Thursday, June 11, 2009

The Passing of Florence Letterese

I know some of you are waiting for highlights from my recent trip to Italia, which are coming, but I wanted to post first about the passing of someone very special to me, my Aunt Florence. I received the news while I was overseas. Despite the fact that my aunt was 82, the news came as a shock to all of us because she was our family matriarch. She took care of everyone and had a genuine interest in everyone's well-being. Although she had been ill in the past year with heart problems, she was back to her usual self for many months now, running all over taking care of family as usual. She was even still working at the local theater as recently as two years ago. As the eldest daughter in a family living through the Depression in the Bronx, from her early days she was always taking care of everyone, including my mother, who was 16 years younger than her sister and who passed away almost 3 years ago from early onset Alzheimer's disease. The St. Petersburg Times published the following brief obituary for my aunt:

LETTERESE, Florence 82, of St. Petersburg, passed away May 31, at her home. She moved here in 1970 from her native Bronx, NY. She was the lead usher for 15 years at the Mahaffey Theater, delivered Meals on Wheels and belonged to the Italian American Society of St. Petersburg. Survivors include her husband of 37 years, Peter; son, Robert Tully (Susan) of Lincroft, NJ; brother, Edward Pape; sister Jeanne Pepe; granddaughter, Melissa Bennett; great-grandchildren Aidan and Emily Bennett, all of St. Petersburg.

There is a temporary Guest Book as part of the online obituary, and there are some wonderful comments from people who knew her. Here are some of their remarks: "Florence was a very special lady. ... It was always such a pleasure working with her." (Marie R., Tierra Verde); "Florence was always cheerful, caring and kind to everyone. She put other people's needs before her own. She was a strong and intelligent woman. We will miss her very much and are thankful for having known her." (Joe & Nancy B., Oldsmar); "Florence was such a gracious and likable person, a very sweet woman." (Kate Z., Tarpon Springs); "Her willingness to help everyone she knew will always be remembered." (Elizabeth H., St. Petersburg).

Because of traveling back from Italy and oral surgery I had to undergo upon my return (I currently bear a striking resemblance to a chipmunk with swollen cheeks), I was unable to attend the memorial service. My cousins Robert, Melissa, Denise, and Uncle Ed, all spoke, and I now really do regret that I was not there to be with all of them. However, I did email them my own thoughts and Denise read what I wrote, so I'd like to think I was there in spirit. I am going to Florida next week to be with the family. What follows is what I wrote. At the bottom is a photo from last Halloween of Aunt Florence with her granddaughter and great-grandchildren, who also happen to be my godson and goddaughter.

We are all still in shock. Receiving news that someone you love has passed away is never easy to process. In the case of Aunt Florence, it seems even more startling, because she has always been there for all of us in more ways than we can count. The last time I spoke to her was two weeks ago, just before I left for Italy. She called to wish me a safe trip and to enjoy myself. She also told me to make sure I cleaned my apartment before I left, which of course I didn’t do.

Aunt Florence impacted all of our lives. As a baby, she made me a sailor’s suit that I still have hanging in my closet. She even made clothes for our Cabbage Patch dolls! She would send birthday cards and underline phrases to show you how much she felt the sentiment. She baked incredible shortbread and was a wonderful cook. Her tortellini-and-spinach in tomato-and-cream sauce has become legendary in the family. I admired her dedication for doing Meals on Wheels with cousin Alice, and I watched in admiration as she personally held out a hand to each and every member of our family. She made you feel respected, because she listened to everything you had to say. She was so proud of our family and loved every one of us, despite all our quirks. She was a rock of solace. She was the strong one that we all turned to. Her strength of character gave her an incredible ability to offer the unquestioning emotional support we needed in difficult times.

But if there is one thing that I will remember and cherish forever about Aunt Florence, it was four simple words she often said: This too shall pass. No matter how troubled or angry or sad or confused we were, we could go to Aunt Florence and talk to her. She would listen, give you a big hug, and remind you that this too shall pass. Every problem has a solution, and every dark cloud a silver lining. That was Aunt Florence. And so I say to my family, we are all grieving right now, and the pain may be so great at times that it feels like it will never go away, but know that this too shall pass. There will come a time when we will remember Aunt Florence, and we will laugh and we will cry, but time will heal the pain. She never would have wanted us to suffer, so in her honor and memory, let us remember that this too shall pass.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

So sorry to hear about your aunt :( Just found your blog and really enjoyed taking a look. -Rachael