Elisa Girotto wanted to make sure her daughter would still feel her love as she grew up without a mother.
A gift for every birthday and every Christmas, carefully chosen for every age and every moment. Educational games for the first few years, clothes and trinkets for adolescence, and that globe marked with pins in all the places she hoped her daughter would one day visit.
“So I will accompany you until you are 18.”
This is the closing line of one of several articles about Elisa Girotto, the dying Italian woman who bought gifts for the next 18 years of her baby daughter’s life.
Those who’ve given birth know how much change and exhilaration a new child brings. It’s not all a flutter of tulle or a succession of smiles and delicate gestures, but the power of life that hurts when it arrives and makes you discover and hold in your arms a beauty as true as it is adventurous. And it takes your breath away more than any rollercoaster. It’s that imperious love for a new being, for that little person who was unimaginable before, and is now inalienable.
As if in a strange and somewhat sterilized nativity scene, surrounding the mother, child, and father, there are midwives, doctors, and nurses. And like daytime shepherds … the relatives, friends, friends, some colleagues. And some Wise Men who come from afar for the occasion and leave gifts. Real gold, sometimes!
If I go back to those moments in my mind (and body, with the smells, the taste, the lights, the fast-beating heart), I feel overwhelmed.
And then, when I try to put myself in the shoes of Elisa Girotto, who opened her arms to her newborn baby girl and to her death sentence at once, I feel vertigo, as if I were standing at the top of a tower.
Elisa and Alessio had just become parents — but the dying began immediately after the birth. Elisa’s flesh was starting to die, as she was struck by a rare and terminal form of breast cancer, a crazy cell gone rogue that modern medicine could not hunt down and destroy.
Alessio was starting to die in his heart. He must have thought of his coming loneliness, pierced by the wonder of having his little daughter with him. The daughter of a mother already fleeing, in spite of herself, towards the beyond.
They wanted to get married in September, but there was no time, so they did it in August. They wanted to do who knows how many things together, the three of them. But they did not have time. Elisa would die when her daughter had just finished her first year.
And then, thank heavens for Amazon, eBay, and every form of efficient e-commerce, because that way, Elisa, crushed by pain and fatigue, could still select and buy dozens of gifts.
Yes, dozens. Because she had thought about all the Christmases and birthdays that her daughter would be celebrating without her for the next 18 years.
Her gifts were carefully considered messages to her child. She could perhaps leave a trace of the model of woman she had in mind … of the values with which she would have liked to gently water her green and tender seedling every day, and could not.
But this story, so dramatic and sweet, left me with a touch of sadness.
Because Elisa says, “So I can accompany you until the age of 18.” Only until then?
Perhaps she believed she had to settle for that. Or perhaps she spoke only of the visible and earthly aspect.
But now, having crossed to the other side, she must know that she can accompany her daughter until the end. She can be her mother, mysterious but strong, every day, every minute.
I hope the wonderful, joyful evidence changes her mind about letting go. Now that every tumor is eradicated, every cell is healed, and every wish fulfilled, I wish for her a deep desire to be a mother who is present and close to her child forever.
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