Winter Without Spring

Cover art by Caterina Provost-Smith, Rina Ferrarelli’s daughter

When Mt. Lebanon resident Rina Ferrarelli learned her husband had dementia, she realized her life would change drastically.

“Of course, the diagnosis was mostly for him,” she said. “But because I was his wife and we were living together, it was also for me. Whatever restrictions he would get, they would also be mine.”

Rina Ferrarelli

Rina Ferrarelli

At the time, George Foster Provost – or Foster, as everyone knew him – had been a professor of English Renaissance literature at Duquesne University for more than three decades. For a while, he continued to take public transportation to his office, but eventually he became unable to do so.

“I took care of him at home for 10 years while it was still possible, but toward the end it became more and more difficult,” Ferrarelli said.

Her experiences in caring for Foster, who died in 2015, are reflected in “The Winter Without Spring,” her latest collection of poems, published by North Carolina company Main Street Rag. A book launch is scheduled for 2 p.m. May 18 at Mt. Lebanon Public Library, with fellow poets Joan E. Bauer and Joanne Samraney joining the proceedings.

Ferrarelli, who goes by her maiden name as an author, balances the darker aspects of her husband’s illness with some positive experiences.

“For instance, he had been a paperboy when he was young, and he had written at various times short stories about the people he had met. He had written about the cats, the dogs, the neighbors, funny stories,” she said. “He had not remembered that he had written them, but he was so delighted to go back to that time. Anytime he would read, there was a pleasant surprise for him.”

And so Ferrarelli said her husband often enjoyed those surprises.

“He’s full of wonder when he finds a byline under one title, and it’s his name,” she wrote.

Another passage in “The Winter Without Spring” addresses the point when he no longer recognized her.

“I tuck him in and give him a peck, or he blows me a kiss on faith. Who knows who I am? Friend, caregiver, the woman who’s boss here, whatever here is. Not home. Never home.”

“Many, many people like him, they want to go home. And of course, the home was never this home. It was the home he had lived in when he was a child, which didn’t even exist anymore,” she said, explaining the house long since had been demolished.

Two other collections of Ferrarelli’s poetry have been published, “Home is a Foreign Country” and “The Bread We Ate,” containing reflections of her own story as a young immigrant from Italy.

“The reason we came to this country is that both of our parents died when we were young,” she said, referencing her brother. “My father died when I was 7, and my mother didn’t survive the grief, and she died when I was 10.”

“The Winter Without Spring” thus represents something of a departure from her previous work, but not in all regards.

“This is also about strangers,” she said. “I became a stranger because he didn’t know I was, and he became a stranger to himself.”

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Staff writer Harry Funk, a professional journalist for three-plus decades, has been on the staff of The Almanac since 2015. He has a bachelor’s degree in journalism and master of business administration, both from Indiana University of Pennsylvania.

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