My father passed away the day before Father's Day last year, surrounded by his entire family. He was 88 years old. My sister, brother and I were outnumbered by nieces, nephews, 14 grandchildren and three great-grandchildren. It was beautiful and extremely moving as all the kids made a circle around the bed, prayed and sang songs to him. My daughter Arianna was holding one of his hands while her cousin Jackie held the other.
My father had been battling Alzheimer's and no longer recognized any of us—except that he thought I was my mother and my mother was me. He was so sweet and dear with my mom, but would make demands of me. It confused me in the beginning until we realized what was happening. So, we decided to just go with it and it took pressure off my mom, since now I was the focus of all his demands. It was sweet to watch him interact with my mom thinking it was me.
As he lay there in the emergency room, my father went in and out of consciousness. At one point, as the kids were singing, I lifted his head and said: "Look, Poppi, all of your kids are here to be with you. Can you hear them? Can you see them? If you do hear and see them, squeeze Arianna's hand." At that point his eyes, became so clear and he no longer looked stunned or confused. He looked right at Arianna, squeezed her hand, nodded his head and smiled at her. Then he looked around the whole room and his eyes went to each and every person he could see in his eye line. It lasted only a few moments, but I know Dad saw and recognized everyone he made eye contact with. It was his last lucid moment. He closed his eyes, and he never regained consciousness. He passed a few hours later.
See how Cristina and her family celebrated that Father's Day
We decided to take the next day, Father's Day, to honor Poppi and celebrate his life and legacy. He was a simple man with simple needs, and all he needed was his family. He was a man who proudly served his country in World War II and worked a 9-to-5 job as a butcher to provide a good life for his family.
He was also the best pizza-maker and made a killer sauce with meatballs! Every Sunday after church while my sister, brother and I changed into our play clothes, we could hear music coming from the living room with the sounds of Sinatra and Tony Bennett. Soon, the aroma of my dad making his meatballs would permeate the whole house and the anticipation for the meal to come thrilled me—I could hardly contain myself!
I thought I was the luckiest girl in the world because even though we didn't have much money growing up, I always felt like our home was different and special. It was constantly filled with relatives, neighbors and friends. None of my other neighbors' friends had fathers who cooked unless they were grilling, and certainly no one made meatballs like my dad did!
So, in honor of Father's Day, as we remember Poppi on the first anniversary of his passing, we are going to gather at my nephew's house in Montana to have a big, blowout family reunion (I don't know why we call it a reunion—we are always together!) and scatter his ashes. He lived a great life, and he left behind an incredibly large, devoted and loving family.
My poppa always told me that no matter what you do in life, it was important to "finish well." He believed that everything you try and everything you do must be met with honesty, integrity and loyalty. As he would raise his glass every night at dinner, he always would say, "La famiglia." (The family.) He lived up to that promise: He always put us first, and judging from what he left behind, my pop "finished well!"
Happy Father's Day to all fathers and fathers-to-be! Especially to my nephew-in-law Byron and my niece Nicola, who are expecting a baby boy in a few months! Poppi would have been so proud!
Sending Father's Day greetings with thanks and gratitude to all the dads serving our country who cannot be with their families on this day. Our thoughts and prayers are with you! Safe and speedy return.
In honor of Poppi, I would like to share his recipe for his fabulous sauce with meatballs. It will surely please your dad and is a great dish to make and serve to him on Father's Day.