One Year Later
Pia’s death has moved me to think hard about my life, her life and what she gave to me to make me the person I am today. After all this is a memorial to Pia -- we are all here to remember who she was and to share our thoughts, stories and reflect on how she has touched each of our lives. The many talks in our family over the last month have made it clear to me that we can each write a book on Pia and what she means to us. I want to share with you what I think is one of the most important facets of the relationship between Pia and me, a mother and her son.
As I graduated from High School and moved to college I thought in my mind that I am finally becoming independent. Moving to college sounds like a trek to far away place, but for me it was a short 5 minute drive to Allen Hall. This made it very easy to come home on the weekends for the only decent food of the week.
While in college I would occasionally go shopping with my mom and I would often be in situations were I would find something I liked, such as a sweater and I would bring it to the counter to pay. Before I could do anything, Pia would have her credit card out and was handing it to the clerk. I would always object “Hey, cm’on I’m in college now. I have a job, you don’t have to do this!” Pia would always reply with a smile and light laugh, “When you graduate from college -- then you can buy your own things. But right now, I want to do this.” Insisting didn’t help. I would just shrug my shoulders and say “Va be’...” (I occasionally could sneak paying for a cappuccino though).
Just this past year I found myself in a very similar situation: This time it was in Berkeley where I am a graduate student. We went to dinner to a nice Italian restaurant. I had every intention of paying the bill but again she grabbed the check and gave it to the waiter with her credit card (she loved her credit card). This time I was determined, “You said that when I graduate from college and got a job (I consider graduate school like having a job) that I could pay for you!” Again Pia in her most sincere voice said “I don’t think you understand. Io sono la mamma. I am the mom and as long as I am the mom I will pay!” It was difficult to argue against that fact. In moments like this she was also like a little kid who had gotten into the cookie jar, she would say under her voice, “Just don’t tell your dad about this.” Mother one minute, sibling the next.
There was a great irony being played out in the dynamic between Pia and I. Like most young people of my age I was looking for independence. I don’t think I really knew what that was or what it meant (maybe I still don’t). I wanted to move out of the house. I tried demonstrating my financial independence. I wanted to show to her what I was able to do with my life.
But Pia was a very unique mother. In raising Fabio and I she was more like an equal than a mother. She was our sister -- sometimes just as capricious and hard-headed as we were. Unlike many other mothers she rarely told us that loved us. [This might seem odd at first but instead, for me, was completely unneccessary]. She demonstrated to us how much she loved us by what she did for us. Actions were worth their weight in gold to her. In that vein, Pia opened the door for me and said in not so many words “You want independence? Here you go.” She never smothered me with overprotective rules or curfews or ever told me what I should do with my life. Although she once jokingly suggested I become a doctor I know she wasn’t serious (what mother doesn’t suggest that?) -- Pia simply told me to do whatever made me happy. That was the essence of her guidence. To her it didn’t matter what I did as long as it was what I wanted to do and it made me happy. Forget about what might be convient at the time or easy to do or what other people want you to do. I am sure it never crossed her mind that she would want me to be an entomologist. You are nothing if you don’t follow your own dreams.
The irony is here: I wanted to demonstrate to her my independence -- but what I didn’t realize is that I had that freedom all along. She had given me as much independence as I would ever want without my even asking. She was silently proud of everything I did and upon looking back I know I really never had to prove anything to her. I didn’t have to pay the check at that dinner. But more importantly, I was also unable to recognize that by giving me so much space she had instead built a bond between us that could never be severed. An independence that I could never achieve -- nor that I would want to attain.
She will always be my special mother.
She helped me build my ship. She gave me the sails and a gentle nudge. She knew that if she did her job right -- as unorthodox as it might seem -- my journey would be safe and she would have much more to be proud of. Well, the ship has charted through college, part of graduate school, a marriage to my beautiful wife Brenda, a wonderful relationship with my family including my father Enrico, my brother Fabio and sister Valentina. And the journey clearly isn’t over.
It is only now that I have been able understand what she has done for me. That freedom that she was so willing to give -- those ideas of independence she instilled in me even as small child -- the unconditional love and trust -- defined who I would be. These same ideals have also given me hope and direction in this most difficult time.
Strictly speaking, I would not be here without Pia. Without me even knowing it though, she made me who I am.
School of Chemical Sciences Memorial: Claudio Gratton