Dear Nonna Battaglia,
I think this will be the last blog piece that I write in letter form (for now) and it’s to the most influential person in my life. I never fully understood just how powerful of a person you are for me, my Mom, and so many other people. As you know, I have been doing a lot of self-healing lately through various practices, music, meditation, yoga, journals; you know because you’ve been there with me the entire time. I don’t need to tell you, but I will anyway. Last Wednesday I was listening to Oprah’s Super Soul Conversations Podcast with Cheryl Strayed. For some reason the title and description of this podcast struck me, and that’s how I started my day while I made breakfast. Last Wednesday also happened to be the anniversary of your death. Cheryl Strayed is a New York Times Best Selling Author who had lost her mother at a young age to cancer. My Mom also lost you at a very young age but I didn’t think too much about that when I decided to listen to her podcast with Oprah. While listening Cheryl said something that for me was so powerful, I had to pause the podcast because I was overcome with emotion. It was as if she was speaking to my soul when she said, “are you brave enough to break your own heart?” Immediately after I was finished listening to her podcast I decided that I needed to buy all three of her books that day, and that my mother had to listen to this podcast as well. That’s how moved I was. I called my mother in that moment and told her that on our way to the cemetary to visit you, we needed to stop by the bookstore so that I can buy some books. Coles Notes: once I got into the car with my mom at the train station I put the same podcast on and I made my mom listen to it, then we went to the bookstore where I bought the books Wild, Brave Enough and Tiny Beautiful Things. I gave the book Wild to my mother as a gift, and I kept the other two to myself.
When we arrived at the cemetery to see you, the mausoleum doors to your crypt were all locked. It was weird because it wasn’t closing time, but there was no one around so we got back in the car and went to my mother’s house. My client had canceled her session with me, so I decided to start reading Brave Enough and I was encouraging my mother strongly to read her book Wild. So much so, that eventually she got upset and said, “What? You want me to read this book because you think I have a problem?” Immediately I realized my own arrogance and I apologized, “Mom, I’m so sorry that I gave you that impression. I only want you to read the book because I was so moved by the author in the podcast. And I thought if Oprah who seems to ‘have it all’ can get something from this book, and Reese Witherspoon, who also seems to ‘have it all’ can make a movie about it because she loved it so much, then there must be something in it for us. Especially since the book is about this woman’s healing process after the death of her mother. I thought you would be able to relate to the author and therefore finally find a book you’d enjoy.” She agreed and we ended up watching the movie Wild that night on Netflix with my Dad. My mom even start reading the book too!
That day I started and finished the book Brave Enough and then I began reading Tiny Beautiful Things. However, ever since that day the words “are you brave enough to break your own heart?” Were burned into my brain, and I could not let them go. Something changed for me that day, because it is a big reason why I wrote my first heart breaking letter this past Saturday and it is a big reason why I have been reflecting and meditating on this letter as well. This letter is the heaviest for sure. I think after I send this out into the universe I will feel so very light, and I can ride that high during my entire birthday weekend. So here it goes, some painful heart breaking truths about your life, death, and the legacy that you’ve left behind.
First of all you knew that you were going to pass, you knew in your heart; because you said it to my mother many times in the coming days before your death. You knew that your younger sister was very sick, and you did NOT want to be around to watch her die. You made that very clear to my mother. You also attended someone’s else’s funeral two weeks before you died and you said to my mom at the funeral home, “I like it here. Bring me here when I die.” Obviously, my mom would respond just like how most people would respond to something like that, in complete disbelief that you would even think about something like that. Fast forward to the night you went to sleep and never woke up. Here’s a rendition of what happened that night written by my mother in her own words (I only fixed most grammar errors and spelling):
MY LAST CONSERVATION WITH MY BELOVED MOTHER!
So it was Thursday February 20, 1987 at 11:30 as ritual I would give a good night call to my mother.
My mother would often call myself during the day to check up on her grandchildren if they were fed, loved and taken care of. These things were extremely important to her.
That evening the phone rang are little longer than usual. Her tone was mean and angered as she was not feeling well! Every winter especially in February she would come down with a horrible cold due to the fact that she was highly subjected to bronchitis!
Knowing this ,I was always cautious and reminded her to be careful not to catch a cold.
She told me how rude & disrespectful I was for calling so late! She states that she was in a deep sleep and she is not feeling well!
I could sense something and not knowing well what I was sensing made me uncomfortable!
My mother asks me the following,
-what time is it?
-how are my babies? are they sleping?
-where is your husband Norm?
My reply ,
-11:40 by now cause cp24 was doing the weather
-the kids are fine, they are sleeping
-norm is in bed- sleeping
now at this moment she instructs me the following:
Go be with your husband, your place is next to him! I will not need you anymore and don’t worry about me and just look after your kids!
