Sunday, October 9, 2011

September 17, 2011 Angels come for Leo

This week, Leo has been given stronger and stronger pain medicine, as the morphine has not given him pain relief. He has been sleeping almost all the time, but sometimes waking up in great pain. One day I felt him calling my name for a few moments.

A nurse comes daily to attend to Leo, being very gentle with him, I am told by his friend Andrea. I now know that Andrea and Leo were childhood friends, who had not seen each other since their respective marriages. When Leo became ill, Andrea was at Leo's home weekly and then daily to help him. When I was able to travel to Italy Andrea brought Leo to me.

On September 3, Andrea, had texted me a message from Leo. "Don't call or send Leo text messages, because his wife controls everything now."  I am to contact Andrea only. I understand Leo's son could not bear to see Leo in this condition and has not visited often.

Andrea has been sending me daily updates since then.

On Wednesday night, September 14, I had a dream. Leo and I were in a crowd of people, going through a dim tunnel. We were being jostled about. Leo stopped and said, "You can't go any further with me. You need to make an excuse to go back. Tell them you need to find a bathroom." I woke up. I understood the message.

Friday night, September 16 in California at 9:15 which is 6:15 am Saturday morning in Italy, I posted on FaceBook this thought:

"Dear ones. I believe the angels are approaching our sweet Leo."

I fell into a deep sleep at 9:30, unusual for me on a Friday night. I was dreaming when I suddenly woke up. It was 11:10. I grabbed for my cellphone and there was a text message from Andrea:

"Alle 7 Leo e' stato portato via dagli angeli
"Leo was taken away by the angels at 7 am."

I spent the night on FaceBook, writing to each student.

Funeral arrangements apparently had already been made.

I continued to inform our friends, using FaceBook to post, as I received information.

At 5:30 am I fell into an exhausted sleep.

In the morning I found this picture in my email. Rosa had gone to our church in Cremona and lit a candle for Leo, right in front of my favorite saint, Santa Rita.  So sweet, she sent me the proper prayer too. I love my Italian family so much for their constant support, thoughtfulness and love.

Questa รจ una preghiera per i defunti.
L'eterno riposo dona a loro o Signore, risplenda ad essi la luce perpetua, riposino in pace amen.

September 7, 2011 Leo's clothes

Two years ago, I packed Leo’s suits, ties, shirts and casual clothes in containers with moth balls. The idea was to make sure insects would not feast and the clothes would be ready for his return.

It is clear now, that Leo will not be returning. I spoke to him about what to do with his belongings here. He told me, they belong to us, so anything I decide will be ok. He asked me not to give away his favorite off-white jacket nor his treasured metal detector.

A few weeks ago, I donated a dozen pairs of his shoes to a Japanese Tsunami charity. I held back his slippers and four pairs of his most worn (and loved) shoes.

This weekend, I decided it was time to let his clothing go. I spoke with a friend who mentioned the LDS charity van was in Newport Beach this week. For the first time since I packed, I went through the clothes, pulling out items I just cannot part with: his white terry robe, which he loved wearing after a long hot shower. T-shirts purchased during our American adventures. I remember he never felt comfortable wearing those shirts, unless they were ironed. Yes, I ironed them. It was a matter of “bella figura” meaning it was impossible for him to dress in wrinkled or just out of the dryer clothes.

I kept some of his favorite ties. The alligator belt, stamped “Made in Italy” I adopted as my own. On a hook in my closet, his casual tan weekend jacket still hangs, just where he left it in May 2009. I shake the dust off of it every so often. I’ve starting sleeping with the pajama top he used in the evenings when he was ready to relax. Perhaps it’s my imagination, but I can still smell him on it, even though it’s been laundered. His slippers are still in the closet.

It would have broken my heart to sell his things at a garage sale. Instead, I’ve decided to donate to charity.

Italians have an innate distrust of charities so I’m trying to do what Leo would like.

I received a call from a friend early in the week. She knew of a man, whose x-wife, in anger, had cut up all of his clothes. My friend thought Leo and this man were about the same height and weight. Yesterday morning, before leaving for work, I loaded my car with various bags and tubs of clothes.

When I arrived at 5:30 to drop off Leo’s clothes, I suddenly became overwhelmed. The instant I had unloaded the car, I tearfully headed home. Only 15 minutes had passed, when I called my friend and asked her to pull out Leo’s hiking boots. I can’t bear to give them away. He had so many wonderful adventures in those shoes.

