babulya valya11:18 AM
my grandmother, mum and her brother
Our beloved "babulya" and Valentina's namesake passed away on the 8th of this month, International Women's Day. And it's only fitting since she was a remarkable woman. I've shared a little bit about her before but I wanted to take a moment and honor her memory.
Most of what I know about her life I learned directly from babulya. She never shied away from sharing whatever was on her mind and wore her heart on her sleeve. She loved to help us little ones go down for our naps and I remember many a hot and sticky afternoon laying on top of her yellow macrame bed cover listening to her stories. Stories of survival, violence, hunger but also of perseverance and courage. Looking back some of the things she told us were completely inappropriate for children our age but I think to her it was all she ever knew and it never crossed her mind that it might not be fit for us. She would lie next to me, spooning me, and rub my back while recalling watching a Nazi officer shoot her father point blank and subsequently watching him die. She talked about things like starvation and sickness with just as much nonchalance. No one ever offered her empathy, cut her any breaks or helped her out. She crawled and clawed her way to life every day on this earth. To a five year old's ears her stories sounded fantastical, I didn't even really have a concept of death at that point. All my cousins and I could gather was that our grandmother was some sort of superwoman that could and did survive just about everything thrown at her.
As an adult I often came back to my memories of these stories and it would both horrify and confound me. How could someone presented with such a harsh and bitter reality go on to become such a kind, giving and loving soul? How could someone who had so little, raise six incredible individuals that have gone on to build beautiful families of their own? All I had ever known my babulya to be was sweet, giving, caring and full of life. She always had some new story to tell. She cared for her chickens the way most people care for their children. Her flower garden was her pride and joy and vegetable garden was the talk of the village.
I knew her through my own eyes and through what my mum shared about her. What I learned about her from her funeral further confirmed everything I already held so dear about her. My mum has shared countless stories about the days that her and her siblings spent celebrating babulya's life in Moldova over Facetime. She told me that over a hundred people showed up for the funeral and although some of them were friends and family, most of them were people babulya had helped at one time or another. There were single mothers with their now grown children who babulya supported by sharing her garden and by making clothes for them. There were outcasts of the village who she made sure were always fed and warm. There were people who were homeless at some time or another who she took in. The sick who she always checked in on and the lonely to whom she was a friend. The last word was spoken by my mum's cousins who shared that as long as they can remember whenever "auntie Valya" passed by their house she would share half of whatever she had - fruits or vegetables, money she made selling her knits at the market or flowers from her garden. And finally, through sobs - "the gate to Auntie Valya's home has closed once and for all..."
Hearing that felt bittersweet as my heart ached because I knew that I would never again hear the familiar creak of that rusty old gate the the subsequent bark of her dog... But at the same time my heart swelled with pride that I have been granted the honor of raising a little girl who may one day grow up to be someone else's "Auntie Valya." And what a legacy she has to live up to. My grandmother would never be considered "successful" by most standards. She died with little to nothing to her name. She wasn't educated or well-known. But she left a mark in so many people's hearts and that is something truly valuable and completely priceless.
When my parent's arrived in Moldova the day before the funeral the weather was as you would expect - sunny and fairly warm, pretty similar to weather here. However, they were all shocked when on the morning of the funeral a bitter cold front blew in. As the funeral began a drizzle started that soon turned into snow. According to tradition my mum's family and friends followed the hearse on foot to the graveyard and my mum recalled as two teenage boys who were just babies when babulya cared for them and their mother carried wreaths directly behind the hearse for miles in the rain and snow. That image is so powerful to me and will forever be seared in my mind. Such profound love and commitment.
When I think about my babulya one of my favorite quotes always comes to mind:
“Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.”
I can only hope and pray to raise both my children to exude so much kindness, grace, love and care for people. To be as completely unselfish, humble and hardworking. But to never lose their sparkle or their joy for life. To never take a single day for granted and make the most from whatever they have been given. And to love so very much and so deeply that it leaves a mark on everyone they meet.