A Personal Story: My Nonni Josephine

I’ve written about some heavy topics in my short time as a Blogger, but this one is probably the most personal (believe it or not), the hardest and most profound of all for me. I asked my Mom if she would allow me to share a very personal experience that she doesn’t tell anyone. She was reluctant at first. Not because of shame but because it’s an incredibly hard story to share. Now just seems like the right time.

When I heard the news of Robin William’s suicide, it stopped me in my tracks. Not because I knew him but because he was a comic genius, someone I watched on TV growing-up, and his talent impressed me. His eyes seemed to convey a gentle soul. He touched so many and exuded so much joy and yet I wonder if he truly understood the positive impact and contributions he had on this world. I hope he did to at least some degree because what he gave was immeasurable to so many. When you hear news like that, it shakes you up. When it happens in your family, it stays with you forever.

I did not meet my Grandmother. So many times I wish that I had. She was a stunning red head. Josephine, or Josie as her family and friends called her, was sweet, beautiful, humble, funny, and good-hearted. She married my grandfather when she was in her teens and they had five children. Sadly, she was a victim of domestic violence and must have suffered from depression but in those days, it was not something you discussed or treated. Unfortunately, my grandfather was a drinker and a violent man. He beat her often. He also neglected his five children. I would like to think that at the end of his life, he regretted all that and found peace, but I’m not certain.

As a child, I didn’t press my Mom to tell me details of my Grandmother’s death. I’m not sure why. I do recall my brother telling me she was sick, so I took in what he said and let it go. Maybe deep down I didn’t want to know. It wasn’t until after college when I experienced stomach issues that I became more curious about her death. I wanted to make sure I didn’t have some heredity stomach disorder. The next time I went home to visit my parents, I asked. I remember sitting at the kitchen counter. My Mom was in the kitchen cleaning. And I asked. I asked the question: “How did Nonni die?” She stopped what she was doing and just looked at me. I can’t explain it, but her expression told me everything. My grandmother didn’t die of stomach cancer, or any stomach related illness. I instinctively knew that she killed herself. I felt shocked, utter disbelief, sadness with a bit of anger and devastation mixed in there somewhere. I began to sob uncontrollably, jumped off the bar stool and ran to hug my Mom. I felt so horrible that she had lost her mother that way. She was a little girl when it happened. Through my sobs, I asked, “How?” More shocking was that she used a gun and shot herself in the chest. It was August 28, 1946. She was 32 years old. I was inconsolable. As I type this, I’m getting emotional. She was so young when she took her life. My mom started crying with me. I remember my sister Anna walking into the kitchen and hearing my Mom say, “she knows.” It was just a sad day. My Mom had tried to tell me many times before but just couldn’t do it. Somehow, all of us, my siblings and I, asked when we were ready to know. My sister Victoria also prepared me that the thought of it may sneak up on me from time to time. She was right. I’m the sappy, fool crying at the Hallmark commercial when the grandmother hugs her grandchild or the one who hides her eyes in the movie theater if a scene hits too close to home. It is also the reason I do not engage in conversations about guns.

Think what you will about suicide. Call people who do it selfish or cowardly. That’s your opinion. But unless you walk in their shoes, you have no idea. You don’t know the pain they feel or their inability to cope with that pain. I know that my grandmother couldn’t take it anymore and thought that her mother, sisters and her children would be better off without her. She was wrong. They all carried on, but the loss of her is a gaping hole that can never be filled. I don’t think those who commit suicide think about the people they are leaving behind. They don’t realize that their loved ones are left to deal with the aftermath and all the “what if’s.” My belief is they feel the ones left behind will be better off without them. They are wrong. Maybe part of them doesn’t realize that it’s a permanent ending, but it is final. Maybe they don’t believe that those left behind will carry it with them forever, but they will.

I am a firm believer that things happen for a reason even if we don’t understand why. Things unfold the way they are destined to unfold. Every time I see a red bird, a penny, or see the time 11:11, she crosses my mind. It reminds me to remember she is around and not to focus on the tragic way she left this world. I cherish the happy memories my mom has shared about her: Her pink, chenille robe, singing in the kitchen, taping a penny to every present for luck, curling my Mom’s hair before her first communion, and the laughs they shared. I don’t know how my family’s lives would be different if she lived. No one does. But I sure would have liked to meet her and give her a hug.

For anyone dealing with thoughts of suicide or feelings of depression, please reach out to someone: Family and/or friends. Or call one of these numbers listed below. Help can be just a phone call or text away.


3 thoughts on “A Personal Story: My Nonni Josephine

  1. Gina: I have known about your grandma’s death a long time. Your Mother was and has been a rock .She has been a model for young abused children. She was a strong little girl and continued that strength into her adult life. People could be touched by her story and unhappy childhood and draw strength from her later success. It was not easy for your Mom to share this with her children, not because she was ashamed of how her Mother died but the loss of her Mother was still hurtful. I hope with all my heart she finds peace and pride in this story so beautifully written. Love you Terry


  2. Oh, Gina. There truly are no words. As I read this, I felt such a deep sadness for you, your mom, your aunts and uncles, and the countless others who suffered or missed something as a result of your Nonni’s pain and the abuse she suffered. I am so sad for you all, but especially for your Nonni.

    Tonight, I will hug my son a little tighter and pray he knows how much he’s loved.


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