Tuesday night Sal called Lauro from India. They joked and laughed. Lauro had seen the cardiologist that afternoon. The doctor had given him the go-ahead to go to Capri the next day. He pronounced Lauro in fine health.
Sal and his brother are closer than any two people I have ever known. They were born in Capri, Italy, and now Lauro lives in Naples and we live in New York. They would speak on the phone every day, and saw each other several times a year. The last time was in January for Lauro’s 90th birthday.
[Annamaria, Lauro’s wife; Giovanni and Olimpia, his children]
Wednesday morning Lauro called to Annamaria from bed, took her hand, squeezed it and expired.
Sal received the call from Giovanni while we were on a bus from Agra to Jaipur. Sal was beside himself, so much so that I feared for him. I made him breathe deeply and he briefly stopped shaking and jerking involuntarily. Some hours later, we left the hotel in Jaipur at 2 a.m. Thursday morning, the best we could do.
The trip was long and stressful: Jaipur to Abu Dhabi to Rome to Naples by Thursday evening. In Naples, very sad and very difficult. Giovanni met us at the airport, and at home we were greeted by the red eyes and tear-stained faces of the grandchildren. The funeral was Friday, and the church was filled to capacity. Lauro wasn’t bashful; he had made himself known and was loved by many. Even his tailor, the greengrocer, the barista and the other merchants he saw every day were there. I saw people I hadn’t seen in years: young people (our contemporaries) grown old; children, no longer children, now with children of their own.
The priest was grandiose and phony and really annoying. He spouted platitudes and rarely mentioned Lauro by name. There was no eulogy. The mass ended, people began to leave, and then Sal rose and walked up to the mic. He then did what he has always done: Sal found the words to speak for everyone. Though he had told me that he would not say anything, he changed his mind because he felt the need, he told me later. He was amazingly eloquent, raw and moving, and I was very proud of him. He provided the humanity the priest was incapable of expressing; he never stumbled or hesitated. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house.
After saying good-bye to the many friends and relatives, Sal, Giovanni and his older daughter, Olimpia’s husband and I set off for the crematorium in some God-forsaken town in the boonies outside Naples. (Cremation has been allowed by the Church only very recently, but there is still no cremation in the city.) There was a smell in that place that I won’t soon forget. They asked if we wanted to watch. We saw a screen on the wall. “No!” we said as one. While we waited, I could hear the fire roaring for an hour and a half until the ashes were ready for us to take them away.
The next day, Olimpia and her husband, Sal and I, took Lauro back home to Capri for the last time. Watching in Anacapri’s cemetery filled with flowers and birdsong as the tombstone on the family crypt was slid open and the small box lowered into its depths was even harder than the cremation,
In truth, Lauro died in the best possible way. We are suffering, but he didn’t. He always called me “sister-in-love,” because, he said, “sister-in-law” is too cold. Just a few weeks before, he had had a beautiful party for his 90th birthday. The whole family was there– joy and music, laughing and singing. We couldn’t have had better closure. Alberto, Olimpia’s son, took terrific pictures and organized them into a beautiful book that he gave to his grandfather a few days ago. He also made one for his Uncle Sal. Lauro immediately procured a padded envelope to send the book to Sal so that it would be waiting for him upon our return from India. The next day, Lauro took the book with him as he did the marketing, showing it to the merchants and everyone else he knew.
He will be missed.