How much courage does it take to cope, at just 35 years old, with the sudden death of the partner with whom he had planned a whole future that was still to be lived, and at the same time to raise a daughter by just 10 months? Matteo Grotti, 35 years old, from Rontagnano and living in San Zaccaria, a small hamlet near Ravenna, knows this. On July 31, Matteo experienced the darkest day, the worst of his life: his wife, 36-year-old Elisabetta Socci from Ravenna, died of a tumor diagnosed just a year and 5 months earlier. In all this, Matteo did not even have the opportunity – as everyone is allowed to do in these terrible situations – to lose himself for a moment, to surrender to despair, because he had a great responsibility at his side, the greatest of all: his daughter Cecilia lost her mother when she was just 10 months old. And then that pain, Matteo, transformed it into a vital urge to move on and give her little girl the love her mother can no longer give her. Today, the very brave dad wants to be a role model for those who find themselves in a similar situation, he wants to tell everyone that we can survive even the greatest pain and that we must enjoy every moment, “because we are not the ones who control the time”.
“Me and Elisa (he affectionately calls her that, ed.) We met at a mutual friend’s wedding in 2015, we were sitting at the same table – Matteo tells us – we exchanged phone numbers and kept talking until we started dating and we fell in love. After a year and a half we moved together to San Zaccaria where she lived and in 2018 we got married”. The life of the two newlyweds goes on tranquilly, she works as an architect in Cervia and he as a storekeeper in Pievesestina. For two years they try by all means , even with assisted fertilization, to have a baby, but it never comes. Until Elizabeth discovers on her birthday in 2021 that she has a breast lump. The result of the biopsy falls on the two young people like a boulder: Elizabeth has a malignant tumor. “The world fell on us – says Matteo – At the hospital in Forlì they prescribed some tests and told her to do a pregnancy test first to make sure she wasn’t pregnant. Imagine if we tried for two years …” .
Elisabetta and Matteo on their wedding day
Elizabeth goes home and takes the pregnancy test the same day she discovers she has a tumor. She lets her husband read the result, who admits that he can’t understand much by looking at the stick: “I didn’t know how to read that – Matteo laughs – I told her what I saw, she looked at me and burst into tears. It took me a while to realize that I had just found out about cancer.” The woman, without even having the time to work out two pieces of news as big – for better or for worse – is operated on immediately to try to to remove the tumor. “She did not vaccinate for a moment, she was convinced that pregnancy is the light in this time of darkness and despite everything she chose to carry it out and to heal herself, albeit partially, with therapies that a living being cannot so much harm would be desired. Before the operation they showed us the baby even though it was the first week pregnant just a grain because they told us that it was possible to lose it. And yet this was not the case. The doctors were very good at finding a solution to operate on my wife while saving our daughter.
But things don’t go as hoped: after just two months, Elisabetta feels another knot. The monster had already returned. “By the third month of pregnancy, Elisa was able to start chemotherapy – says Matteo – she did it with a crazy willpower, she never felt bad, she never lost a hair. Elisa lived the disease in a way few could that I would.” couldn’t at first, and as a very religious person, she found solace in the faith.At eight months she gave birth and at nine months she had a total mastectomy.But on the first examination we discovered that the disease had migrated: the tumor had spread to the liver. Every time we had an exam and it went wrong, she said, “The next one will be better, it can’t always go wrong.” So we’ve always lived in hope because we can hope and move on even if the ending is bad. And she did, always enjoying the present, everyone knew she was ill, but she let us live the time of her illness like it was nothing, she was a warrior. Elisa continued the therapies, but the cancer never stopped. By July 31st, a year and 5 months after diagnosis, she died”.
So the 35-year-old suddenly has to raise little Cecilia alone overnight. “She’s very tough – he admits – Luckily we’re very sunny people, here you see I’m still talking about my wife in the present tense… We’re surrounded by a lot of friends and our families help us a lot. My wife was very good at teaching us all how to manage the child from the start knowing there would be a need in the future so it’s not so much Cecilia’s guidance that is difficult as the lack of it this support my side, the other pillar that carried the hut As much as everyone can help me and they do so much, sometimes I feel really alone: I miss Elisa so much, every day, I try to give everything , but sometimes I can’t get over it. At 35 you should never see your wife die, raise a daughter alone, and know she’ll never really feel her mother’s affection.“.
Nonetheless, Matteo tried to somehow pass on this affection to his daughter: “At Elisa’s funeral we collected donations that we donated to the San Zaccara kindergarten, the same one that my daughter will attend next year, to make her feel the good that the people wished for their mother. Most of the money is used to buy games, to be able to say to Cecilia, “Look, this is a gift from Mom.” Before she died, I made a promise to my mother: to raise our daughter to the best of my ability, with the aim of always reminding her of the amazing mother she had and most of all telling the whole world how special she was”.
Today Matteo wants to try to help people who are in a similar situation with his story. “I don’t want to tell all this to get pity or sympathy, just to tell those fighting the same war not to give up. Fight like Elisha. You can live happily even in an illness and every now and then try to forget it, feel good and do normal things. I thought, “Maybe I can’t do it tomorrow, so let’s do it today”. The illness must not prevent you from living, it is a very hard test to overcome, but it is also an urge to get to know a part of us that we did not know. Try to see things the way Elisa saw them, always with a smile, always thinking that as long as you’re together, the disease won’t scare you, always thinking that the best tomorrow isn’t in the future should be sought, but lived in the present – and I swear to you, we lived it, even with the illness. Of course it’s not easy, the agony is always there, but for us it was more a desire to do than to cry for ourselves. And above all, value time: we are always convinced that we have it in our hands, that we can manage it as we please, but no one really knows how much time is left to them and I understood it at my expense. But I’m happy because I don’t regret it, we made the best use of our time even if a year and 5 months pass. Make the most of your time because you never know when they will decide to take it away from you. Hang in there, you’re not alone.”
Elisabetta and her daughter Cecilia