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Last Friday I got a call from my mother-in-law as I was walking Luna to the park. Rami’s grandmother had been found unresponsive at home and was being taken to the hospital.

Nonna is one of the strongest women I know. She lives down by the cascine park in an apartment on the top floor of a four-story walk-up that was part of the railroad workers’ housing after her late husband worked as one for years. She goes to the hairdresser and runs errands by herself. Not even a walker or cane to assist her. Walks up all those stairs that leave me breathless, and shines her marble floors so often you can see your reflection as you walk from the entryway into her kitchen where she will absolutely want to make you a coffee at least – in her little Moka – no fancy machines here.

Oh, and Nonna is 94 years old.

She wore heels to our wedding and remembers catching candy from the Allied forces tanks as they rolled through Florence, at the end of World War II. The first time she met me, she looked at Rami in passing conversation and said “Rami, why can’t you be more beefy like her.” No filter, no need. She’s a straight to the point, opinionated woman from the Tuscan countryside. She recently said I’ve gotten too skinny, so there’s a scale there I can’t seem to balance, but my Italian finally got up the nerve to chat with this woman and we actually get along quite well. The last time we complained together about drafty windows and how she doesn’t understand the obsession with a certain type of bottled water at the grocery store. Then we got into a debate about politics. She can be the epitome of a cranky old Italian Nonna, and then turn around and sprint into her room yelling ASPETTAAAA!! as we head to leave and runs back with handfuls of chocolates that she shoves into our pockets.

This weekend I was holding her hand at the hospital. That fiery spark is gone, and she rests uncomfortably after the stroke, unconscious. The doctors say there’s too much damage to her brain. Her left side lies motionless. She is 94.

Because of Italian laws, my mother-in-law and her sister only have the privileges to visit the hospital at any time, while the rest of us have to abide by visiting hours. They cannot decide the treatments for their mother. Today, she was put on an IV for nutrition. Soon, she’ll be moved from the ER to another area. Then, if she doesn’t wake, after a certain amount of time, it’s up to the family to find a solution of how to take care of her.

Just recently, the laws in Italy changed to finally allow adults “to decide, in concordance with their doctors, their end-of-life medical care, including the terms under which they can refuse treatment. The law permits Italians to write living wills and refuse medical treatment, artificial nutrition and hydration.” When the news hit, my in-laws immediately went to the courthouse to register their documents. They were turned away, saying those processes and offices won’t be ready for months. Even the Pope backed the law, and I honestly don’t understand how anyone of faith can look at this situation and believe this is right – but the Church is honestly what is behind this situation.

Nonna is 94, and I wish she was younger. I wish there was a hope that she’d wake up and could do physical therapy and get back to offering me coffee in her kitchen, but Nonna is 94, and all I know is that if she wakes up from this, and she can’t go back to who she was, she will be angry, and there will be hell to pay – much worse than anything Dante could even dream up.


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