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Chapter XXVIII - Loss of Nicola

It was the first of May, a sunny mild day, when our son Tony came before lunch to see his father. Tony very cheerfully asked how he was feeling and he answered, "Fine." He showed him the work he had done the day before in the garden and told Tony he wanted to go back to work. Tony kidded him and asked him when he would like to start.

He said, "Now."

Tony replied, "You will have to wait a few days until we start a new job."

Tony left and Nicola was very happy at the prospect of going back to work. I said to him, "You will not be able to eat your lunch here with me. I would have to pack a lunch for you."

He said, "Sure, sure."

Then I said, "You will bring the pay to me again."

He again said, "Sure, sure."

He rested for awhile after lunch and then he began to walk the floor again. About 3:00 p.m. he said he was going to take a short walk on the playground across the street. From the house I could see where he was.

I was doing some ironing when I heard the voice of my grandson Alan calling, "Grandma! Grandma! Grandpa is falling!" I ran outside. My grandson was holding his grandfather with one arm and carrying his schoolbooks with the other. I took hold of his other arm and the two of us managed to bring him inside to the bed. My first thought was to call my daughter Colette. A friend had invited her for lunch but she had left her friend's phone number in case I needed her. I called and told her her father was very sick. Then I called the doctor but since it was after office hours the answering service said they would try to locate him. I told her it was an emergency. She called back and said the doctor was not home or at the office, he was on the road. My husband was in a profuse sweat, very pale and losing consciousness.

I called Irvington General Hospital and told them to send help because my husband's condition was very grave. The attendant suggested a heart specialist and I said, "Yes, make it quick." The doctor arrived at the same time my daughter arrived. The doctor looked at my husband and said he had to go to the hospital because he had suffered heart failure. The doctor instructed the hospital to send an ambulance and have a bed ready for him. At the hospital he was given oxygen.

At night, during visiting hours, he was much improved and wanted to know why he was in the hospital. I told him he had not felt well and he would have to stay in the hospital for a few days. The hospital personnel had given him a bed in the ward and he told me three days later he did not like to be there because it was too noisy. I went to the admittance office to make a request for a private room. The admitting officer, a woman, was in the hall. I made my request and she turned to me belligerently and said, "You haven't paid your bill yet and you want a private room for your husband!"

I was embarrassed by the unjustified insult since there were a number of people around. I said, "My husband has been here only three days. I haven't yet received a bill."

I went to the financial office and requested the bill and a private room for my husband. I was told there were none available at the moment but he could be transferred to a semi-private room. The next day he was in the semi-private room. He was attended by a cardiologist and hovered between improvement and regression. I would go in the afternoon to stay with him until suppertime. Then I would go home. I would return for nighttime visiting hours and Marie would go with me. The other children came often.

One afternoon a nurse stopped me at the door and said, "You cannot go in. The doctor is with him. Your husband has suffered a setback."

For the first time I became afraid. The doctor came out and said, "You can go in and see him now."

I said, "What happened?"

The doctor answered, "The heart is unpredictable. One minute you can be well and the next minute you can be dying." I went into the room. He was under the oxygen tent and looked exhausted. He wanted to talk to me. I urged him to be quiet in order to regain his strength and I sat by him holding his hand.

Before I left he said, "I want to come home."

The next day I asked the doctor when my husband would be able to come home. He said, "I don't know. It all depends. If he improves enough I will discharge him."

The improvement I was waiting for was not materializing. My husband was begging me to take him home. Then he became hostile and accused me of not wanting him home. The doctor said, "If you take him out of the hospital he may die on the way. I will not discharge him. You will have to sign him out."

My husband asked again and I said, "I will take you home but you will have to sign your discharge because the doctor will not discharge you."

He said, "You do it."

I said, "When you get better I will, but not now."

I could see that he was discouraged and I had another talk with the doctor. It was Tuesday and he said I could take him home on Friday.

I told him the good news. He joined his hands together and put them on the side of his face and closed his eyes, a motion indicating he would be dead by Friday.

It had been a long illness with spells of hope and spells of doubt. The phone would ring at night and the hospital would tell me he was under oxygen again which meant he was in danger. I would go to the hospital and at the turn of the corridor my knees would grow weak. I was afraid of what I would find.

On Thursday night my husband was critical. All the children came to the hospital. He urged me to stay on. The children did not want to leave but wanted to stay with Marie and me. The nurse came and said, "What are all of you doing here? Why don't you go home?"

My husband did not want them to stay. He said to me, "Only you stay."

I said, "Marie too?" and he nodded his head in assent. I went into the hall and told everyone to leave but they refused. I went back into the room where my husband had fallen asleep - so I left with them.

