Tuesday, May 6, 2008

A Death in Rural Italy

Last Sunday morning, 6:30 a.m., my beloved mother-in-law Lucia, passed away from a heart attack. While she was 85 and diabetic, like most deaths it was unexpected.

The women who lived in the neighboring houses came over when they heard the ambulance silently pull out of the driveway. They cried, then searched her closets to dress her in her best clothes: the outfit she wore to recent weddings and her 50th anniversary party more than ten years ago.

The funeral agency arrived and converted her bedroom into a small chapel. Her bed was replaced by an open casket on a stand. The mirrors were covered with tablecloths. A rosary was placed in her folded hands. I was surprised that she was not embalmed, but that is not done around here.

As the word spread through conversation and the manifestos pasted on walls throughout the village, people arrived to pay their respects and offer condolences. Some brought food. Slowly, flower arrangements spilled over into the living room.

On Monday morning my husband's sister, as well as his brother and wife, arrived from New York. More neighbors and local relatives visited, all day long and well into the night. On Monday evening the casket was sealed.

On Tuesday morning the rosary was said around the casket, then everyone walked behind the hearse and an open truck full of the flowers, as they drove to the local church where a funeral mass was said. Everyone who knew her or knew us was there. The casket was sprinkled with holy water and incense filled the air, then people offered their condolences once again as they left the church. A group of mourners once again walked behind the hearse as it wove down to the main street and made the turn to go up to the cemetary. From the turn we carpooled, a short ride up to Veroli.

Cemetaries in this part of Italy are above ground, in structures that have up to six levels. The casket was placed in a vault in the newest section, then sealed with bricks and cement and a marble door. Eventually her picture will be affixed as well as her dates of birth and death.

Lucia's passing has left a hole in our hearts. Very opinionated, and never shy to express them, she was at the same time generous to me, the daughter-in-law, living in a strange new land. She always sent me sauce, fresh eggs, jarred tomoatoes, vegetables and fruit from her garden. She made her little grandson happy with her generosity. Who else would slip him coins every morning when he headed off to first grade (and then he'd give away the "1 Euro" coins and keep the .20 and .50 because they must be worth much more)? Who else will hand over a 50 Euro bill so he can celebrate Christmas, his birthday, or the festa of the Madonna del Giglio? Who else will sit with me and have a cup of tea after Sunday lunch?

Lucia, you are missed. Rest in Peace.


Michelle | Bleeding Espresso said...

I'm so sorry to hear of your mother-in-law's passing; this was a lovely tribute to her.

Anonymous said...

condoglianze. La vita e` cosi`. Questa cosa e` piu triste visto che oggi e` la festa della mamma. Che viva per sempre in cielo.

Diane said...

Grazie for your kind words.

jim said...

This is very sad news! I'll always remember Pio's mother and her amazing generosity and kindness.

Italy definitely won't be the same anymore now that my favorite restaurant lost its best cook :(

My condolences to everyone...very sorry to hear that she is gone.

Anonymous said...


I just found you blog, I'm please to see your blogging again.

I'm sorry to hear of the passing of your mother-in-law. She sounded like what I envision all Italian mom's are like. Dante will have fond memories of his nonna.

Blessings to you and your family.