Marisa: “I intended to go back to work as soon as the children (1 and 3 years old) were old enough. But then my mother, a very sweet and active 60 year old came down with Alzheimer’s. Very soon she was no longer self-sufficient. We decided with my father to care for her at home without knowing what we were going to encounter. My husband, Francesco never hesitated either. But right from the start the implications of the disease began to test our relationiship and the equilibrium of the whole family.”
Francesco: “As a boy I had to share my mother’s affection with her job and with my grandparents who were living with us. And so when I married Marisa it seemed logical to me that she would be all for me and would have smothered me with attention. But in reality I found myself with many problems that had to be faced. Then when I had to begin to care for the members of her family, our marriage went into crisis. I felt like running away and, seeing that my job required me to travel great distances to visit clients, I often slept outside the house, leaving Marisa with the burden of two families.”
Marisa: “It wasn’t easy for me to accept seeing such a great change in the person who was my anchor in life, to see that in some moments she didn’t recognize me anymore, and at times it was also an effort for me to recognize her. When my father’s mind and body began to fail, my relationship with Francesco also seemed to waver. I found support in the Gospel: “But to those who did accept him he gave power to become children of God” (Jn. 1:12). But I had to continually overcome myself. Precisely during those days a couple we knew invited us to a day meeting organised by the Focolare. We were conquered by the love that we saw being lived and we embarked on a journey with other families who were engaged in living the spirituality of the Focolare.”
Francesco: “Suddenly I came down with a grave illness and was admitted to hospital. I was angry with the whole world! Then, these words of Chiara Lubich returned to my mind: “Our health (is) ‘being a family’ . . . Are there any among you that are suffering physically? . . . Suffer with them.” I tried to put this into practice with the person in the next bed, then with an old woman whom everyone seemed to ignore. . . Little by little I began to understand Marisa’s way of loving who, after the children and her mother to care for, always found the time to visit me two times a day. I found myself at peace with her and with my life. And from then on I shared every choice and decision with her, especially the ones that cost me the most. Now I was no longer frightened by the illness. I became peaceful. Six months later the illness disappeared.”
Marisa: “Now we feel that any illness is given to us so that we can grow as persons by growing in love. I loved my mother, but now I love her in a new way that gives new significance and dignity to each of my actions. And love heals. Even when she seemed to everyone to be nothing more than a vegetable, unable to be engaged, a more intensely loving gesture would brighten her eyes and show that she was more present than we thought. She would mutter words of ackowledgement, liberating tears that I would then share. And this gave me such strength and joy that no one will be able to erase it from my soul. So it was for ten years.”
Francesco: This undertaking has not prevented us from being open to others, offering hospitality, for example, to a sick relative, sharing her joys and suffering. We also open our home to family groups and engaged couples for formation meetings.For three years we’ve had Marisa’s 98 year old father with us in our house. At times we almost have the idea of finding another solution for him so that we can have some autonomy. But we know that he would suffer much if we did this and we’re convinced that his life and dignity are what’s most important”.