Losing father to dementia amid COVID: Photos

A grandfather's final months during coronavirus lockdown.

October 8, 2020, 9:15 AM

These photographs, taken by photographer Marzio Toniolo, document the final months with his grandfather during Italy's coronavirus lockdown.

Each time he went to a funeral, Gino Verani came away with a "santino," the traditional laminated card with a picture of the deceased on the front and a prayer on the back.

Over the years he would slip them into two small cardboard boxes in a drawer in the living room of his house in San Fiorano -- a town in northern Italy that was at the epicenter of the country's coronavirus pandemic -- along with his watch, an outdated cellphone and his keys.

PHOTO: Gino Verani, 87, observes a collection of "santino" cards, a traditional laminated card with a picture of a deceased person on the front and a prayer on the back in his home in San Fiorano, Italy, March 14, 2020.
Gino Verani, 87, observes a collection of "santino" cards, a traditional laminated card with a picture of a deceased person on the front and a prayer on the back in his home in San Fiorano, Italy, March 14, 2020.
Marzio Toniolo/Reuters

By the time Verani died on Sept. 6 at the age of 88, he had collected nearly 150 "santini," so-called because they are similar to cards bearing images of Roman Catholic saints.

Those cards depicting friends, and sometimes children of friends, became part of the many games his family devised to keep Verani's mind active against encroaching dementia during the national lockdown.

"I would occasionally lay them all out on a table and ask him to identify the pictures," said his grandson Marzio Toniolo, 35, an elementary school teacher in the same town.

"He remembered many of them, more than he remembered what he did a while ago," he said.

PHOTO: Gino Verani holds hands with his great-grand-daughter Bianca, 2, as they go on a walk together in San Fiorano, Italy, April 14, 2020.
Gino Verani holds hands with his great-grand-daughter Bianca, 2, as they go on a walk together in San Fiorano, Italy, April 14, 2020.
Marzio Toniolo/Reuters

At one point during the three-month lockdown from March to May, four generations of the Verani-Toniolo family were living under the same roof, ranging from Toniolo's three-year-old daughter Bianca to Verani, her great-grandfather.

Games were necessary because only short walks were permitted within 200 meters (yards) of the house.

Wearing a mask and wool hat, Verani would often stop to stare listlessly at a bulletin board where death notices were posted, a tradition that continues in Italy's smaller cities and towns.

PHOTO: Gino Verani shaves his beard at home, during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in San Fiorano, Italy, April 13, 2020.
Gino Verani shaves his beard at home, during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in San Fiorano, Italy, April 13, 2020.
Marzio Toniolo/Reuters

"After all of the restrictions were lifted (on June 3), he felt totally liberated. His mood improved and his body showed it for a while too," Toniolo said.

But during the summer Verani fell twice. He no longer could manage the stairs so the family, including his wife Ines, 85, Toniolo's wife Chiara, 32, and his mother, set up an area on the ground floor where Verani could sleep in a single bed.

PHOTO: Gino Verani and his wife Ines Prandini practice social distancing during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in San Fiorano, Italy, April 19, 2020.
Gino Verani and his wife Ines Prandini practice social distancing during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in San Fiorano, Italy, April 19, 2020.
Marzio Toniolo/Reuters

He had slept beside Ines their entire married life of 63 years. He was restless in the single bed. When he did sleep, it was badly. When family members cleaned him, he complained of pain.

PHOTO: Gino Verani is comforted by his wife, Ines Prandini, at their home, during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in San Fiorano, Italy, Aug. 30, 2020.
Gino Verani is comforted by his wife, Ines Prandini, at their home, during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in San Fiorano, Italy, Aug. 30, 2020.
Marzio Toniolo/Reuters

The family decided to move Verani to a care home in a nearby town so professionals could look after him, and Ines reluctantly agreed. Because of a two-week quarantine rule, they realized they might not see him alive again.

"From that moment, my grandmother closed up inside herself, oppressed by feelings of guilt because, as she put it, 'we sent him off to die far from home'," Toniolo said.

PHOTO: Gino Verani, 87, and his wife Ines Prandini, 85, link arms at home during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in San Fiorano, Italy, Feb. 29, 2020.
Gino Verani, 87, and his wife Ines Prandini, 85, link arms at home during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in San Fiorano, Italy, Feb. 29, 2020.
Marzio Toniolo/Reuters

Verani died a week later of natural causes and his body was brought home. He was dressed in his best suit and put in a coffin flanked by two large candles for a 24-hour wake in the living room, a tradition in a country where funeral homes are not commonly used.

PHOTO: Ines Prandini, 85, ties her husband Gino Verani's, 87, shoelaces, at their home, during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in San Fiorano, Italy, March 17, 2020.
Ines Prandini, 85, ties her husband Gino Verani's, 87, shoelaces, at their home, during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in San Fiorano, Italy, March 17, 2020.
Marzio Toniolo/Reuters

Almost the whole town turned out to see him. Each person received a "santino" with Verani's picture on it. Toniolo added one to the boxes in the living room drawer, retiring his grandfather's collection forever.

PHOTO: Ines Prandini records a video on a mobile phone, to be shown to her husband, Gino Verani, who is in care facility, during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in San Fiorano, Italy, Sept. 3, 2020.
Ines Prandini records a video on a mobile phone, to be shown to her husband, Gino Verani, who is in care facility, during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in San Fiorano, Italy, Sept. 3, 2020.
Marzio Toniolo/Reuters
PHOTO: Ines Prandini looks at her husband Gino Verani's body, before going to sleep and spending the last night with him under the same roof, at their home, during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in San Fiorano, Italy, Sept. 8, 2020.
Ines Prandini looks at her husband Gino Verani's body, before going to sleep and spending the last night with him under the same roof, at their home, during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in San Fiorano, Italy, Sept. 8, 2020.
Marzio Toniolo/Reuters
PHOTO: Gianni, Gino Verani's friend, stands, after accidentally sitting on the chair that Verani used to always use during church services, during Gino Verani's funeral, during the coronavirus disease outbreak, in San Fiorano, Italy, Sept. 8, 2020.
Gianni, Gino Verani's friend, stands, after accidentally sitting on the chair that Verani used to always use during church services, during Gino Verani's funeral, during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in San Fiorano, Italy, Sept. 8, 2020.
Marzio Toniolo/Reuters
PHOTO: Marzio Toniolo, 35, and his grandfather, Gino Verani, 87, play a game of cards at home, during the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak, in San Fiorano, Italy, March 12, 2020.
Marzio Toniolo, 35, and his grandfather, Gino Verani, 87, play a game of cards at home, during the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak, in San Fiorano, Italy, March 12, 2020.
Marzio Toniolo/Reuters

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