Last week, Clelia’s caregiver journey finally ended. Two weeks prior to her 87th birthday, Lidia Barone, “Ma,” took her last breath lying in bed surrounded by the people who loved her dearly. I watched as a family joined together in her last days waiting for the inevitable. The last two weeks were a gift to the Barone family. Due to her inability to swallow, Lidia stopped taking the medications prescribed to help ease her pain. As a result, she regained some of her clarity and began to enjoy her family again. The family cried and laughed together. They truly bonded over the undeniable loss of their matriarch. I listened as they told stories of the small Southern Italian town that is always at the center of their lives, Marano Principato.
Marano Principato, the town that draws them back to live, pushes them away, and then draws them back again time and time again. The residents of Marano Principato are both kind and untrustworthy. They are generous yet vicious. Fun yet cold. The town and its people have shaped the Barone family more than any typical place ever could.
As I looked at the dozens of photographs displayed around Lidia’s room it occurred to me that the woman lying in the nursing home bed had accomplished everything she set out to do. She married a fine man who needed to make a living. When there were no jobs in their small Italian town, they emigrated to France. From France, they moved to the United States. When they thought it best for their children, they moved back to that mystical town of Marano Principato. Then, once again it was time to leave and come back to the U.S., but only after their children reached adulthood and Olga had given birth to Clelia.
As I looked at a photo of a twenty-something Lidia Barone in France, I realized that her life must have felt like a fast train traveling through time – on board it feels like your destination is so far away, but the stops come faster and faster until the conductor cries, “Last stop. Everyone must disembark.”
Time moves swiftly. In our practice we see our clients’ wartime photos. Pictures of young men and women – strong and patriotic – not quite the confused elder needing our assistance to figure out how to pay for care. Those moments frozen in time must be cherished and not forgotten. For those are the people behind the mask of wrinkles and physical pain. Those are the people that once had hopes and dreams.
Every death is not only the end of a story, but the beginning of new chapters in a continuing saga. Where there was just Lidia and Domenico, now there are children, a grandchild, and great grandchildren. Lidia Barone may have had an interesting life filled with adventure and love, but in the end her family has only photos, memories, and lessons learned.
Did she live the American Dream or did she merely play her role in raising a good family, affecting some of the people she met along the way? We can only surmise her impact on the thousands of people that she touched, but her family is a testament to the power of one individual and what she can accomplish in 87 short years. Rest in peace, Ma.