I started to cry since I got frightened and uncomfortable! I told her I shall be over right after I drop off Alexandra at kindergarten!
NO, DON’T BROTHER ! I’M NOT GOING TO NEED ANYTHING!
our phone call was over by 11:45-11:50
the corner called the time of death around 11:45-midnight
That good night was GOOD BYE FOREVER!
You knew that your job as a mother was over, and so, you could leave this earth in peace and die in your sleep. You have been in a way training my mother for this day your entire life and you didn’t even know you were doing it until that day came. In a way you broke your own heart by realizing that truth. You broke your heart because you knew that your death would break your daughter’s heart. However, you had faith that in that process. She would become the woman you had always raised her to be. I do believe that the power of mothers can transcend generations, for better or worse. Your power as a mother has transcended generations and I’m going to explain how. Without you, my life wouldn’t exist. Not because you birthed my mother, but because you chose my mother and gave her a life she never dreamed possible. You and your husband immigrated to Canada and came to the harsh reality that you were not able, for whatever reason to bear your own children. I can only imagine the pain and guilt associated with that as a very traditional Italian woman. However, you decided to be brave. You knew your soul’s purpose was to be a mother, and so you became one anyway, and adopted my mother. You were your highest version when it came to being a mother to my Mom or at least you did your very best to be. You did your very best to love my mother with deep compassion, generosity, and integrity. The biggest secret that you ever kept from my mother was the fact that she was adopted. I’m sure that guilt must have weighed very heavy on your heart, and that cross became too heavy to bear the day you died. I’m sure you never wanted to tell my mom that she was adopted while you were alive, because you never wanted her to doubt that YOU were her mother. I’m here to tell you that she always had an idea that she was adopted and she may have questioned things, but in the end she always came back to the fact that you ARE in fact her mother. You’re the woman who raised her and made her into the strong woman that she is today. She honors you as her mother by holding on to all of your most prized possessions, all your lessons, your hand written recipes, and your memory.
My mother talks about you often. She talks about all the things you used to do for us, for her, and for our family. It was through your bravery that you inspired two other women in our family to become mothers as well through the process of adoption. It’s strange but for one of these women, their first adopted son just so happens to be born the same day you died. February 21st. This could mean nothing or it could mean everything. I definitely see this as a sign from the universe or the divine, and you Nonna are a part of the divine. You transcended into the divine when you died, and you became a guardian angel to my mother, and to me. I’m beginning to really understand our connection more now than ever before. Through your death my Mom realized who she always was. She realized the harsh truth that she was not really your daughter, but she was also very much your daughter at the same time. Even though this truth broke her heart, she decided to be brave and become the mother to her kids the way you taught her to be since day one. You taught her to be the type of independent woman who worked through out high school at a grocery store. Who learned to drive. Who bought herself a car. Who put herself through college, and who helped take care of you when your husband died (my mom was 21). She was also the type of woman who found her life partner, made her own family and became the best Mom she could be. ALL BECAUSE OF YOU! THANK YOU NONNA! GRAZIE PER TUTTI!!
In university, I found my lifelong friends. I found a family outside of blood relation and I would always say that family does not include only the people who are related to you by blood. In fact, your family is anyone who loves you unconditionally, and encourages you to be your highest version. Now I know that in reality, I first learned that lesson when you died. You taught me that lesson. Because when you died my mom learned about her adoption, but she also learned that, that doesn’t define her. In fact, you were her family. She knew in her heart that she was an Italian Canadian, and the family that surrounded her; all her cousins were her brothers and sisters. This was her tribe. This is where she has always belonged. I will never forget that. I know the importance of family, of finding your tribe, and blood relation has absolutely nothing to do with that! So THANK YOU for teaching me that!
