Death Italian Catholic Style

This is long overdue but I want to say thank you. I appreciated everyone showing me love and support during my mom’s illness and death. After the funeral I found myself unable to deal with much so if you wrote me personally I am sorry for not responding. Your thoughts were so appreciated!!!

It’s been a rough couple of months and it’s not over yet. You wouldn’t believe the stuff going on in my life right now but I will save that for another day. Today I finally feel ready to share some of my experiences regarding my moms death. I am not ready to talk about much of the emotional aspects though. Just some of the crazy details. Because if I don’t laugh I will lose my mind.

Shortly after my mom passed the phone began ringing off the hook (news travels fast) with well meaning relatives wanting to talk about how sorry they were and about how much they loved my mom. Everyone wanted to share touching moments from the past that they had shared with her. Of course every single person that called offered me the proverbial- the expected -the automatic six word emotional duct tape;

“Is there anything I can do?”.

It’s strange but when you are on the receiving end of loss the redundant voice uttering “is there anything I can do” becomes almost unbearable .  I myself have uttered these words a million times, I just never knew how it sounds on the receiving end. It is so painfully obvious how uncomfortable we humans are with death. After all we are born fixers so offering to DO something seems to be a pretty obvious choice. The thing is we all KNOW, even as we utter the first syllable that there really is nothing we can do but we say the words anyway because it makes us feel like we actually are doing something. I understand that doing something seems vitally important and it was kind of them all to call but comforting all of my relatives when I was grieving myself was really difficult.

Many of my relatives came in person bearing gifts. Food mostly. Food is something the Italians know how to do well. My mom’s house was filled with food. Everyone brought something to eat because food comforts the Italian soul. It’s nervous eating but again it gives you something to do and man did I eat. Along with pasta dishes of all shapes and sizes, donuts seemed to be a favorite offering. I think I ate something like 50 donuts in the days following my mom’s death. I don’t even like donuts. I like them less now. We got a lot of fruit. I love fruit but we received so many fruit baskets that I actually asked the delivery lady  if she got another order could she could please maybe bring a nice cheese ball instead.

My very Italian, very Catholic family is really “into” death. It’s better now than it used to be. Twenty years ago there was wailing and fainting and draping one’s Self over the coffin. No, I am not kidding. They’re better now thank God. Funerals and weddings (think Tony and Tina) are my Italian Catholic family’s pass time préféré. Drama is key. Allow me to give you an example; The day after my mom passed away I had to shop for a dress for her to wear. This was the WORST. Having to make all of these $#*&#$% arrangements while you are grieving has GOT to be the most inhumane expectation ever. Anyway, I am out clothes shopping (which I hate on a good day) and my aunt KEPT calling me. She called no less than five times…………... just to assure me that my MOM WAS SERVING JESUS NOW!

Dear. God.

As I am standing in the department store surrounded by people NOT buying clothes for their dead mother I actually had to bite my tongue from replying “what EXACTLY is she serving him Aunt El?” “MEATBALLS?” “IS MY MOM IS SERVING JESUS MEATBALLS?!!!!!!”

I survived the details but I was seriously dreading the service. I haven’t been to a Catholic service in years. Here’s a great example as to why I am not a fan; I was not allowed to speak at my own mother’s service. The priest told me it is a rule of the bishops that only one person may speak (which meant my brother), it can only be two minutes long and you can only talk about what a GOOD CATHOLIC the dearly departed was. This completely ruled out the speech I had prepared because I planned to open with; A rabbi and a priest walk into a bar.

Theresa (that ungrateful little bastard whom I love dearly) can contest to just how uncomfortable I am in a Catholic church. The mere whiff of frankensense can still send me into a major panic attack. Sitting on a hard wooden pew until my butt goes numb while being stared down by fifty statues of ominous looking saints (whose eyes seem to follow you everywhere) is my version of hell. Where do they get all of that stuff anyway? Is there an in-house Catholic decorator? Does the Vatican have a commissary of some sort? Maybe they order from the Idols R Us catalog, who knows. Anyway, these were just some of the many questions I asked myself as I sat there shifting my completely numb ass from one side to the other. Terrified and mortified all at the same time.

