“God was good to me, Joe, that he gave me you,” my maternal grandmother said to my grandfather as they held hands in their matrimonial bed of 62 years. In the early hours of the morning while it was still dark, my grandfather awoke from his sleep as the corner of the bedroom was filled with a golden mist of light. Though he couldn’t make sense of where it was coming from, he described it as peaceful and beautiful. Moments later it faded away. As he turned to face my grandmother in preparation of administering her medication, he realized that his beloved wife had gently passed away in her sleep. It soon became clear to him that it was indeed her light that she left behind as her final message of love. He kissed her lips one last time.
“I am his wife and it’s my duty to take care of the General,” my paternal grandmother remarked with a smile to my brother and me shortly after our grandfather had a stroke. Although he never lost function of his language and mind, he lost mobility on one side of his body. He was a good man who served in the US Military for 25 years, as it was quite reflective in his character. Although both frustrated by the situation, my grandmother carefully fed, bathed, and nurtured him (up until her health failed) and he appreciated her kind and loyal heart. They were true companions in every sense; weekly food shopping outings, going to church, gardening side by side, and enjoying the fruits of their labor from the backyard to the table in which my grandmother would create the most exquisite dishes for their nourishment and delight.
When both sets of grandparents made a commitment to each other over 60 years ago, they meant it. Despite hard work, sacrifices, loss of a child due to cancer, loss of a grandchild at birth, personal and family illnesses, heated arguments, and making daily household decisions, they found a way to raise their children and grandchildren as a united front. They also would describe their youth through storytelling — how they first met, when they first kissed and starting dating, life as newlyweds and new parents, laughter, weekend trips, family gatherings and holidays, typical Italian Sunday lunches, and the simple joys of finding comfort in each other’s company. Instead of growing apart, they found their strength together and modes of maintaining the balance in their unions.
I spent a great deal of time with these four remarkable individuals, as they were an influential part of my growth and development even through adulthood. My grandparents never treated me as a child, but rather as an equal. They would share life lessons, wisdoms, sound advice and at times, personal difficulties with me. With much interest, I provided a steady ear and knew that what they were saying was important. When I needed support and guidance, I appreciated and trusted their sensibility based upon their life experience. But a common theme I observed and absorbed from being in their presence was how they interacted with each other. At times both couples would feel a deep sense of hurt or anger by each other’s words and would later want to retract what was already said. But they would always manage to find a middle ground through compromise and would “let go” rather than holding a grudge. Always giving a kiss goodnight before going to sleep despite how the day unfolded. They all seemed to have an understanding that there was always the next morning for resolve — if needed.
In 2012, I lost both grandmothers and my paternal grandfather only months apart. But with ease, I was able to say goodbye — having the comfort of their life lessons and wisdoms embedded in my heart. What has left an indelible mark on me was their success in crafting and maintaining a lifetime of love through honor, respect, and commitment. With immense gratitude, I still have the unconditional love and strength of my 88 year-old grandfather, Joey, who continues to protect and inspire my family and me. He also serves as a reminder that a man’s love for his wife never leaves the heart once it’s bound together — in life and death.