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Losses and grief

This has been a very difficult couple of years for me. The deaths of my sainted Aunt Dawn, Great Aunt Zorka and my beloved grandmother (Baba in Macedonian) have shaken me. I think that it will take me some time to process the loss. These were three women who were independent, strong, successful, kind, disciplined and hard-working. They gave their all to their families, to their professions and their businesses. They leaned in, and organized their lives so that they could be successful and “have it all.” They are an inspiration.

Losing my Aunt Dawn was incredibly hard because she had been a constant presence during my entire life: a source of joy, inspiration and constant moral support for everyone. She was a happy, fashionable and fun person. Always ready to try the latest trend or read about interesting celebrity news, my Aunt Dawn was very current and well-informed. She also volunteered for many organizations, including the Canadian Opera Company and the Liberal Party – always an optimist. She loved reading and watching the news, so she was always informed and had deeply held progressive opinions. She was extremely fit and very careful with her nutrition but died of cancer at 63, after struggling with the disease for a year and a half. She was a devout Christian who believed in love and forgiveness. She thought the best of everyone, bringing her spirit of hope and optimism to everyone around her, most of all the thousands of students whose lives she changed over her long career as an elementary school teacher. Her passing is a tragedy that I still haven’t come to terms with. I still look for her at family parties or expect to hear her laughing and joking as she always did. I take comfort in the many memories I hold of great moments we had while on our big family vacations (with up to 20 people!) and other great moments when her fun-loving side made everyone feel light-hearted and happy.

94x131-2718409Losing my Great Aunt Zorka was difficult because of the complete surprise of what happened. She suffered a massive stroke and passed quickly at age 73. I think the suddenness and her relative youth shocked my cousins (I guess they are my uncles, technically)  with whom I am close. Feeling their grief has been very hard – I empathize with them. She was a quiet, lovely person who encouraged people and lived a life of hard work and service to others. She was a seamstress who worked very hard her whole life, pushing herself to help provide a good life for her family. Her training as meant that she was always wearing the latest and most becoming fashions, that she mostly made herself. Her sense of style was very impressive. Her kindness and generosity were unparalleled, and she was an astonishingly good chef. Parties – especially Slavas – at her house were legendary in our extended family for warm hospitality and mouth-watering Balkan and Mediterranean foods. She loved her two sons dearly and wanted the best for them, bringing them up in a thoughtful, caring Orthodox Christian way. She wanted them to succeed in all things but accepted them for who they were. She was a cultured person, who kept up on the news and politics of the day, always enjoying discussing these things with me and other family members – I was always struck by her generosity of spirit in these conversations. I miss her presence at family parties already. I know that the healing process will be very hard for my cousins and I am here for them.

Losing my grandmother Helen Sulevic – Obituary was the hardest for me, because she had been there every day of my childhood. She was always a pillar for my parents and me. When my brother Marc died tragically in 1981, my grandmother took charge of the household while my parents grieved. She tried to help me make sense of what felt like a senseless tragedy. Through her example, I learned that deep religious faith could be a great comfort during times of personal chaos. She also taught me to respect life and the environment. Her environmentalism ran deep and she was very disciplined in sorting our waste into the different categories of recycling, composting and garbage. She also believed that we should be vegetarians although we never all quite got there. She would go vegan during Orthodox Lent and we would follow her example. I still do. She thought eating animals was morally suspect because of the fact that they are aware and have cognition, so we ate a lot of fish. Speaking of cooking, she was a Cordon Bleu-trained chef and I was fortunate that she imparted some of her learning to me and made me a self-sufficient cook. She never took anything from anyone and gave much to many. She was a devout Christian but judged no one – she was humble and a pragmatist in that way. She thought that judgment was for God, not us. She hated vanity and self-aggrandizement and loathed cliques, believing instead in openness and fairness. My grandmother loved our family vacations and insisted that we go at least once a year to a beach resort or somewhere in Canada. She also loved going on long scenic drives with my father and mother and me. Although she never spoke much, I knew that she enjoyed seeing nature roll by her through the window of the car and she would delight in noticing the many changes brought on with the passing of the seasons to her favourite places along the way. She was a successful businesswoman who started her first business as a seamstress at the age of sixteen and then participated in my grandfather’s business before becoming a manager at Eatons Catalogue and finally deciding to stay home and help my mother raise my brothers and me. She was always a big follower of the fashion industry and made my mother and aunt Dawn the most beautiful bespoke couture outfits. She was very strict with my brother and me about fashion, telling us that a sense of style was important to self-confidence and individuality. I realize now what a blessing and privilege it was to have her in my life a little kid, teenager, and adult – I never thanked her enough for the values of patience, fairness, and discipline that she imparted to me. I love you Baba and I will always keep your spirit in my heart and your voice in my head to guide my thoughts and actions.

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