After the viewing (another totally incomprehensible tradition of death) they closed the coffin at which point I completely lost it. It seemed so final, so….ugh, there just are no words.

Then the dreaded service began which included a rather boisterous (for a Catholic) female vocalist and the ever terrifying, scowling organ player. We had previously asked that they play my moms favorite song “I Just Called to Say I Love You” by Lionel Ritchie. After the organist picked herself up off the floor she told us that probably would not be a good idea. So it was the same old tired Catholic approved tunes that they ended up playing. You know, the ones that make you want to jump off a bridge they’re so depressing? Ugh again.

As communion time came upon us I began to panic. I quickly leaned over and asked my brother for a crash course because at that moment all of the intense training I received as a kid seemed to have flown right out the window. He said “just nod and look repentant”. Which I did. I was so relieved I had not made any blunders up to that point but as we sat back down from receiving communion my brother leaned over and said;

“Oh thank god, I was getting really hungry!”.

DAMN HIM! Let me just say that laughing out loud in a Catholic church is definitely discouraged, PARTICULARLY at a funeral service. But I kept hearing my mom’s laughter distinctly ringing in my ears and I couldn’t help myself. The priest and all the saints shot me VERY dirty looks. I barely survived but I did in fact survive and just like that it was finally over. Bada Bing Bada Boom.

Changing my tune for a minute  I have to tell you that seeing my son so bravely take on the job of pal bearer for his grandmom was one of the most touching moments of my life. I will never forget that moment.

A week after the funeral I ran to the one place I always feel safe. I went to the sea. I stayed for one week and then let my planned return date come and go. I just couldn’t move. So I stayed an extra week. The interesting part is I only cried a few times and they were very brief moments. One of the reasons I went away was to allow myself some time to grieve because while taking care of arrangements is is virtually impossible to feel much of anything other than exhaustion. So the fact that no grief came once I was away struck me as odd. I couldn’t really understand why I wasn’t grieving but I just didn’t. I simply was. For two weeks I just………was.

Of course there is much more to the story and the grief finally did come but I will leave that for another day. Today I just want to think about my mom dishing out meatballs in Heaven.

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15 Comments

Filed under Adoptive Family, La famiglia è tutto ~ Family is everything!, Life in general, Truthful Musings

15 responses to “Death Italian Catholic Style

  1. ::sniff sniff:: That was so lovely!

    When I was finally on the receiving end of the “Is there anything I can do” offering, I realized how inadequate death makes people feel when trying to offer comfort. Then I try to comfort THEM! LOL

    I suppose asking them to mow my lawn would be inappropriate.

    Serving meatballs to Jesus…what a great way to remember your mom!

    Hope you’re taking some time for YOU, my friend.

    xox

  2. mia

    Exactly! You do feel like you need to comfort them and that is really REALLY hard when you are so sad yourself.

    Mowing the lawn would have been a brilliant thing to ask for considering we have 2 acres and our riding mower is broken. I wonder what the statute of limitations is on that. lol

    xoxo

  3. ((((((((((((((Mia)))))))))))))))

    Haven’t been very here for you.
    But you’re always in my thoughts.
    Sending you strength and love across the seas.
    Poss. xxxxx

  4. I’m so sorry for your loss…I know that’s probably another phrase you’ve heard a thousand times.

    I’ve gotten to where I will offer specific things to grieving friends/family. “Can I do your grocery shopping for you”, “Can I come over and help you put away all the food that is bound to come walking through your door over the next few days”, “Can I bring you some cheese to go with all that fruit” 🙂

    I do love the imagery of your mom serving meatballs to Jesus…you have much more restraint than I, for my aunt would have gotten an earful about it…probably the second time she called me instead of holding out till the 5th.

    I do love that you are like me in that you are comfortable enough to “laugh to keep from crying” and that your bro cracked you up during the ceremony. I’m sure your mother was smiling down from serving her meatballs to see her children laugh…

    Sending you love & light…hugs & as much positive energy as I can muster.

