|James Gandolfini as Tony Soprano|
I was shocked and saddened like millions of others when I heard that James Gandolfini died last week of a sudden heart attack at 51. Best known as Tony Soprano, he had traveled with his thirteen year old son Michael and family to see the sights of Rome and later speak at a film festival in Sicily.
I couldn't help but think of his young son finding his father on the floor, calling for help, and then learning that his dad didn’t make it. Friends say the two were as tight as thieves, and it will be a monumental task for this teenage boy to grow up without him.
How common is this? I wondered, because in my family it’s the natural state of things. When my husband was 17, his father collapsed in his arms at the age of 52. My own father died at 54, but at least I was in my twenties and grateful that he knew my daughter Stacey, his only grandchild at the time.
He was nuts about her, coveting her latest pictures, and grinning when she emptied his breast pocket, pulling out his lighter and comb. At twenty-two months, she doesn’t remember him, and neither will Gandolfini’s nine month old daughter, Liliana Ruth.
They say 10,000 people die each year of heart disease at around the age fifty, which means that there are thousands of kids who will grow up without fathers and even more without a grandpa.
Both my mother and mother-in-law remarried to personable and giving men. They spent time with my daughters, and my girls enjoyed their company. Still it wasn’t the same. These men had their own grandchildren, and besides, they didn’t have the Schwartz sense of humor, or the love of boats, ice-cream, or Bernie’s edge on politics, history—and of course, his wit.
The Gandolfini children, too, will never replace their father, but I hope that in the coming years there will be other male figures to guide them.
And how about all the future grandchildren? They too, will eventually feel the pain for not having met this remarkable man.
Joni Mitchell used to sing, “You don’t know what you got till it’s gone.”
And it's true, believe me. I look at my children, and I know that it is.