At home Marie came to lie in bed alongside me. I was cold and trembling and having her alongside me was a great comfort. Neither she nor I could relax enough to sleep.

It was a quarter of one on Friday morning, the eighth of June, when the phone rang. Marie and I both jumped out of bed to answer it. It was the doctor calling from the hospital to tell me that my husband had just expired.

To write about this moment is very painful. I knew that eventually it would come but somehow I wanted to put it off and not let it happen. When it came it was such a shock that it shook every fiber of my body. Marie called all her brothers and sisters and, in less than an hour, everyone was with us. We watched together a sad dawn lighting the sky.

The doctor told me not to contact the undertaker until morning. The undertaker suggested that we go to the chapel to choose a coffin and help to make the arrangements for the funeral. It was a very sad task. I walked like a robot. I was in a fog. My son Tony and my daughter Colette were with me.

A couple of weeks before my husband died the doctor suggested I appeal to the Red Cross for help in having my son Richard come home from Japan. He arrived and visited his father at the hospital. Nicola was pleased to see him but it never occurred to him why Richard was home.

Since it was June again Richard had offered to go to the shore and begin setting up the store for another season. I was relieved, because up to now I had not given a thought to the store.

Richard came home from the shore to join the rest of the family in mourning.

We first viewed the body of my husband in the afternoon of the day after he died. I had left my husband alive in the hospital and now he was gone. Only his body was left for me to view. We all went together as one. The pain of seeing him cold and still numbed me. My conscience kept telling me I should have stayed at the hospital when he wanted me to stay. I left him asleep and now he would never awaken again. I sat in the place reserved for me close to him. For the next two days friends and relatives came to express their sympathy. I was neither hearing nor seeing. I was with him living our life together, every hope and disappointment. The life we had lived together was unrolling before my mind, his suffering and his plea about wanting to come home. How I wished I had listened to him! What good did all the precautions taken to bring him home well and alive do? Now he was dead and I could never bring him home again.

My son Richard would come and sit next to me and hold my hand and whisper, "Ma, don't worry. I will take care of you." He was a great comfort to me.

Marie would sit on the other side. They were now my whole family. Papa was gone. The others had their own families to care for.

On Monday morning we had to go to the chapel early for the last good-by to a husband and a father, a loving human being. The last minutes before the lid came down were the hardest of all. It was the end of till death do us part.

After the Mass at the church came the internment at the cemetery. Back home the rooms filled with people. One by one they said their good-bys and told me to take care of myself. My sister stayed until nighttime. Rose Conforti, my son-in-law's mother and her two daughters Ceil and Jo prepared a meal for the whole family and guests.

Night came and everyone left. Marie, Richard and I were exhausted. They urged me to retire and they did likewise. Fatigue took hold of me and I fell asleep.

I awoke in the morning and the sun was streaming into the kitchen. I proceeded to make coffee and the aroma of coffee brewing awakened Marie and Richard.

We sat at the kitchen table in silence. The apartment felt empty. Finally Richard spoke. "Ma, tomorrow morning I am going to the store. There is a lot to do and I want to get it all done before I return to the service." His statement broke the sadness of the moment.

There was a lot to do in the next few days. Bills for the hospital, the doctor and the funeral had to be paid. With Marie's help we acknowledged all of the courtesies, concerns and gifts of relatives and friends.

On the weekend Marie and I joined Richard at the shore. A surprise was waiting for me. Richard had undertaken the task of redecorating the apartment and when I opened the door, Al, my son-in-law, was helping Richard with the last sheet of wallpaper. I couldn't believe my eyes! For the last two years I had lived with the colors I had found there and did not like. This was the sixteenth of June and customers were already arriving.

Richard had obtained a month's leave from the army and had asked for an extension of time. He was allowed two more weeks and had to report back in the middle of July.

My daughter Colette was to stay with me for awhile. Having my daughter and grandchildren with me and the responsibility of the business kept my mind occupied. We worked very hard.

In the month of August Marie replaced Colette. She had asked for a month off from work to help me.

One of my sons would come every weekend to help us.

Richard had returned to service and he was sent to California to be transported to Japan. The order was rescinded on the grounds that he had only six months of service left and he should complete his service here.

There is an episode worth telling about. He was assigned to take a plane at a given time, but he decided instead to take a different plane. Being very close to Las Vegas, Nevada, he wanted to try the gambling casinos. As fate decreed, the plane he did not take collided in midair with another plane and all of the passengers were killed. This tragedy took place in the summer of 1956 in California.

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