Last night my phone rang. There was a man on the line…the man without clothes. He called to say thank you. He said the clothes were heaven-sent. The clothes fit him. But the style, I asked? Are they your style? Yes, he answered. I told him Leo would be glad then. I didn’t mention “bella figura” last night, but today I can smile and think, Leo would be pleased. The style was right.

Getty Museum, 2009

September 1, 2011 Leo's last days

Leo spent a good part of the 2011 summer at his sea-side home. Unfortunately, his legs became paralyzed during this period. He was transported by ambulance back to Firenze last week. Whether because of the movement and long trip to the city or just the results of the ongoing attack of the multiple myeloma on his body, he has begun a slow downward decline.

It has been difficult to be excluded from his life during his last days. Two weeks ago, the doctor gave him the sad news that he has entered into the final phase of this cancer. Leo called me after the doctor’s visit, but he was overcome by emotion and unable to talk.

I have mixed feelings about his medical treatment in Italy. He has had no family advocate to ask questions and seek out the best treatment. I guess I am still a good percentage American.

On the other hand, his personal doctor does make frequent house calls. That is unheard of here in California. Last night finally, a morphine IV was started by the doctor. Leo has been in increasing excruciating pain as his spine deteriorates.

The grief counseling I attended for the past two months was a help. She listened to our story and was touched by it. She said what Leo and I had, was a rare occurrence. Leo and I were fortunate to have had the time we had together. We had wonderful adventures. We shared ourselves with each other, without barriers. We really did find true love and we taught each other.

We both learned from it. I learned to trust and love a man. He learned to trust and love. He told me last week, his heart was opened to love, because of our relationship. He tells me his wife is working exhaustively now to care for him. He sees her dedication and her love for him. No, it’s not romantic love, but I can now accept there are different forms of love between a man and a woman. I try to let the anger go. She does not give him emotional support. I see his son, so disconnected from Leo’s illness.

Last week Leo told me our relationship opened his heart to see love, everywhere.

I recalled our first argument, almost 10 years ago. It was during his first trip bringing students here. He told me I was acting too familiar with them. I had greeted them at the airport with bottled water and fresh fruit and chocolate to keep in their motel room that first night. We had invited them to my little studio apartment near the beach and had prepared a barbecued steak dinner for them. When Leo told me I was being too familiar, I asked him to explain. I was hotly angry as he explained his rationale.

Culture clash! As a professor, he expected to be treated with the respect and admiration he deserved. They, being college students, knew their place. I was confusing them, treating them as if I was their loving aunt. I went into a chilled quiet zone, too hurt and angry to counter argue. How could I argue with culture? Then I began to really look at my anger.

The day is clearly set in both our minds. As the students roamed Venice Beach boardwalk, Leo and I broke down the facts, line by line. I told him I am a kind, mothering person. My own children were not available to me and had shunned me in anger. I thrived in nurturing other people. It was my nature. For him to tell me to stop my behavior toward the students, was to tell me to stop being myself. Our relationship was at a pivotal point that day.

I asked him how it was possible for him to travel and live with these students for 3 weeks with the Prof/Student barrier rigidly in place? We worked out a compromise. I would continue to freely be myself. He would not ask me to change. I would not try to break or change the relationship between Leo and the students. They addressed him in the formal “Lei” when speaking.

As the trip passed and other trips with other students occurred, I noticed Leo began to change. As he changed, so did the students. A new Prof/Student relationship emerged. The changes occurred both here and at the University in Italy. Leo became a sought-after advisor and instructor at the University. The students adored him and he returned their affection. He was and continues to be an inspiration. His goal was to show the students how to follow their own dreams and achieve their goals.

Past students have now transitioned into being Leo’s friends. Students, past and present, have visited him during hospital stays and in his home. They have continued to seek his advice on work projects and life decisions. Leo thrives on their attention.

Leo has asked me to post health updates on his FaceBook account. He trusts me to help maintain his dignity as a man and as a Prof. The students leave sweet loving messages which give him emotional support. We are all devastated to know the end is coming.

I suspect his family is unaware of the vast number of friends Leo has in both Italy and the USA.

I think the time has come to bring Leo out of the shadows. Here is a picture of Leo as he looked just during his last and final trip here. One month later, he was hospitalized and in frail health.

The Grove, Los Angeles
May 2009

With his last group of students on a study trip to California