Today was a heavy-hearted one for me and my extended family.
There are people in the world who radiate a quiet strength and a caring love. Being around them stays with you, influencing you to be more open-hearted to yourself and others. My Great Aunt Vera — Baba Vera to her immediate family — made everyone feel good. She made everyone feel welcome. Hers was a caring love that she shared quietly and generously. She had a deep faith in God and loved Jesus and the Virgin Mary. She was a positive force in the lives of everyone who spent time with her.
Aunt Vera was the third of the four Nacevic children, born September 23 1928. Her life was an adventure, worthy of a novel. Indeed, it was quite romantic in the true sense of the word.
When she was 14, her family moved to Egypt. They all had to learn the new culture and language of the new country. Aunt Vera was up to the task. North Africa! Arabic! Middle Eastern culture. She quickly learned what she needed to know and fit in. After that initial culture shock, she was enrolled in a French school. Being the new kids, from a different culture, Aunt Vera and my grandmother Lenka were picked on, so they would stand back-to-back, defending themselves with their wooden lunch boxes. Ours is a family that defends itself fiercely!
At her French Catholic school, she learned French and Arabic. Despite being new to these languages and cultures, Aunt Vera excelled, graduating from and then teaching at the same school!
Even at a young age, her keen intellect and ability to relate to other people was showing strong. I can say that her intellect was one of her hallmarks for me. She would often ask me about Canadian politics, which she knew I was involved with. She asked me thoughtful, challenging questions about policy and politicians I worked with.
What made her questions about politics so remarkable was that they were always about people – how would people be affected by a policy? Should people worry about it? How would it affect the next generation? She had the profound insight that all politics are human. I wish more politicians shared that insight.
In 1953, my great grandmother, Baba Mila and Aunt Vera went to Macedonia to visit Baba Kata in Tetovo and Baba Mencha in Belgrade. A dashing young man, Uncle Predrag met Aunt Vera for the first time. He was smitten with her and asked Aunt Vera out on a date.
Aunt Vera loved to joke that on their first date, they went for picnic in the park. Being a gentleman, he put his jacket down on the ground for her to sit. They had a lovely time. When they finished with the picnic and got up, they discovered that his jacket had protected her from dog poo!
Completely taken with Aunt Vera, the next week, Uncle Predrag serenaded her, singing out the feelings he had in his heart for her, before she had to leave for Egypt. He wanted to leave an impression that would stay with her across oceans and continents. He then went to Baba Kata and asked for her blessing to propose to Aunt Vera.
What a romantic story – a gentlemanly courtship, a distant separation by land and sea and finally in August 1954, the two were united in marriage in Tetovo, Macedonia. A year later, my Aunt Jadranka was born, and Uncle Predrag again joyfully serenaded Aunt Vera from under her window at the hospital. Theirs was indeed a classical romance. Four years later Ilija their second child was born. Their happiness was complete as they began to raise their children. Their family was built in love.
While Aunt Vera was in Macedonia, far from her siblings, her loving care for her brother and sisters stayed as strong as ever. She continued to keep in touch with her sisters and brother across the ocean. Despite distance and time, they were close, united by the caring love for one another that marks our family.
In May 1971, they made another big move across the Atlantic Ocean to a new continent — to Canada. Aunt Nada and Baba Vera thought it was a good idea for them to join the family, who had all immigrated to the new country. Yet again, Aunt Vera learned a new culture and a new language. Her love of learning was strong and she soon was speaking English and thriving in Toronto.
Aunt Vera was a character! While she never got a driving licence, she was a storied back seat driver, offering helpful guidance to Uncle Predrag on how best to drive: warning him that he was driving too close to the curve, driving too fast or slow, or too close to the other cars. Her contributions to driving always made people with them smile, as she shared her observations with seriousness and in the spirit of helpfulness.
Aunt Vera was always learning. Later on, when her grand kids Juliana and Ricky were travelling and seeing the world, their Baba Vera asked to learn about how to join Facebook to follow their travels. Soon she was surfing the web and following their adventures via Facebook. Ricky and Juliana picked up their passion for travelling, love of water and swimming and international cuisine from their Baba Vera.
She loved food and food culture, watching many cooking shows on television, gaining inspiration for her own creations. I can say that wonderful food was always one of the things I looked forward to when we would have our warm extended family get-togethers at her and Uncle Predrag’s house.
Cooking was only one of her interests! She loved reading and was very interested in the monarchy and the Queen. As I mentioned, she had a keen intellect and an analytical mind. She always shared insights in a quiet and unassuming way, but her words had meaning. She was a special person. She had a gift with people.
She was a strong individual who was always positive. Even in her last years when she had to go on dialysis, she took it with a smile, saying that to go and socialize at dialysis was an outing for her. She persevered, in her quiet, smiling way. In fact, her doctor won an award because she was the only survivor with more than 10 years of dialysis. I am sure that the other patients looked forward to seeing her at dialysis – Aunt Vera brought the sunshine with her wherever she went.
Aunt Vera was a nurturing, caring person. She had a great love for her children Jadranka and Ilija, her daughter in law Lidija, her grand children Juliana, Ricky, Alexander and Ivana, and her great grand children Léo, Katrine and Daniel. They were the love and light of her life.
She was a very devoted mother and grandmother, always worrying if the kids ate enough or that they were healthy and thriving. On top of being a very caring person, she was a hard worker all her life in her many roles as a teacher, a social worker, a seamstress and a cashier at Knob Hill Farms – her positivity, care and warmth made her well-liked and successful.
I would like to finish with what I think was the greatest part of her character – she cared, listened and loved. I felt this whenever I came over for one of our beautiful family gatherings. I always looked forward to her smile and greeting. She always listened very carefully to what people told her and shared her often profound perspective. She was a joy to be around, an original.
Her legacy is a beautiful family and a circle of many, many people whose lives she touched with her kindness and empathy. Wherever they are now, right here in this room or on different continents, the people she touched all have a special place in their hearts for her. We remember her and we are grateful that we were blessed to know her.
I think she is probably enjoying the serenade that Uncle Predrag has been waiting to great her with as their lifelong romance continues in paradise.
May she Rest In Peace. We will miss her.