I’m writing this note from Italy having finally fulfilled on a promise made to my grandmother, “Nana”, many years ago. She had colon cancer and chose palliative care only, so things progressed quickly. All of us family members came to visit her in person, and by the time I arrived she wasn’t wanting to eat anymore, just sip some tea or ice.
Each day she faded a bit more. So instead of spending a few days with her as planned, I stayed well over a week during what ended up being the last week of her life. It was a very tender time for both of us in general, and I was the first grandchild, so we were close.
During that last week, I spent all day with her in her hospice room in her beloved Hanover NH. At first we did a lot of talking together, and I asked her about her life, such as: What was she most proud of and Did she have any regrets?
She was a devout Roman Catholic, and the one thing that she regretted not doing was to have visited the Vatican. So I promised her that I would.
We both knew I’d fulfill this promise, but that there was no particular timeline attached. For some unknown reason, earlier this year I sensed it was time. And realized it had been 10 years! Not that that matters, except to have me realize how quickly life moves along.
So I did a little digging and conceived of a plan to not only visit the Vatican with her (from beyond the veil), but to go there over the Easter holiday and attend Mass with the Pope in St. Peter’s Square. It seemed like something she would’ve enjoyed as well as one of those expansive life experiences to cross of my bucket list in general.
And so here I am, writing to you from Rome on Easter Monday. It’s a holiday today, and I can now understand why: Easter Sunday (in fact the whole Holy Week leading up to it) is quite a celebration here, so everyone (myself included) needs a day to recover!
By recover, I mean that most Masses in the Pontifical liturgical calendar are held in St. Peters Basilica, which can hold 15,000 people. That is already quite a crowd! But for some Masses such as Easter or Christmas, much larger numbers of people are expected, so the Mass is held in St. Peter’s Square, which can host up to 80,000 people. I’m not great at estimating these things, so am not sure how many were actually there yesterday, but wouldn’t be surprised if it was at capacity. Being with that many people is both energizing and exhausting!
Attending a Mass at St. Peter’s requires a ticket from the Vatican (they are free, but request it well in advance!) and even then they warn that the ticket does not necessarily guarantee entrance or a seat; only our arrival time will guarantee access so arrive early!
This means many of us were there before the sun was up awaiting entrance to St. Peter’s Square at 7:30, and had a lot of time to chat with each other while standing around for Mass at 10am. I met two lucky ladies from Sydney, Australia who toured inside Notre Dame Cathedral the morning of the fire (!) and a couple from Omaha NE whose son is in the midst of an internship with the US Embassy to the Holy See. Did you know that we have a separate US Embassy to the Vatican? It makes sense as Vatican City is its own country, but I hadn’t really thought about that diplomatic detail until now.
There are other details I discovered, such as the Vatican’s marching band and Swiss Guard (looking fab in their fancy dress armor today; those bold outfits are their daily attire).
And I discovered just how they provide communion to 80,000 people during a Mass in St. Peters Square. Frankly I wasn’t sure how this was possible, and it was definitely quite chaotic but the job was done effectively even given that. Which come to think of it is a lot like the traffic here in Rome, where things seem like chaos especially with all the motorbikes moving about like minnows, but in fact everything moves along quite quickly.
Speaking of moving along quite quickly, thou it was a long day, my time together with 79,999 other people was fabulous and I look forward to it again sometime if anyone wants to go!
As well, my time with Nana that last week of her life was both going by quite quickly and also lingering (we didn’t know if it was hours, days or weeks that she had to live). After a few days with her, she no longer wanted to talk or even listen to me read psalms so I just held her hand. Then she didn’t want to even be touched, but somehow knew I was there even in silence. All that final week I spent the days with her and I went home every night to sleep in the nearby home where she grew up. Quite an immersion experience, including poking thru old family photo albums.
Eventually I said my goodbye to her, and booked my flight home knowing I had to leave to live my own life and let her choose to die in her own time. I later learned that often our loved ones linger on here with us precisely because we are there with them. So it made my decision to leave easier to bear, and in fact she died less than 48 hours after I left which was I think a relief for everyone including her.
So now, inside this new immersion experience here in Rome, I have come full circle on fulfilling this promise to her. I feel satisfied to have completed it, though a bit of a lull at it’s accomplishment. And I’m wondering what is next for me. Writing about it all in this blog to you is my first answer.
After this, I think I will write her a letter.
And then see what other promises I have made to myself or others that have yet to be completed. I will have no regrets at the end of my life. Or at any point along the way!
Do you have promises made and kept? If so, what happened and how did it go down?
If not, what has kept you from keeping them?
Share your stories in a blog comment below!
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