Bittersweet Christmas 2013

Christmas 2013 ended up being a very rough one. Jon’s dad got sick on the 14th and couldn’t get out of bed. He had just traveled to a funeral on Friday in Canton and spoken with family members. But by the time we arrived on Sunday, he was still in bed and not saying much. I was able to sit with him and watch the football game. I didn’t say much out of deference to him – he always liked calm and quiet and I wanted to provide that to him in what we knew were his final days. Jon got to be near him and tell him he loved him on Sunday, also. What a blessing that was because he started to decline quickly on Monday. All of his children were able to get to the house before he passed on Friday. Patty was able to read him the Bible in the comforts of their home and comfort him with her smile. That is one memory I will never forget: watching her bend down to Joe and whisper “I love you” and seeing his mouth widen into a smile and say “I love you” in return. Fifty years together and committed more than ever.

The next week was painful for all the family to experience, especially Patty and the five sons. Jon stayed in Marion most nights and the kids and I went up a couple of times to say goodbye. On Wednesday night, many of the grand kids were there – Dagmawit, Maria and Mario, Alana and Gio, Emmi and Eli (great grand kids). They played downstairs and we could hear their laughter from Joe’s room. Kevin and Chris and Jon and Patrick and Patty reminisced about times with Joe while we stood in his room. The next day, the hospice nurse told us we may want to keep it quiet for Joe. We agreed. But I do believe that Joe enjoyed hearing his grand kids downstairs one final time since he spent so much time with them over the last few years. For 90 years old, it was amazing how much he could tolerate. And how he always was ready for an embrace.



He passed away with Patty, Jon and Chris by his side. We all went to the house that evening and celebrated him. We held his wake on Sunday and the mass on Monday. Then we came home to prepare for Christmas Eve. Needless to say, we were all spent, emotionally and physically.
We took Patty to Cincy with us on Christmas Eve. She fit right in with the rowdy Heiles (actually, after we left we realized that it’s really just me that creates the rowdiness anymore…and I do it well!). We went to Grandma Lolo’s first where Maria and Mario were quite pleased. Ri got a “real” baby doll with five sets of clothes and Mario got Skylander Swap. Of course, Mario said thanks but then immediately asked “where’s more presents?” Jon and I both had a talk with him about being grateful and it sunk in … until the next gift opening. Maria was the same way at age 5 and grew out of it; but Mario may be tougher. Needless to say, we will be practicing gratitude all year long in 2014. My mom loved getting Maria a baby doll. The two of us refuse to let her grow up and slurped up the fact that she still wanted a baby doll for Christmas.






We ate some chocolate covered cherries (Mario was not a fan) and headed to Laura’s house (formerly Grandma Heile’s home). All my baby cousins are grown up – it is just not right. They all sit properly in their chairs and drink their wine and talk about their jobs! Maria and Mario sit all over them and rough house with the boys. They love it.



We left Laura’s house and headed back north to wait for Santa to arrive. Ri fell quickly to sleep because “Santa would come more quickly.” Mario stayed wide awake watching Epic with Patty and then played Legos with her in the basement until 11 pm. She is a machine.
Christmas morning arrived and Ri was the first up. She laid patiently with Jon and me until Mario woke up and jumped on our bed screaming “let’s open presents!” And we were off to the races!




I bought them a bunch of clothes and small gifts, which they opened with vigor. At the end, they both looked up and smiled but wondered if anything else was coming (Mario had begged for an iPad all season; Ri had wanted one too but was conflicted because she also wanted a sewing kit and American Girl doll clothes, and she didn’t want to be greedy). I left the room and returned with two packages and a note. Maria read the note from Santa.

The note detailed all of the dos and don’ts of having an iPad mini. Mario could hardly hold still as Ri read. Santa told them that they have to play educational games and get off of it when their parents say so, and they have to continue to be good and giving to others. I think Ri processed it; Mario is gonna take some time!


