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By Maria Melina Tomizzi June 3, 2019

Nonno Is Dying

Illustrated by Anaïs Ranger

“Nonno is dying.”


These are words that still reverberate in my earliest recollections of my grandfather. With an overbearing conviction that weighed down constantly upon his tattered back, permanently angled as if to connote the years of unspeakable hardship that had come to engender his deteriorating health, he would utter this string of words as if recounting the day’s weather or something uneventful he had heard on the news, of a mundane, factual manner. And myself, an adoring granddaughter to a man I saw as the best, the strongest, the most perfect in the world, I would respond, obstinately, “That’s not true. Nonno will never die.”  


“Nonno will miss you,” he would say, clenching my cheeks with his rough, textured hands, reminiscent of battles he had long ago reluctantly fought in the war. He always had a habit of forcibly pinching me in these emotion-filled moments, as if to ease the growing worry in my adolescent heart by substituting it with an acute, yet short-lived pain. “All Marias are up to no good,” he would scoff, a playful grin beautifying his otherwise stern face, manifesting like a wrinkle in fine silk. “But you- you’re special.”


This was our relationship- characterized by the incessant mocking of one another, as if of the same age, followed by the subsequent affirmation of our vehement reciprocated love.  


“Nonno can’t do this anymore.”

Some days, it seemed like the weight of the world pressed down upon my grandfather. He would claw at his ribcage, feel himself collapse from the insufferable tension in his worn-out joints. But how could a man who inspired so much beauty possibly fall subject to decay? For me, my grandfather was, in fact, the fundamental essence of every season. The summertime carried in its sweet breeze connotations of warm laughter at his country-place, and fall was a comforting, albeit pungent odour of laboured winemaking in the basement. Winter was scorching chestnuts and sour tangerines at Christmas, playing card-games with the family until the loudened snores that echoed in the small kitchen were indicative of his third nap of the evening, and Spring was excitedly rushing to greet him, muddied in the garden, every Saturday morning. And every season, for him, was marked by pain. 


 “Nonno is dying,” he would say, more and more adamantly, as if trying to come to friendly terms with the fact himself. He retained his indifferent, nonchalant composure that he had upheld in my youth, but the inexorable worry that disclosed itself in his reddened eyes spoke a truth louder than he could’ve ever possibly vocalized. And still, unaccepting, unbelieving, I would quiet him in his tracks and proclaim that my nonno would never die, as he couldn’t possibly leave me.  


“Nonno is in pain.”


Perhaps it was the misdiagnosis, the not-targeting-the-problem-quick-enough. Soon, marks began to paint themselves upon his skin. And I refused to see it. I cancelled out the worried conversations in the kitchen at lunchtime, and I ignored the fear and apprehension that came to characterize Nonna’s prolonged prayers in the living room. I grew wary of simply asking him how he was doing, as I did not covet the bitter truth that he buried beneath the growing layers of heavy wool blankets that his thin body increasingly necessitated for warmth.  And despite his pain, he still loved me like no other.  


“Who are you,” he uttered, sprawled out on the hard, hospital-issued bed that smelled faintly of urine and cheap disinfectant. These were some of the last words I heard from the mouth of my grandfather, before the age-old prophecy was ultimately realized on that frigid January night. 

About the author

Maria Melina Tomizzi is a 2nd year student in Arts and Culture.

About the illustrator

Anaïs Ranger is a first year Illustration student.


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    Melanie P

    January 26, 2020

    I enjoyed reading this piece about your nonno as I too have lost my nonno. I lost him to cancer. It made me smile when you wrote about how he was during each season because my nonno was that way as well! I liked how you used the memories of him in each season as a tension breaker, it’s not easy watching something like this happen to someone you love but it’s good to remember all the good memories and times you’ve had together. There was a lot of imagery in your piece, for example, when you wrote about the “sweet breeze connotations of warm laughter” at the country place and the “loudened snores that echoed in the small kitchen” this helped readers envision and feel what you may be feeling. For me, this made me think back to all the memories I had with my nonno at his country place during each season, how he too at Christmas time would roast chestnuts and how he too was always outside in this garden or backyard planting, picking or watering. Thank you for sharing this!

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    Julia Bifulco

    January 27, 2020

    Firstly, I’m so sorry for your loss. You’ve managed to perfectly capture the way it feels to lose a loved one. The feeling of helplessness and overall lack of control in situations as dire as the one you’ve described is overwhelming and heavy. While reading this piece, I felt not only your pain, but was also reminded of the grief of my own losses in the past. Your words evoke every emotion from that time; thank you for your courage.

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    Lauren Janusauskas

    February 3, 2020

    An incredibly heart felt piece. I couldn’t help but think of the recent loos of my grandmother and the similarities they hold as people and in the situations. This piece is raw and told as it is but in such a beautiful way. I, as I’m sure everyone else who read this story was, was pulled into it right away. I felt what you were feeling, the empathy in the was ever so present. I know the unique feeling of love for a grandparent and the subtle denial of their pain and death. This story went and pulled those feelings back out of me. The imagery in the story was peaceful and comforting: “The summertime carried in its sweet breeze connotations of warm laughter at the country place”.Then the curt and bitter ending in the writing of the story was very evocative of how life for the elderly and suffering usually ends. A very beautiful and emotional story written excellently.

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