My great-aunt Rose (Rosalia) passed away yesterday. She was 91 and the last few years of her life she had bad dementia.
Aunt Rose was my grandmother’s sister. Came from Italy literally off the boat when she was a baby. Spoke Italian at home. As an adult, worked as a seamstress. Married a very dapper Uncle Jack (Giacomo) and had Betty and Phillip.
Phillip’s in San Francisco area but Betty’s still here in Brookyn, probably not two miles from where she grew up. I see Betty’s family for the occasional holiday or Sunday dinner. Only until four years ago or so, Aunt Rose was there too, until she became to frail for Betty to care for, then dementia set in and it was only a matter of time.
When I heard about Aunt Rose’s passing, I called Betty to express my condolences. After the call, I don’t know why but it was a shock but…
I cried. Of course that’s normal in this situation. It’s weird but it was like I’d forgotten that Aunt Rose was MY family too. And I had a lot of great memories when I was a kid.
Aunt Rose was fair-skinned, blonde, thin, high-pitched voice, always so cheerful, fun and care-free. And her sister, Aunt Josie, was just the opposite- stout, serious, dark haired/skinned with a 2-packs-a-day voice, never married. She lived with them. And they were perfect foils for each other, always arguing, never holding a grudge. Throwing holidays at their house. Uncle Jack was a gruff-voiced, fun card player who loved his appropriately named dog, Puff.
They all lived under one roof. That made for amazing, loud, fun Italian chemistry.
And today it finally hit me that Aunt Rose was a second mother to my Uncle Joe. His parents (my grandma and grandpa), and both of his brothers (my dad and my Uncle Vito) all passed away in the late 70s/early 80s. Uncle Joe was very close with Aunt Rose and her family. This is a big loss for him, too. I have to remember that when I see him at the services tomorrow.
My one regret in all of this: I only visited Aunt Rose once in the nursing home. She was coherent and mobile at first. By the time I went, she started forgetting who I was, couldn’t place me but remembered that certain events happened to somebody who happened to be me.
I’m sorry to say that that was three years ago, maybe a little more and I haven’t seen her since. I let the awkwardness of it all keep me away.
Lesson: get over whatever I have going on and be there for my people. They need me there, even if they don’t recognize me.
Rest in peace, Aunt Rose. Now you and Aunt Josie can argue for all eternity.
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