Sunday, 28 December 2008

In memoriam, Anna Maria Figini...

the Italian Red Cross nurse, passed away this morning after a short, painful battle with cancer, in Bologna, Italy.
The Hungarian refugees who were handed over by the Yugoslavian border guards to the Italian Red Cross in February of 1957, met Anna at the door of the Red Cross camp in Marina di Ravenna.
For the disheveled group that we presented to the welcoming Red Cross nurses, Anna's bright and warm smile will live forever in my memory. For many of us she was symbolic to all the love of family, friends and country that we left behind after the 1956 Hungarian Freedom Fight.
The lack of common language was no obstacle for Anna as she instinctively knew whatever any of us wanted to say or ask for.
She never stopped smiling, never showed impatience, never stopped caring for us. As time passed in camp, she had managed to teach most of us a few words of Italian and soon we were old friends. I remember telling her - much to my astonishment - the story of my family with the fifty some odd Italian words that she taught me. When I got stuck at any point she would patiently help me find the right word or gesture. We were communicating!
We have spent some five months in the Italian Red Cross camp with Anna being on duty virtually every day during that time. When time came to sail off to some distant land as the refugees found a welcoming country, parting with Anna was almost as painful as leaving my mother and little brother at home in November of 1956.
It seemed like leaving home all over again, and it was evidently painful for Anna as well. We promised to keep in touch.
While in person communication was possible with hand and facial gestures coupled with the few words of Italian, writing from far away Canada became much more difficult. My Italian was just not good enough for the written word and my English didn't exist yet. The correspondence was mainly in postcards with just a few words, although dear Anna wrote what later I found to be encouraging letters to keep on learning and working and eventually finish university in my adopted land. With time we lost contact.
On the fiftieth anniversary of my stay in Italy I wrote to the Italian Red Cross and asked if they could find Anna Figini.
I have given up hope of hearing about her when some eight months later I have received a letter, from Anna!
She was now retired and a grandmother, living in Bologna and so happy to have received my query from the Italian Red Cross. We were both elated and I promised to visit her and her family in Italy, we had so much to tell each other of the last fifty years! Then I have called her and we were even more happy to hear each other's voice. This time I was fluent in Italian and we had a great conversation.
The next letter, some three weeks later, from Anna had devastating news. She had been diagnosed with a rapidly developing form of cancer and was undergoing severe chemo and radiation therapy.
When I called her again, she was barely able to talk, but it was she who had consoled me...
This morning I had called her in Italy and her sister told me that Anna passed away, just hours before my phone call.


Janine Joi said...

how wonderful you were able to reconnect! i'm sure Anna was as blessed as you.


eurobird said...

thank you for your kind remark, much appreciated.