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  • Writer's pictureCaterina Sullivan

The Difficulty in Telling Family How Much You Love Them

My parents raised me with the understanding that family came first in my life. This idea wasn’t forced on me; I wasn’t dragged kicking and screaming to relatives’ places. I genuinely loved spending time with my family and continue to do so. As much as I love my first cousins and my relatives my own age, I cherish the time I spend with the generations before me because I have so much to learn from them.

The downside of being raised around family in this way is that spending time with people is so natural and normal that you forget to let them know what they mean to you.

Spending time with the youngest brother of my maternal grandfather and his beautiful wife was part of my childhood, teen years and adulthood. Since I never had the chance to meet my maternal grandparents as they both passed away before I was born, my Zio Artemio and Zia Maria acted as my grandparents.

Unfortunately, I lost my Zio Artemio a few weeks ago.

I write this reflection as I go through these few days of his viewing, his funeral and the day after, processing my grief and feeling the pain of seeing the heartbreak of my Zia Maria - a hurt I cannot even begin to imagine after over 70 years of her and Zio being in each other’s lives.

Zio taught me things, shared stories of my grandfather and great-grandmother (after whom I was named), celebrated with me, showed interest in my life - he loved me the way my grandfather couldn’t. We had special moments where he would hold my hand, look into my eyes and wink at me and tell me how beautiful I was. He made me feel like a magnificent princess, while also teaching me, through his example, about the importance of humility.

When he fell ill, it shook me. I saw him as invincible - nothing could touch him. In my eyes, my Zio Artemio could not be faulted. I know people say no one is perfect, but Zio was.

I wanted to tell him how much he meant to me. I wanted him to be able to hear the words from me that he had made such an invaluable contribution to my life in a way which no one else could. I wanted him to know that I looked up to him, that I wanted to emulate every single one of his characteristics. But I didn’t know how.

I didn’t know what to say or how to say it because I had just grown up always thinking it. I had grown up never needing to tell him because I didn’t even consider that a day would come where I wouldn’t have that chance. He was a tower of strength, and that seemed unshakable.

His strength was seen foremost in his emotional vulnerability. I can’t even begin to count the number of times I saw my Zio tear up. I can hear his voice as clear as day say how much he appreciated seeing my Zia Maria, my mother, my father and me all sitting around the table because that is what life is all about - being with family. Rarely would a time go past hearing him say this without a crack in his voice and a tear in his eye.

One of my favourite phone conversations with him was only recently, this past Christmas. We only spoke for a short time, but we were able to tell each other how much we loved each other while we both cried down the phone together. It’s the closest I came to ever being able to verbalise just how much I loved him.

I am beginning to accept that I will never get the chance to sit down with him, hold his hand and tell him just how much he meant to me and how much of an example he set for me. I don’t think that I have fully accepted this yet, but I know with time I will be at peace with this.

I am only now beginning to accept that he will never have a chance to meet my partner and my partner will never have a chance to meet him. I am only now beginning to accept that Zio will never meet his great-great- niece or nephew and that my children will never meet this incredible man.

However, I have made two resolutions.

Firstly, I am not taking the presence of anyone else in my life for granted. I don’t regret not spending more time with Zio because I always called for birthdays, for Christmas, for Easter and visited whenever I was in Perth - sometimes two or three times in a 10-day trip. When I lived here, I visited even more frequently. What I did take for granted was the ability to tell him how I felt. Even now after having lost Zio Artemio, I don’t know where to start in telling members of my family, who I have grown up around, that I love them as much as I do and exactly why I appreciate them. The transition is rather gradual from being a child to being an adult who is aware and understanding of family relationships and the role people play in your life; however, while those developments are natural within oneself, it is hard to demonstrate that to family members from generations before because you always feel like a child among them, like you’re not ready to consciously recognise the important role that these people play.

But I am taking time to improve this within myself. I am finding a way I can connect with the people in my family to let them know that they are so important to me.

My second resolution is that if I can’t tell Zio how much I respected and worshipped him, I have to show it to him. He has passed now, but I believe his spirit can see what is happening in my life. I believe he will be watching over me and protecting me. All I can do now to convey my feelings towards him is live by his example. I want to love people endlessly, see the good in everyone, stay away from gossip and negativity, cherish simple moments, celebrate in the successes of the people I love, remind people of their beauty and their worth, live my own life to the fullest and enjoy life vicariously through those I love, always remain playful at heart, laugh easily and radiate warmth wherever I go, allow myself to be emotionally vulnerable, be physically affectionate to those who I hold dearest and above all treat every individual person like they are the most precious on earth. Maybe then, I might be able to scratch the surface on being the kind of person my Zio was.

While his spirit may have left his body, his earthly vessel, as long as we, his family, continue to live just as he did, his legacy will continue for generations to come, and he will never truly die as he will live within each of us and our children and our grandchildren.

Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon him. May he rest in peace.


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