    Nicole

  5. mia

    You’re always there for me Poss, I know that. xoxo

    I agree Nicole , I’m sure my mom LOVED that we were cracking up. ;o) I seriously did hear her laughing right along with us!
    Thank you for the lovely comment.

  6. ((((( Mia )))))

    This was wonderful. Like you

    I found I was on autopilot after my adoptive dad died, and didn’t lose it until the end of the wake. It’s very difficult to grieve and have to take care of so many arrangements at the same time.

  7. Oh Mia, you are so wonderful. Huge *hugs* to you. It’s a gift to be able to laugh during times like that. I remember my family laughing uproariously after my father’s death — it seems wildly inappropriate yet oh-so-appropriate too at the same time. It’s needed.

    Love ya, girlie. Take care of yourself, OK?

  8. june

    Mia,
    I found your site through adoption alltop.com
    We are parents to our wonderful almost 3 yr old daughter who was born in China.

    I haven’t read your whole blog yet, but I can totally identify with your ‘italian catholic style’ post. I am an ‘IA’, which doesn’t mean international adoptee, but Italian American, in this instance!

    notice I didnt’ say the word ‘death’. the oldsters in my family wouldn’t even say words like death , cancer etc. The grandma’s would just say someone was very very sick. ‘oooh’.

    Please accept my sympathies about your mother. I have to say that you had me rotflmao with your brother’s comment. I guess my 2 grandmothers are making their cannonball sized meatballs for Jesus too.

    peace be with you!
    June

  9. mia

    ((((T)))) Sorry I missed your call. I’ll try to call you back soon!

    JEH Yes, laughter really can soothe a hurting soul. Uproarious laughter is all the better I think.

    Hi June,
    Welcome to graceland (small g out of respect there). Thanks for stopping by. Are you new to adoption blogs? Some things you read will make you think and others may make you want to spit nails but it’s all so much better than everyone walking around in silence and learning nothing from one another. I hope you stick around.

    And also with you! ;o)

    Mia

  10. Syl

    Hi Mia. You don’t know me but I stumbled upon your blog as you had done a post once on Sanibel Island, Florida. I am putting together my own blog on the Island as a way to get people more familiar with it and, of course, to promote my own properties there.

    At any rate, the post here about your mom and the Catholic funeral service is both funny and touching. I thank you for sharing it.

    When my mom passed 21 years ago, the priest was insisting that secular music would not be allowed.

    My mom had loved opera her whole life and just about tolerated religion. So I knew I was going to have to do something devious to get the church to allow the singing of Un Bel Di, the famous aria from Madama Butterfly. It was my mom’s very favorite opera and very favorite aria. No way was her funeral going to be without it.

    The priest, neither Italian nor musically inclined, did buy my story that “Un Bel Di” was about a woman waiting—-not for her beloved Naval Officer—but for Jesus to return to her life. It was the most meaningful and most beautiful part of my mom’s funeral service.

    It’s not nice to lie, but it’s sometimes worth it when you run into people whose rules are both inflexible and ridiculous!

  11. mia

    Brilliant Syl! I wish I would have thought to be so clever! I am so glad you were able to pull off the aria for your mother. How lovely.

    Sanibel is amazing. I liked your website and your properties seem very nice. We have been back twice and I have no doubt we will return. That is actually where I went after the funeral and as I wrote I didn’t want to leave. If the economy were just a tad better in the surrounding areas (where the work is) I would consider moving there.

  12. Mia , I posted to you on another of your posts…I have been thinking of you and wondering how you are doing..
    I totally get the ‘dressing for death’ whilst grieving illogical (ness) of it all..
    I had italian friends (close) and I went to their parents funerals..one of the aunts did try and throw herself in the with the coffin…
    Sigh..

    I’m just sending some more hugs your way..The sea is good for the soul
    xxx

  13. Syl

    Mia, please let me know when/if you are ready to return to the bel. I will give you a family discount at our places if available, or help you find another nice place if not available.

    All the best, Syl

  14. I’m so sorry for the loss of your beloved mother!

    I married into an Italian family and I do believe that they are very similar to your family in the respect that food is often used as an attempt to heal what ails you.

    Take care. You and your family are in my prayers!

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