Thursday, November 28, 2019


On November 4th, I dropped by the house of Ivaan's sister Nadia and brother-in-law, Nick, to drop something off. Nadia has been chronically ill for several years with a complex variety of medical conditions.  Nonetheless, she's far outlived her parents and her brother.  That's because of her secret weapon: her husband Nick.

Nick - or Kolya, as she calls him - was Nadia's first and only boyfriend. Legend has it that he used to see her every Sunday in church. Nadia was 14, and she sang in the cathedral choir. Nick was a newer immigrant to Canada, about three years older than Nadia, and he used to say to himself, "That's the girl I'm going to marry one day".
This is the girl he wanted to marry one day.
Fast forward a few years. Nick was already working, and Nadia was still in high school. On Sunday afternoons, Nick was allowed to take Nadia out for a drive, if she was accompanied by a chaperone:  her younger brother Ivaan. Years later, Ivaan used to joke that Nick was his first employer.  They'd all go out for a drive to Sunnyside Pavilion for example, and Nick would pay Ivaan two bucks to take a walk and come back in an hour or two.

Nick used his time wisely, persuading Nadia to marry him, and by the time she graduated from high school the families had come to an understanding that she'd work for a year or so, then they'd get engaged and get married when she was 20. Nick was, and still is, a persuasive guy, so he turned on the charm and eventually Nadia's parents agreed to move up the wedding date by a few months, so the newlyweds could get a start on their lives together.

Nadia absolutely adored Nick, and the feeling was mutual. She was the biggest supporter of his career and he worked incredibly hard, so determined was he that Nadia should want for nothing.  Within a few years, they had bought their first, and only, home in the west end of Toronto.  Soon Nadia was expecting their first child, and two years later, their second child.  Martha and Anna. In Ukrainian it was MAPTA i AHHA, and nobody ever said the name of one child without immediately saying the name of the other child.  They were treated exactly the same and, despite the fact that they had totally different personalities, they were essentially one unit when they were growing up.

Nadia was in her glory.  She had her girls, she had her own home, and best of all, she had her beloved Kolya. Nick was the dream son-in-law. He called Nadia's mother, "Okay, boss" and he did everything he could to make her life easier.

The years went by.  Martha and Anna finished their education, got married and had children of their own.  Nick and Nadia gloried in their three grandchildren.  Nadia loved her brother, Ivaan, dearly and was at the hospital with him when he drew his last breath. They had an unbreakable bond.
Ivaan and Nadia, 2008: an unbreakable bond
After Ivaan's death, Nadia's health, never robust, started to fail.  Luckily, she had Nick by her side every step of the way. Whatever she needed, Nick got it done. This went from the small things (lifting a bag of potatoes when they went shopping) to the big things: driving her absolutely everywhere because Nadia had once tried to learn to drive a car, hated it and never tried it again.

And that's how I came to be over at Nick and Nadia's house on November 4th. I was dropping off the spare set of keys to Nick's car.

As I turned to leave, I was seized by a sudden, very unsettling thought: "This could be the last time you see her alive". I still don't know why I had that disturbing thought at that precise moment, but it was alarming enough that I turned around and said to her, "I love you lots." "I love you too", she replied, and I drove away.

At eight-thirty on the morning of November 23rd,  my phone rang.  It was Nick. He sounded breathless, hesitant, and then he summoned his courage and blurted it out: "Nadia passed away this morning".  She'd felt ill during the night, Nick called the paramedics who took her to hospital.  She was admitted to Intensive Care, and in the early morning hours, with Nick beside her, she drew her last breath.

This afternoon, I attended the visitation for her.  I almost never cry in front of other people, but I cried this afternoon.  Tomorrow morning is her funeral. She'll have her girls around her, her beautiful grandchildren, and she'll have the man she adored - her beloved Kolya - with her every step of the way.

In Ukrainian, they say "Vichnaya Pam'yat", which means "memory eternal", when someone special dies.  As the years have passed, I've gotten used to the fact that Ivaan is deceased.  I often laugh, still, at the funny things he used to say.  I have known Nadia for 36 years, and somehow I can't imagine ever getting used to the idea of my life without Nadia in it.  We've been through thick and thin.  She had lots to look forward to, and I have lots to be grateful for.  One thing she did was teach me how to make really good borshch. I used to say I made the second best borshch in the world, because hers was the best.

Now I'll have to put on the crown every time I make it.  Thanks to Nadia, I'm the Queen of Borshch.  I'll think of her with gratitude every single time.

Vichnaya Pam'yat.

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