A couple of weeks ago I went to the funeral of my friends' dad. He died at 92 after failing in health for years. He wanted to stay home, and he had in-home care until the very end, when he could barely hear or see. His wife of 60 years was by his side through it all.
This may sound like a very familiar story, but I haven't mentioned that my friend is Motria Kramarczuk, and her father was a refugee from Ukraine in 1944. So there I was at the Memorial Service in Northeast Minneapolis surrounded by many family and friends who were speaking Ukrainian and sharing unbelievable stories of a life well lived but not without a lot of loss, drama, change and opportunity. The irony of what is happening in Ukraine today--not unlike the devastation and destruction from years ago, was not lost on me. Again? Yes, again.
And, in the midst of the stories and tears, I was so impressed with how hard my friend's father had to work to survive, to thrive and to create a life for himself and then his family in the US. He never lost sight of what he left behind, but his adopted homeland was where he went to college, raised a family of four successful children, had grandchildren. His two grandsons eulogized him affectionately at the Memorial Service. His "baby brother" of 82 shared funny stories of his "big brother." If you knew nothing about him or his life, you certainly got a clear picture of who he was, what was important to him, how he affected others, how hard he worked and played (soccer) and how he never forgot his roots. He wrote a book about his life experiences late in life and dedicated it to his parents and went to Kramarczuk Deli to sign copies! It's been published in the US and in Ukraine.
During the first two years of the pandemic (are we done?) I did what a lot of people did--I got lost in Netflix as an escape and an activity. I have always been fascinated with WWII stories, and I wonder who I would have been if I were with my Polish and Lithuanian ancestors at the time? Those stories of bravery, secrecy, refusal to give up or give in gave me hope. They made me wonder. They reminded me that I can do hard things too. NO, I am not comparing covid to WWII. I am drawing comparisons to life challenges that we all face no matter what. The mountains we climb. The conversations we can't let go of. The family dynamics that push and pull.
During this time with Motria's family I started thinking about how I am going to cope one day with the loss of my parents. My dad is a FOUR year pancreatic cancer survivor at almost 85, playing golf as much as possible. My mom is almost 84 and has trouble getting around but still drives and goes to her own appointments. Still--the end of life reality is closer than it ever was.
This brings me to perspective. How you look at things, what you do about them, how you engage with other people, where you put your energy--in other words--how you show up in the world defines your life. And then, one day, hopefully late in life, you will have lived your full life in a way that mattered on many levels. And then, one day, your people will gather and remember you for who you were in times of trial and times of joy. Motria's father's life, well lived, was a life lesson to me.