“My life has been hard at times but I am grateful to God for everything.”
Those were the words Emerenziana Lucia Favaro Ballan lived by.
Her daughter Maria and granddaughter Kara have been trying hard to embody that gratitude in recent weeks, but it has been tough. Emerenziana, known by many as Lucy, contracted Covid-19 and died on 31 July at the Glendale aged care home, without her family by her side.
“It’s gut-wrenching … I didn’t know anyone that had a more giving heart,” Kara said. “When she loved you, she loved you. The fact that she became just part of a statistic, I can’t really accept it.
“She was so important to so many people.”
Kara is 41 now but she still remembers clearly the sleepovers she would have at her Nonna’s house.
“I just remember when I used to lie next to her and go to sleep as a child,” Kara said. “I would say ‘I love you, Nonna,’ and she would say back to me ‘I love-a-you, me too’.
“That’s what I’m remembering at night at the moment. It makes me cry.”
A decade before her death Lucy sat down with a family friend and compiled the history of her life, starting with her childhood in the small town of Castelfranco Veneto in northern Italy.
“We lived with two of my father’s brothers and their families. So, there were three families living together in a large farmhouse – a total of 36 people, which included 15 boys and nine girls,” she wrote.
“Although poor, we were a very happy, close and well-knit group. We were always singing.”
Born in 1923, Lucy had vivid and painful memories of Mussolini and Hitler’s grip on the country during the second world war.
“The war had caused so much death and suffering and Italy was not spared,” she said. “Soldiers would march into homes and demand that we cook for them. Women were asked to give up their gold so that it could be put towards the country’s war effort, and there were many executions, both unjust and cruel.
“Most Italians would have been unhappy with Italy’s role in world politics at that time but we really had no say.”
She met Ernesto Ballan at a church festival as a young woman and, towards the end of the war, they were married. Over the next 14 years, they had five children – Maria, Costantino, Mario, Gabriella and Luigino.
“After the war ended, there were scarcities of all kinds and no jobs,” Lucy wrote. “The extended family was very sad to hear we were leaving but that was Ernesto’s decision and I, as his wife, went along with it. He wanted to give his children a better future.”
When they arrived in Australia the pair started working on farms in Werribee. With no one to watch baby Luigino, Lucy brought him into the fields with her in a wooden crate.
“It was very, very hard work for a woman, even for the men. No one worked as hard as my mother,” says Maria, Lucy’s oldest daughter, now in her 70s. “She never gave up, she just kept going. She was a good person.”
Lucy carried this strength with her whole life, Kara says, even in her final days.
“In the last 10 years she has been at death’s door so many times but she just kept fighting,” she says. “Who at 97 years of age fights Covid-19 for two weeks? Our Nonna.”
Ernesto passed away in 1985 but in her old age Lucy’s family bloomed, with five children, 16 grandchildren and finally 26 great-grandchildren. She expected all of them to check-in and stay in touch.
“One year, I was staying with Nonna the night before her birthday,” Kara says. “To my surprise, I saw that she kept a handwritten list of every Ballan family member who called her on each birthday. There would be a big tick or gaping blank space next to your name depending on whether or not you had called her.”
Every Sunday, Lucy would invite the whole family over for lunch.
“It was funny, it was Australian and Italian. The table would be set under the Hills Hoist and the gumtree and it would be spread with all these Italian dishes, Nonna’s specialties.”
Lucy was stoic and generous, but Kara says those closest to her knew her best mischievous nature.
“Nonna’s cheeky habit of having a cigarette was the world’s worst secret,” Kara says. “She used to hide the pack under a doily underneath a picture of Jesus.
“When she came back from a cigarette after dinner, I would give her a cheeky smile and she would go ‘shhh shhh, don’t tell anyone’.”
In July the coronavirus ripped through the Glendale aged care home, infecting at least 83 people, including Lucy who had lived there for the past 10 years.
Kara and Maria say they are not angry at the home for the outbreak. They are not really even angry at the virus. They are just sad she was alone.
“To not be there, at the end you want to be holding their hand, saying thank you and telling them that you will meet them again,” Maria says. “That was the hardest part for me.”
But still, there were small comforts.
“One girl rang me at one stage and she said, ‘Does your mum like music?’ I said my loved music, she adores classical music’,” Maria says. “I thought that must mean she is close to the end but they played the music for her and I said ‘thank you so much’.”
Now the family have been left to grieve and learn to live without their matriarch.
“She was so humble and everyone just wanted to be around her,” Kara says. “She made every grandchild feel special and loved us all individually and deeply. She was always present in such a tangible way.
“Her constant loving presence really shaped me as a person. She was my best friend”.
Source: The Guardian