Another indirect lesson that I’ve learned in the wake of your death, is the power of music. I’ve been raised Catholic, but to be honest my family almost never went to Church unless we had to. However, I realized that music was my religion, and it was music that was always the thing that brought me and my family together. Especially my sisters and I. Some of my happiest memories involve music and my sisters. We would scream sing lyrics in the car, we would have dance parties ALL THE TIME in our massive foyer. We would put on dance productions for my parents. All our lives we’ve shared music, and we will always have a passion for music. Now, let me make this clear, I do believe in God. However, I consider myself more spiritual than religious. Church never felt right to me. But I would always pray, and now I pray through meditation and music. You died on February 21st 1997 11 days before my 8th birthday on March 4th 1997. The Notorious B.I.G died 5 days after my birthday on March 9th 1997. Later that same year the song inspired by the death of Biggie Smalls, became the song that would ALWAYS remind me of you. That song is I’ll be missing you by Puff Daddy featuring Faith Evans and 112. EVERY SINGLE TIME I WOULD HEAR THAT SONG I WOULD CRY BECAUSE IT REMINDED ME OF YOU. It reminded me of the grief I felt, the grief my mom felt, the grief my sisters felt, even though my sisters and I were all too young to fully understand it. One of my favorite quotes from this song will always remind me of some of my fondest memories of us shopping on St. Clair Avenue in Little Italy, Toronto for dress shoes and clothes. “Us in the six, shopping for new clothes and kicks.” Whenever this song would come on I would sing it and cry. These past few days I listened to it over and over and over again until I was no longer crying. I know all the words to that song. In fact, I know a lot of the words to many, many songs, but none are as important to me as this one.
I love all types of music. I’m very open-minded, but nothing speaks to me more than hip hop. I LOVE hip hop and this song definitely ignited that passion for me. I now understand on so many levels why this song and this type of music means so much to me. Hip Hop has spiritual importance to me because it talks about pain, suffering, grief, sin, violence, and turns these negative things into art. Hip Hop artists, the ones who are most profound are the ones who can speak about their pain and suffering so candidly and not only make something out of it but inspire hope for a better future. A lot of hip hop also has many references to God, heaven, forgiveness, love, compassion, and generosity. They teach us to reach deep within ourselves to look past our pain, to see the lesson in our suffering, so that we may be able to become higher versions of ourselves. I know Nonna that you don’t particularly understand hip hop because you were of a different generation, but I do know you understand it’s importance to me and my healing. I’m grateful for this song, and for my love of music. Without it, I don’t think I would be the same person.
Lastly, I want to thank you Nonna for my Mother. Without her, there would be no me. You left a legacy in her that is now being passed down to me. I was in your presence for just about 8 years of my life and I learned so much from you. I learned about what it means to love. I also learned that being so much like my mother is an honor. My entire life I’ve been told how much I look like my mother, how much I act like my mother, how much I sound like my mother, I can go on. I used to get so frustrated by this, and I would try to deny it. Now, I know that you didn’t birth my mom, so I did not inherit my looks from you, but everything else was passed down from you onto her, and then onto me. My mother and I are both excellent cooks, and bakers because of you. We are both strong and independent women who are honored to be in the service of our loved ones because of you. I now know even more so than before, how important it is to honor where you come from because it informs us of who we might then become. I am a proud Italian Canadian but I never forget that my mom was adopted. That cross that you bore as a mother who could not bear children was passed down to my mother who found out she was adopted, but neither of you let that define you or stop you from following your soul’s purpose. One day I know that I will be ready for that call to be a mother and I do believe that is my ultimate purpose. I do believe that I will also build a career and a life for myself outside of motherhood, but being a mother speaks to my soul more than anything else in the world. It broke my heart to pieces when I came across the opportunity to be a mother, but I was not ready to answer the call. I had to break my heart and accept that it wasn’t the right time. I then understood that I had to kill the parts of Alex that were no longer serving me and my soul’s purpose of becoming a mother if I ever want that part of me to be realized. And so here I am. I know that I need to be able to become the highest version of myself and then strive to be that person everyday so that I then therefore be ready for the highest honor of motherhood. With your guidance and strength I know that I can be just that. I have seen it happen for two of my closest friends who have been through similar experiences, just like me, they have both been training to be mothers their entire lives. One of them has already realized this dream, and another will someday soon (she literally talks about her burning sensation to be a mom every time I see her). I don’t know when this will happen for me, but I do know that if I continue on this path of love, compassion, generosity, and gratitude my soul’s purpose will someday be realized. I know I have a purposed in fitness and wellness, as well as motherhood, and I do believe with all my heart that they are connected. If I hold the same values that a mother should hold to her child; love, understanding, generosity, compassion, and integrity to my clients and everyone I come across, then I would be able to create a truly holistic approach to health and wellness.
Thank you Nonna for absolutely everything. My life would not be my life if it wasn’t for you and the woman you raised to be my mother. Now I also know why my birthday has always meant so much to me. It’s because you would always make a big deal about our birthday. You would buy us our birthday dress. You and my mom would make all the food for the party. You and my mom would invite anyone who loved us to our party and make it a celebration to be remembered. My Mom continued these traditions in your honor. She bought us birthday outfits every year for our birthdays up until our early twenties. She would always make a big deal about our birthday, and make a point to celebrate it each year. I carry out this tradition as well. I never forget the birthdays of my loved ones and I do my best to honor their birthday just like you have always honored mine.
Love you and Thank you!