As we get older it is only natural to think about what we are leaving behind, not that I have plans to leave this world anytime soon. The reality, however, that death is inevitable enters my thoughts more often now. I remember when my daughter was 5 or 6 years old and she began to question me about what happens when we die. I wanted to keep it simple and fell back on what I was told growing up. I said, “when we die, if we are very good we go to heaven.” She immediately responded, “then I am going to be bad, so I won’t die.” Of course, I had to let her know that there was no escape from eventually dying, but assured her she would be here for a very, very longtime.
I’m not sure if everyone thinks of this, but I wish I could shape my narrative now, so that when I’m not here to explain, people will at least have some understanding of who I was and what was important to me.
My father has been gone for 27 years. I search for the sound of his voice, the accent, intonation, and volume. My oldest sister says that our brother, my father’s name sake, sounds most like him. Wish I could remember. I have spent the many years since his death trying to preserve what I could of him.
In 1999 my two sister’s and I accompanied my niece on her trip to adopt children from Ukraine. That is a whole story unto itself. What I am grateful for is the opportunity it provided for us to reconnect with my father’s family there. I will never forget arriving at the home of our cousins Emilia, Roman and Ivana. The question from my sisters was how do we know they are really our cousins. At that moment Roman reached into a drawer and began pulling out letters and photos. We can see it then; pictures of my sister’s wedding, my nieces baptism, my nephew’s communion, my graduation. These were the correspondence between my father and Emilia’s father. For years he shared all these life events with what was left of his family in Ukraine.
Below is an article written by the wife of the adoption advocate working with my niece. She did a wonderful investigative report and found our family. Some of the facts in the article are confusing and I’m not sure, if my grandfather was a tailor, or a shoemaker. I was an occupational therapist working in mental health at the time, never a psychologist as stated in the article, my sister rosemary was a botanical garden docent volunteer not a botanist. There are other small details that got lost in translation, but the sense of it is so true.
Click on images to enlarge and read. The smaller ones are the English translations.
I’ve volunteer with the Ukrainian National Women’s League of America for the last 15 years. Our group has raised funds and gathered clothing and supplies for humanitarian aid to Ukraine.
I also volunteer as a board director of the Ukrainian American Archives and Museum of Detroit. This is where I have the best hope of preserving our immigrant history. It’s important to tell our story, not just for our families and communities, but as a way to connecting to the world community.