's house, where I was fed and my mom played with Gianna until the poor baby was completely worn out.
 

Saturday was a busy day of cleaning. I cleaned. My mom cleaned. And then the professional cleaning people showed up. Professional cleaning is a big treat around here and so exciting.


That night, because I was alone and hate the dark, I stayed up late and made pumpkin-apple-cranberry-pecan bread for the first time. 


Sunday morning, Gianna and I made it to Mass (15 minutes late), and we were both in one piece albeit exhausted when we picked up John that afternoon.

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Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Daylight Saving Dangers

If you're 94 and the young lady who drives you around is in her 80s, the time change means more than setting your clocks back.
Of course, you might not realize this until you get caught in Palo Alto after sunset.
Since your home is in Sunnyvale and your chauffeur doesn't drive after dark and you don't drive at all, this will mean calling your grandson and your grandson-in-law for a rescue.

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Followers

I Love a Good Quote

"For human beings it is impossible, but not for God. All things are possible for God." ~Mark 10:27

"Focus. There's no reason to have a Plan B. It distracts from Plan A." ~Will Smith

"Do not let the perfect be the enemy of the good." ~Voltaire

"Always remember that Dead Freakin' Last is better than Did Not Finish which is way better than Did Not Start." ~Allison

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