Resilience When Faced with the Challenges of Aging

Overlooking the valley of the Cervaro River in Southern Italy lies the village of Panni in the province of Foggia. This idyllic setting is where Rocco and Maria Cobuzzi married and left behind to come to America more than fifty years ago.  For this immigrant couple their love of their birth land is strong but their love of the United States is just as strong.  Through hard work and resilience, this couple not only raised a family of four but became successful business owners on the North Shore.

Maria was able to immigrate to the United States because, not only did she already have relatives living there, but her father held American citizenship. It was four years after they married in Italy before Rocco was able to immigrate and join his new bride in the United States in 1962.

Rocco became a barber in Salem, MA. and spent five years in that career before deciding to buy a sub/sandwich shop with Maria’s brother in 1967. In 1968 the family opened Rocco’s Pizza in Danvers and ran the popular and successful restaurant for eleven years until 1979 when Rocco split away from his brother-in-laws.  (Rocco’s Pizza is still a family-run business and fixture in Danvers, but Rocco is no longer involved in the family business).  Rocco then purchased a two family home and opened a variety store on the first floor while renting out the unit above the store for another source of income.

Always looking for business opportunities, Rocco sold the variety store and went into the construction business, building homes on the north shore for six years until 1988 when the real estate market crashed. Food was what Rocco knew best and it was an easy transition back to a catering business which he ran for another twelve years until selling the business and retiring in 2003.

Rocco proudly states, “We knew how to work” and never shied away from working long hours. “I was a farm boy.  I grew up on a farm where we did everything by hand – we had no machinery.  My mother was the cook and I spent a lot of time with her so I learned from her.  Cooking was the best thing for me.  We had a large kitchen table and it was full of people and food all the time.  There were nine children and we would all have friends with us.  It was a happy life on the farm.  We worked hard all day.  We never stopped and then we would play at night.  No one ever said, ‘I’m tired’.  We just kept going.  I did the same thing when I came to the United States.”

That attitude towards hard work and resilience has carried Rocco and Maria through various health challenges they have both faced. Rocco suffered a stroke in 1998 which left him half-blind in both eyes.  He was forced to stop driving and had to make many accommodations for his vision loss.  Then at sixty-one years of age in 2000, Rocco had a heart attack.  He spent three months in the hospital and had two major operations after the heart attack.  Rocco’s surgeries impacted his kidneys and it has been five years now that he has been on dialysis.  Rocco accepts the inconvenience of dialysis with no complaint.  Three days each week for four hours each of those days, Rocco is at dialysis in Beverly.  It has just become part of his routine at this stage.

Maria makes light of her open heart surgery of three years ago. She considers her health good although can admit that some days she does not have as much energy but other days she feels thirty-five years old.  Maria is happy they are managing so well in their large home on their own with little help.  They have their four children close by and although they do not want to rely on their kids there is much support from family.  “I don’t want to disturb people or depend on other people.  I want to do as much as I can on my own for as long as I can.  I will use the Senior Center to take me shopping at times.”

The Danvers Council on Aging has become a home of sorts to both Rocco and Maria. Rocco was convinced by a friend in 2007 to check out the center and he has never looked back since that first day of walking through the doors and signing up as a participant.  Rocco started out going daily to the Council on Aging but with the interruption in his life that dialysis brings, he now goes every Tuesday and Thursday.

“Some people say, ‘It’s a bunch of old people there.’ I don’t call it that because we are all the same family. Everyone gets old sometime.  We all help each other.  That’s what I like.  I have a lot of friends there.  Everyone likes me and I like everyone.  People are friendly.  There are lots of activities.  There are all ages and it is a good mix.  And all the people who work there are so nice and helpful.”

Maria particularly likes the Kiosk for Living Well at the Council on Aging because she loves hearing the music of her past. “It’s like a family for us.”  With this ringing endorsement, Maria and Rocco would encourage others to visit the Danvers Council on Aging.  You can check them out at their website, http://www.dcoa.org/ and read more about the Kiosk for Living Well at our website http://nselder.org/what-we-do/live-well-age-well/

It is not a stretch to understand why people would be drawn to Rocco and Maria and want to be friends with them. Their positive approach and appreciation of all that they still have is the power behind their resilience even in the face of health challenges.

Author Info

Jayne Girodat

Jayne Girodat is the Communications Specialist at North Shore Elder Services. Along with ten years in the position of Caregiver Support Specialist at another ASAP, Jayne was a long-distance caregiver to parents for the same amount of time. That experience serves as motivation to better understand the issues of aging and to engage people in conversations about those issues. Jayne's background in teaching contributes to her appreciation of social media as a tool to educate readers on aging concerns. "I love asking people questions. Everyone likes to be heard. When you ask and then listen, you'll find everyone has a story and some of those stories are gems. I think it is particularly important to hear the voices of our older adults. Those are the stories I really connect to and hope to bring to North Shore Elder Services' audience."

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