Sunday, October 9, 2011

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

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