RIP Jawara Henry and Visit The Future For Autism: Choke Holds, Restraints, Death
P.S. One More Thing

Kim Stagliano on Autism, Affection and Auntie Asunta

La famiglia

By Kim Stagliano

One of my favorite aunts (pronounced aw’nt, in proper Massachusetts style please) died this week at 93 years of age.  She was my father’s older sister – one of ten in a large half Irish, half Italian family from Boston.  My Dad, Richard, 89 on August 4th, is still vigorous and dare I say it, alert and agile. He played 18 holes of golf this summer with my husband Mark who later confessed to my Mom and me, “I was just praying we didn’t end up with a Weekend at Bernie’s scenario.” 

My aunt’s birth name was Asunta.  But everyone called her Gertrude. How anyone thought Gertrude was a cuter nickname than Asunta is beyond me, but in 1918, perhaps Gert was the au courant version of today’s, “Madison”?

Auntie and I shared a special bond, acknowledged with a nod, a brief conversation and a twinkle in her Irish eyes.

In 2008, my cousin Roger threw auntie a surprise 90th birthday party at a yacht club on the South Shore of Massachusetts.  We all questioned the advisability of surprising a 90 year old, but my cousin Tommy the priest (every Irish Italian family has one) had RSVP’d “yes” so Roger must have figured he was covered should the unthinkable happen.  And we all hoped the luck of the Irish would stick for auntie, who was born on St. Paddy’s day.

Roger invited my family, including my daughters Mia, Gianna and Bella, who have autism. I was so Calabrian-traditions-malocchio pleased that they were included in a joyful family celebration! Why? You’d be surprised how frequently children with autism are left out of events across the nation, by family (loosely used as in, “that stinking pack of skunks is a family”) who can not be bothered to respect and include their a-typical nieces, nephews, cousins, etc.  They deserve the malocchio.

We had a glorious time. Cousin Tommy blessed my girls and prayed for their healing. Cousins and aunts and friends of the family danced with the girls and welcomed them. They asked me pertinent questions about their autism that I was happy to answer. They cared. They were engaged with the girls.

They acted like family.

A few months later, auntie was visiting my parents, so we had a chance to talk one on one. She, like most people who meet my children, was taken aback at their level of impairment and their beauty. (The other night, a friend of a friend was over for dinner, and he cried a bit when he watched the girls, shaken by what autism has done to them. That happens frequently.) 

My aunt lost a son in a tragedy many years ago, my cousin Stephen who was as handsome as Richard Gere. I said to her, “We’ve both grieved for our children, auntie. We have that in common.” She nodded her head and answered, “But we survived, Kim. We’re fighters. And you’re a wonderful Mom to your girls.” I was so glad we shared that moment.

Irish_heart_print-p228088759164416843t5wm_400 My parents visited with auntie the day before she died. She took my Mom’s hand and said, “Take care of my Roger.”  Auntie was 93, you can guess Roger’s age. Someday I’ll be saying, “Take care of my Mia, Gianna and Bella.

The name Asunta means ascension, as in the ascension of the Virgin Mary into heaven. Motherhood and a mother’s love never ends. Not for auntie Asunta. Not for me. Not for you.

  Yesterday was auntie’s funeral. The girls and I were there to pay our respects. And to look out for cousin Roger.

As my Gianna says, “We’re a family.”


All I Can Handle Small Kim Stagliano is Managing Editor of Age of Autism. Her book from Skyhorse Publishing, All I Can Handle I'm No Mother Teresa; A Life Raising Three Daughters with Autism is available now. Visit her website at Kim Stagliano.


Jeannette Bishop

Thank you, Kim, for sharing a strengthening glimpse of your wonderful aunt and as well your family.


My condolences on the passing of your aunt.
Her generation were fighters, and accepting of hard knocks. Every time one goes it is a blow to the people that are left to carry on.

Katie Wright

Irish and Italian families, so tough, so great, lots of humor


Yeah, this made me cry. Touching esp bc my family (Italian-Irish also) lost an aunt last week at the ripe 'ol age of 99!! She had a fall & w surgery out of the question, they pumped her full of -u guessed it-PAIN MEDS! Her fragile body couldnt hanfle it. But this woman was a fighter also. Worked a part time job until 91 yrs old! Always sent cards & money to my kids & marveled over how beautiful they are when i sent pics. My grandmother was just the same. I miss her, esp after reading this post. My grandfather too. Something about the Italian-Irish old timers. The world is not the same now & if they were alive today, I just know they'd have alot to say about it! Followed by stories of the olden days. I cherish those stories & wonderful memories. The strength to 'fight' as a warrior mom today is no doubt the spirit of my grandmother living on. She was such a fighter, in good ways (&bad like me lol) but never backed down when it came to her children & only granddaughter (me). She met my son when he was 2 months old & died when he was 3 mo. She predicted his birth & told everyone to go to the hospital b4 I told them! She waited to meet him. First thing she said, "Como bello!" (How beautiful!) I know she is an angel watching over him, helping him heal & overcome autism. When he was 3.5 yo & just starting to finally communicate, he pointed to a pic on the comp desk w me,my husband & my grandparents from our wedding. As he smiled, I asked "Who's that?" He replied, "Mam!" We couldnt believe it! Autism & death cant stop a spiritual relationship! And thru her, we learned this little boy knows alot more than we think!! Her kind is rare. If she was alive today, autism wouldnt faze her, & the first thing she'd say is, "Como bello!"

Maurine Meleck

I think your aunt would have liked your tribute to her. I'm sorry about your loss. It's so hard on the family. Sounds like a wonderful one though. Who will be there to take over after me is always on my mind.

Cat Jameson

Beautiful post, Kim. Thank you for sharing this with the rest of us...your other 'family'.

Tara Marshall

My grandmother has Alheimer's, my mother's health is shaky (due, I am certain, to undiagnosed and untreated Celiac Disease), and the one older sister she has left, my Aunt Alison, is Autistic and 65 years old. When my mother dies, I am the ONLY person left who can take guardianship over my aunt... who functions at about the level of a 6-year-old.

So, besides all the drama involved in selling my mother's house and furniture, I have to deal with all the legal documentation involved in moving my aunt from the North East to to the state I LIVE in, because I'll be darned if I trust a group home to look after her without constant supervision.

I anticipate that when it happens, I will probably end up with my aunt living with me until she dies... since it takes years to get someone into a group home. Hopefully I can find a good day program for her, since we have no other family to speak of.

Donna L.

Beautiful message, beautiful post. My condolences to you and your family, Kim.


Tears. It hurts more to lose the ones who stepped up and cared about the children few others do. Beautiful post. Many consolations.

Anne McElroy Dachel

What a loving tribute and what a powerful reminder that we are our brother's keeper....and every other member of our family.


Teresa Conrick


I am teary reading this on many levels. I, too lost my favorite Aunt Teddy as you know last year. We also shared a special bond. Her brother was the Priest, gone now too these past 8 years. Both of them were utterly accepting and understanding of both the hardship and blessing of having Megan. I miss them. All the elders are now gone. They were there for me when most could not -- or would not. The reality of autism.

My condolences and a hug to you and your beautiful girls. Age of Autism has become another La famiglia. Thanks for being a big part of that.

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