Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Massimo Vignelli as Heroic Caregiver

Massimo Vignelli, the great, internationally recognized graphic designer, died in 
New York on May 27. There was a flood of articles praising his work. As a 
consequence of a letter writing campaign originated by his son Luca, there were thousands of messages acknowledging his preeminence and influence. 

Massimo and Lella, his wife, were what is known in New York parlance, "a power couple."
They were business partners and sometimes co-designers. Earlier this year, Massimo created an online book dedicated to Lella's work.

"This book is dedicated to Lella Vignelli, an inspiration to all women designers who forcefully stand on the power of their merits."
Massimo Vignelli 

Although it is generally not known, Lella Vignelli, was stricken with Alzheimer's several years ago. Because Massimo knew that my wife, Mary, had been similarly afflicted earlier, he saw me and my experiences with my wife as offering him some guidance. I shared every bit of information that I could offer him.

Taking care of a person with Azheimer's, is very demanding. It is not something that one can dismiss easily. There are two dramatically different choices. One is to have your loved one live at home, and the other is to have that person live in a skilled nursing facility. Knowing that I could not become  a full time caregiver, Mary and I made the decision to move to Los Angeles and live in a continuing-care community. At that point, Mary was in the early stages of the disease. For a short time, we shared an apartment in this complex. Now, Mary lives in what is called  a skilled nursing section while I reside in the independent living section. So, I could speak with authority regarding this option.

Massimo investigated nursing home possibilities in the New York City area.
However, no matter how difficult and demanding, he decided that his preference 
was to keep Lella at home in their spectacular apartment. This meant
that he would have enormous personal responsibility. He did what very 
few people will do, became a full-time caregiver. 

Having made that decision, changed his life radically. He once said to me, " That he felt closer to Lella, at this point in their lives than ever before." Daily, Lella would come to Massimo's office in their apartment in full attire, adorned with jewelry of her own design, and position herself at right angles to Massimo who sat at the head of his black stone table/desk. She would thumb through design magazines while he worked.

Massimo told me that he decided to learn how to cook. That meant not only cooking, but shopping as well. Fortunately,  they lived in a neighborhood with excellent food stores in proximity. In the course of assuming these new duties, he managed to remain active professionally.

Massimo and Lella were world travelers. They had covered the globe for work and pleasure. One of the most vexing decisions that he had to make involved going to Frankfurt, where their daughter lives, at Christmas last year. Massimo anguished about getting Lella off and on the plane, as well as dealing with her incontinence. I sensed that he knew that this would be the last trip that they would take together. Mary and I had made a similar decision several years ago. Knowing that this would be our last international trip, we went to Rome and then to Puglia in the southeastern corner of the Italian peninsula. Despite all of the problems that we encountered, which I had relayed to Massimo, I encouraged him to go with Lella. I never heard the details of the trip, but I am certain that there were many problems. However in the long run, I am equally certain that he would not have questioned the decision.

Shortly after their return, he spent nearly three weeks in the hospital and his decline became evident. 

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