The next 24 hours was a whirl wind. Meg, my dad, Jack, Sarah and Jorge arrived around 10 am. We ate yummy casserole and biscuits and then took two hours to open presents. We are notorious for being slow present openers. We have to ohhhh and ahhhh. Ri and Mario found out about their Disney trip. Ri flipped out with excitement; Mario was in a state of awe. He was both excited and nervous about going without Jon or me. He still loves hanging with Jon and me, but we know he will have a blast.




After we opened presents, my Menkedick crew took off and our Ionno crew came over. Patty and I broke out her whipped cream vodka ( yikes!) and the kids played together all day long without any fighting.




The girls went to the park with me and Rocco and climbed all over downed trees. Times are a changing: Ri is turning into the outdoors girl while Mario is wanting to stay in all the time.

The next morning we drove to Marietta for Joe’s burial. The cemetery sat on a steep hill amidst a throng of trees that must look magnificent in Autumn. A group of Patty’s family members showed up to the cemetery and afterwards we went over to West Virginia for Italian food (now there is an oxymoron for ya). It was comforting to sit with Jon and his family and my parents during lunch.
I took in our conversation with vigor.

RIP Orangey

I walked in the front door from my run this morning and Maria ran to the top of the stairs to stop me.  “Mom, come quick, my fish is gone!”  I ran up the stairs to find Jon and Mario in her room peering inside her tank.  There was only one fish swimming around rather than two.  I looked at Jon with the “is something bad happening that you can’t tell me in front of the kids look” but he just looked at me perplexed.  Mario couldn’t keep his mouth shut, however.

“I think my fish had to eat Maria’s fish. It just had to.  Look how big my fish is today!”  All the while he was smiling and excited about this super cool act performed by his fish.  Maria, on the other hand, curled her knees up to her chest on her bed and bawled like a baby who just had her doll pulled from her arms.  Between wails, she’d cry:

“My Orangey fish! He got eaten by Mario’s stupid fish.  Orangey is dead. No. No. No.”

It was 7:55 when all of this went down.  Ri had to be at school at 8:20.  Needless to say, I assumed she’d get her first tardy of the quarter.  But we hugged and talked and somehow got ourselves up and out the door to school.  We made it right on time and explained to Mrs. Palmer that Orangey had died. She gave Ri a hug and Ri dragged me over to her locker.  I gave her one last hug goodbye and watched her sit somberly at her table as I left.  I got out of my 11:30 meeting early so I could run over and see her at recess.  She was talking to her Kindergarten teacher when I spotted her and when she saw me she ran right over to me and embraced me tightly.

She told me she was feeling a little better but didn’t feel like playing too much.  I explained to her that she may be sad for a while and that she just needed to explain what happened to her friends if they asked her what was the matter.  I called Jon to report her status and we both agreed that Mario’s fish must have eaten Orangey.  But one goldfish eating another after four years?  We checked all over the floor and behind the dresser though and there was no Orangey.

When our babysitter picked her up, she told him that Mario’s fish ate her fish.  He laughed.  He is 21 years old and a boy.  What do you expect?  She cried.  He apologized.  She cried more.  Jon cheered her up by telling her that we would go out to dinner at Tommy’s Pizza.  That soothed her for a while.  But when we got home, she jumped right in to making a grave for Orangey, and a tombstone, and a eulogy for her, me, Jon, and Mario.  She was planning his funeral for later in the evening.

The funeral went off without a hitch.  We all sat on our bed except for Ri who led the program.  She began the service with her eulogy:

“You were a nice fish, Orangey.  People die and people are born. There is sad times and happy. We love you.”

Well, none of us could beat that.  I read mine, dad read his, and Mario read his.  Then Ri brought out Orangey’s grave and his tombstone.  We all had to sign it.  Then she read his will.

“Orangey gave everything to Maria and her family.”

