Giuseppa Rapisarda (Mangani) was born on 11 February, 1936 in Ramacca, Catania, Italy. Today she would have been celebrating her 86th birthday. But on 20 September, 2020 she died in her husband Lucio’s arms.
Due to the lockdown restrictions enforced by the Victorian state government at the time of her death, Giuseppa’s funeral on 4 October, 2020, was limited to 10 participants. As a result most of her grandchildren were not able to attend. As her eldest grandchild, I had the honour of writing and recording a eulogy to be played at her funeral.
Here is the transcription of that eulogy below:
Giuseppa Mangani became a Nonna in 1989 and in the 30 years that followed she was the best Nonna any grandchild could hope for. She was kind, generous, selfless, and, above all else, loving. Our Nonna never met her own grandparents. They passed before she was born. Somehow, without any examples to follow, she was everything a Nonna should be and we were lucky to call her ours.
Nonna has 9 grandchildren: Josephine, Lucas, Robert, Andrew, Julien, Ellise, Danielle, Victoria and James.
Nonna was making memories with us from the very beginning. As babies she would come over to help feed and change us. As children we learned important skills from her, like the right way to spin spaghetti on a fork and how to dance the tarantella. She was also very concerned with our safety. Ellise remembers always having to put her hands on the table when she ate because Nonna thought she would fall off if she didn’t.
All Nonna ever wanted to do was spend time with us and with that many grandchildren she and Nonno had to get creative with how to entertain us on school holidays. When we stayed at their house for sleepovers we’d watch tv together, play briscola, cook, and go on trips to Highpoint and the city.
One time when Lucas and Josephine were at Sunshine station Nonna had to go back to buy a ticket right before the train was due to arrive. She told us to board with Nonno. By the time she got back the train doors had closed and she was stranded on the platform. We were horrified, but as the train moved away she just laughed and waved at us. We ended up going back to get her but she wasn’t fussed at all.
Being in a foreign country and not speaking the language never stopped Nonna or Nonno. We frequently used public transport to get around Melbourne. Sometimes, just for fun, we’d hop on a random tram and ride it all the way to the end of the line. I’m pretty sure we ended up in Craigieburn once.
In the city, Nonna and Nonno took us to see the Myer Christmas windows and afterwards we’d go shopping. She loved to buy us presents, especially clothes and toys. “Whatever you want, we’ll get it for you,” she would say as soon as we walked into a shop. Her greatest joy was to make us happy. We might have taken advantage of it when we were little but we quickly learned that there wasn’t anything we wanted more than just to spend time with them.
Whenever we would go to the Italian club, she would introduce us to her friends and say, “This is my granddaughter or my grandson and they’re staying with me this week.” There was never any doubt that she and Nonno loved having us stay over and were so proud to show us off to every person they had ever met.
Nonna never forgot our birthdays. She wrote a list every year with all of our names, birthdays and the age we were turning. Then she would buy us the biggest or most musical card she could find. It would always stand out. Inside she would fill the card with beautiful words and always end her message with Baci, Baci, Baci.
Nonna and Nonno regularly came to our houses for a visit. It was always exciting to see them pull up in the driveway because at least one or two of us would end up going back to their house. I remember Lucas and Andrew going over and then Julien would find out and get his parents to drop him off too so they could hang out together at Nonna’s.
Nonna loved dolls. She had a room full of them, and a creepy looking one with big eyes that she kept in the bedroom where we’d slept. James remembers covering the doll with a pillow before he’d go to sleep so he wouldn’t have to see it but then Nonna would take it off probably thinking we put the pillow there just to get it out of the way.
Our best memories are spending holidays with Nonna and Nonno at their house: Christmas, Easter, New Years, Birthdays, Mother’s Day and Father’s Day. Nonna would cook, serve the food, take care of Uncle Sammy, and be part of the conversations. She loved having her family together around the tables, talking and eating until lunch became dinner. Sometimes she’d sit on the couch next to the kids table so she could spend time with us while the adults had their own conversations.
It is so easy to picture Nonna. She loved to joke with us and would laugh until her face went red. When she was listening to our conversations she would incline her head to the left just a little, smiling and nodding, her full attention on what you were saying.
Sometimes our embarrassing moments would become a story she loved to retell. Like the time when Ellise ate too many pistachios and threw up. Or when she caught Josephine trying to eat Nutella from the jar in the middle of the night.
Whenever our friends would come over they would immediately fall in love with her and call her Nonna too. She would laugh at that.
Everyone who knew our Nonna knows she was brutally honest. Like when the boys brought their girlfriends over to meet her for the first time and she’d stand in front of them, look up at them and say “beautiful girl” nodding her head in approval.
As we got older we could really appreciate the relationship Nonna and Nonno had and the example they set for us. They were together for 67 years and their devotion to each other was undeniable. Nonna took care of Nonno and he took care of her too.
We will never forget how they would dance together at every opportunity. Until very recently they would be the first on the dancefloor. We watched them at the Italian club, at parties, and at weddings. After they did a couple dances together they would pull us kids up for a dance too. Victoria remembers doing the chicken dance with her. At Josephine’s wedding Nonna and Nonno accidentally slipped on her dress while they were dancing and fell sideways to the floor. But after brushing themselves off they got back on the dance floor and kept going.
They were a perfect duo even off the dance floor. Whenever they shared stories about the past they would tell it together. One would start telling the memory, and the other would finish it. Josephine’s favourite memories are sitting with Nonna on the couch, watching old home movies from their holiday to Ramacca with photo albums on our laps talking about their siblings, nephews, nieces and cousins.
Nonna represented a sense of security and safety. She has been with us all our lives. When we lost Nonna, we also lost the matriarch of our family, and nothing can ever replace her.
But we all carry a part of her with us forever. And next year her legacy will live on through her first great grandchild.
Nonna, Il profondo dolore che proviamo non può essere espresso a parole. Terremo nel nostro cuore i bei ricordi di te. Ti ameremo per sempre. Grazie per essere la nostra nonna.
Nonna, the deep pain we feel cannot be expressed in words. We will keep the good memories of you in our heart. We love you forever. Thank you for being our Nonna.