Many of us can point to a specific person who has been influential in shaping our lives and our relative success. I can certainly come up with an enormous and well-deserving list of parents, friends, colleagues, teachers and coaches. But there is one person in my life that deserves a “Standing O” who never got the credit she deserves.
My grandmother, Antonina DiGregorio, came from a Sicilian family that immigrated to Brooklyn, NY and later to Buffalo and Niagara Falls, NY. She is now in her mid-90’s now and would be slightly mortified if I shared her family history so I am mindful of respecting her privacy.
She was the rock of her entire family from a very young age, and has remained the rock and pillar of strength, service, kindness and humility her entire life. She was a second mother to my brother and me, and a number of friends of mine on our street. She never asked for a thing but gave willingly through time, energy and impact on others.
In my early 20’s I experienced a prolonged period of illness that nearly took my life, and forever altered it. There is one moment that I will never forget with her during this experience. It happened during a brief week or two when I was not hospitalized and trying to convalesce at home. However, I relapsed. I was re-hospitalized and bound for surgeries. The struggle would go on another few years, but that is not the point of the story.
Pumped full of narcotics for pain, immunosuppressant and steroid medication designed to reduced inflammation, I was an insomniac with an uncontrollable rage and a mind bordering on madness. It is very lonely when you’re sick as hell and its 3am and you cannot sleep. You eventually lose track of normalcy of time and space. So of course, I called her on the phone in the middle of the night because I knew that she often also had trouble sleeping and was a very early riser.
She answered the phone sounding terribly groggy and half-asleep [as she should at 3am!]. I told her I was not doing well at all and was going to try to walk my dog over to her house about a mile away from mine. At that period of time in my life, this was not a smart move as I was far too weak to make it around the block let alone a mile away. Her response: “Wait there, I will come to you.” She was in her mid 70’s at the time. She didn’t blink or think twice about walking, alone at 3am a mile away to come help me fight my battle both physically and mentally.
We went on the walk together and talked – well, mostly I talked because I was a rambling mess desperate for relief and healing. She listened. The amount of empathy and concern she had for me was one I remember wondering at the time if I would ever be capable of. I had always thought of myself as invincible and here I was at what was at the time one of my lowest lows, finally learning it wasn’t all about me. A hard lesson but a vital one to learn.
She told me to keep fighting. She told me of her secret past and how impossibly hard it had been at times, and why she kept going. She helped give me the strength I need to never give up and showed me that real love, real family and real friendship will be there when you have nothing to offer up yourself. They are simply there to keep you going.
Grandma, you deserve a “Standing O” for all you have done. Not just for me, but for so many others.
Take a bow.