Jon and I had done a good job hiding our smiles up to this point but then we busted out a laugh.  Ri understood.  Funerals are about remembering happy times, too, she informs me.  Then she began to sing the words of her eulogy.  Again, Jon and I failed to control our chuckles.  Jon had to sing his eulogy, too, and he did it in his baritone voice.  Mario and Maria loved it and begged for more (Mario looked at me and whispered “I wish this day would never end!”).

After Jon’s song, Mario took off to his room and got his plant.  He brought it to Ri and told her that he wanted to give it to Orangey for his grave.  Maria was thrilled. The two of them went to Maria’s room and placed all of the items by her closet door.  The funeral was over.  Time to get back to life.   RIP Orangey Bobcat Ionno.


Goodnight, Grandma

My grandma died on Saturday.  She passed.  She left us.  She moved on.  However one wants to characterize it, she is gone.  The woman who fed me pringles and coke as we watched the Love Boat.  The woman who awed me with her confidence and devotion.  The mother who raised my dad. The great-grandma who laughed with my kids as they jumped into her swimming pool.  The friend who traveled all over the world.  The faithful servant who took meticulous care of her employer’s accounts for 40 years.  Gone.     

Good timesI miss her.

I spent the last days with her. First at the hospital and then at hospice. 

I held her hand at the hospital.  All night.  She let me know that I was a good grand-daughter and she loved me. I kissed her forehead.  I shared my favorite memories with her.  She smiled.  We held hands in silence.  And then she looked at the ceiling and whispered “thank you for everything … and now, goodnight.”  She closed her eyes.  Something out of a movie, I thought.  She said her goodbye and will now go peacefully.  It did not play out quite that way.  She would fall asleep for a minute and then wake up seemingly irritated that she was still in the hospital room.  She was ready to go. 

The next day, she moved to hospice.  My sis stayed with her the first two nights sleeping on the ground in her sleeping bag.  My grandma surprised us and ate oatmeal and drank orange juice in the mornings.  I stayed with her Friday night and she was clearly not doing as well as she had been doing in days’ past.  I held her hand, nonetheless; she had no problem maintaining her grip around my palm as she slept.  When my dad arrived in the morning, I was wiped out.  Physically and emotionally.  Jon and the kids came down Saturday late morning.  Maria stood by her side and told her that she loved her.  Mario stared at her and said goodbye.  Jon sat in the corner thinking of past times with her.  We left to take the kids to my aunt’s house.  I got a call from my dad not long after our departure.

“She’s passed, Mary.”

“What? How?”

He explained to me that she simply fell asleep and did not wake up.  No pomp and circumstance.  No fireworks.  That is how she was.  She did not want anyone to fuss over her.  She wanted her independence.  She wanted to be the provider for her family.  She wanted to reach into her dishwasher and retrieve cookies for her great-grandkids.  She wanted to grab a bag of Cheetos from her popcorn tin and give them to me for the ride home. She wanted to have everyone over on Christmas for ham and potatoes.  She wanted to love fully and completely. 

I surprised myself with my lack of outward emotion at her wake and funeral.  I assume I felt like I had to be fairly composed for the kids and the guests.  I, after all, am her oldest grand-daughter.  I did shed some tears during the mass as the soloist sang “Be Not Afraid”, a song I remember hearing when attending mass with Grandma.  Maria and Mario both took their kleenex and wiped under my eyes and my nose.  Maria rubbed my back while Mario explained to me that “Grandma was really old” and “you knew she may die, mom. It’s ok. Everyone dies, mom.” 

My babies. 

Jon wrapped his arm around me after Communion.  My sis gave me a huge kiss during Peace.  Jon’s mom hugged me tight before Mass.  My dad patted my back and told me he loved me as we stared at Grandma’s casket.  Meg made sure I was hanging in.  Jack smiled at me as we listened to the priest. Meg’s sisters embraced me at the cemetery.  My girlfriends smiled at me as I walked up the church aisle.  Love floated everywhere those two days.  Grandma would have liked that.