Sunday, November 22, 2009

Saying Goodbye to Maria Orlando: 1924-2009

Maria and Jennifer holding a picture of Maria's cousins, October 2009

Mi dispiace dirti che Maria Orlando e morta oggi presso l'ospedale di Lamezia Terme. I funerali si faranno lunedi alle 13,30.
November 21, 2009

I am sorry to tell you that Maria Orlando died today at the Lamezia Terme hospital. The funeral will be on Monday at 1:30pm.

I woke up this morning and stumbled to the kitchen to prepare my morning coffee. On the way to the kitchen, I grabbed my Blackberry and opened it up to that message. I stopped in my tracks. Maria died only one month after my departure from Italy.

It turns out that Maria was hospitalized two weeks ago for renal failure and an enlarged heart. She looked fine when I saw her at the rest home. She was slow and needed a walker to get around, but there was no indication that she was about to die. I am still stunned by the news. Stunned by the fact that I made it in time to meet my cousin. Only two weeks after my departure she would fall ill and start her journey over to the other side, that which awaits us all.

I feel a mix of sorrow and gratitude. I am sad because I have lost the most precious part of my trip to Curinga: Maria Orlando. At the same time, I feel grateful because I was given the opportunity to find her and meet her before she passed on. If you have followed my journey closely, you know that my meeting Maria was a major milestone in tracing my roots back to Curinga. Maria was the treasure, the last survivor of my grandfather’s family tree, and she was a surprise to top it all off. I never knew Maria existed because vital records for her mother did not indicate that her mom had given birth to Maria. Rosa was single, “nubile” as her death certificate read.

In the days since I returned from Curinga to my home in the United States, I have proudly showed everyone my picture of Maria. Each time I have an opportunity to tell my story about this journey, I pull out my Blackberry and I fondly show my friends the picture of Maria and me holding a picture of her first cousins, Bruno, Lucy, and Angela. She had not known about her first cousins, since they grew up in the United States and she stayed in Curinga her entire life. Nonetheless, I felt it was important for her to be aware of them, not only because they were all so close in age, but also because my mom was her first cousin.

When Sister Anna Lisa took that picture of us in the rest home during my second visit, I was overcome with a feeling of completeness. Despite the fact that my mother and her siblings had passed on and we only held a picture of them in our hands, our connection at that moment was the reunion of two branches in our family tree. Two branches that had been separated in 1909 by an ocean, a different language, a new life in Pennsylvania, and the early death of my grandfather in 1937. 100 years later, I would make my way to back to my grandfather’s town to discover Maria and introduce her to the rest of her family. We had come full circle together. We found each other and we mended the tree.

For me, the timing of these events is an affirmation that our actions and decisions are not necessarily a mere coincidence. There is a greater force at work here, call it/he/she what you would like. The fact that I would arrive to Curinga to meet Maria for the first time only a month and half before her demise, the fact that I didn’t wait until Christmas like I had originally planned, the fact that Maria had dreamt she would have a visitor from the United States two days before my arrival to the rest home...This experience has allowed me see God’s work in all its beauty. I am humbled and grateful to have been given this gift of Maria Orlando, as brief as our time was together.

Maria Orlando, September 14, 1924 – November 21, 2009

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