Before coming back to Italy, I hadn’t had the slightest inkling that you can lose someone twice and that grief can take on different forms based on language. Two Sundays ago, I was calling my brother, my closest friends, barely mouthing the words “dad passed away”. Surprised anyone could even understand. After the calls, I was writing the words in Whatsapp groups and in Facebook posts, robotic-like, using copy and paste. At a certain point, I think I became immune to the English words, both spoken and written. Then I arrived in Italy. No more copy and paste, no more immunity. It was like the very first day all over again when I heard myself say aloud “è morto”. That verb makes me shudder. He died. Too abrupt, too point blank. I started using the kinder versions of “se n’è andato” and “è scomparso”, the former literally meaning “he went away” and the latter, “he vanished”. Italian also uses the verb “mancare”, which means to lose or to miss. A person is missing, lost, never to be found. Where did they go? It uses “spegnersi”, the non-reflexive version of the same verb meaning “to turn off” or when talking about a candle…to blow out. Si è spento. His light has gone out. The options are endless, one seemingly more eloquent than the next, Italian providing the perfect vessel to poetically dance around the subject. Mio padre ci ha lasciati dopo una lunga malattia. My father left us after a long illness. In my Anglo-Saxon mind, I envision someone packing their bags in the middle of the night, an oil lamp burning and a taxi waiting in the fog. Ci ha lasciati. He left us. And so inevitably I’ve been accosted by the good intentions of colleagues, friends, and family on this side of the ocean. Condolences is the same word in both languages. Go figure. Little do they know that talking about it in my second language, Italian, is like experiencing everything all over again. It’s not their fault nor is it the fault of languages, but I suppose it’s due to the way the mind lives in two languages and consequently all our experiences are interpreted in a kind of duality, a linguistic binary state in which I feel loss in two different ways, on two different continents. The words “se n’è andato” do not overlap on “he’s passed away”, but exist indignantly as a completely separate entity and thus build up arithmetically rather than one cancelling the other out. Currently, I'm waiting for that immunity to develop in Italian, the kind that, like in English, comes from repetition and routine. I whisper to myself in that quiet moment before sleep, the almost-dark: se n’è andato, è scomparso, è mancato, si è spento, ci ha lasciati.
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Jasmine is a former pharmacist turned freelance writer, foodie, and fashionista from Alberta, Canada living "the sweet life" in Bergamo, Italy.
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