Sunday, May 30, 2010

In Memoriam

I want to dedicate this post to my dad, Florin, and my aunt Stela, my dear Godmother. Dad passed away on May 12, 1989 and aunt Stela on May 29, 2010. Dad was 61 years young and aunt Stela was 76. Both had a zest for life positively beyond belief. Neither one of them died peacefully, either victims of neglect by the socialized medical care or because of their anti-communist views.

My biggest regret in life was abandoning my family and moving to the United States in search of freedom. Nobody would ever accept me in the fold of their families like my own family. And I had a very extensive family, 27 first cousins, fourteen aunts and uncles, and numerous nieces and nephews whose count I have lost. Eight thousand miles is a long way to stray from everything you have ever known and loved. If anybody got sick or died, we were there within driving or walking distance to give assistance, comfort, help, shelter, food, money, our time, and most important of all, our love. All of a sudden I lost this connection, it was severed suddenly and forever. The fanthom pain was indescribably desolate. It was like death without closure. The pain was and is so raw that it makes my throat tighten and cannot breathe. What do you say to people when they ask, where is your family, where are you going for Christmas, where are you going for Easter? I suddenly became nobody's child, although my parents were still alive. If people got sick, I was not there. If people died, I was not there. If people got married, gave birth, baptized their children, I could not be there. It took 24 hours to fly from my home in the United States to my dad's home in Romania. The plane ticket cost thousands of dollars and talking on the phone was very expensive. Until early 1990s, it cost $3/min or more to talk to Romania, money that I could ill afford. The phone connection took 24 hours sometimes since it was not done through satellites, it was through oceanic cable, I had to contact the operator, give her the number and wait at home for hours until she could connect me with Romania. The call sounded garbled, as if we were talking underwater. It could cut off at any time and the communist regime always recorded our conversations so we had to be very careful what we said.

I was frustrated when people got sick, needed simple drugs or operations that were routine here but life ending over there since surgeons lacked the skills or the equipment to perform them. I felt guilty that I lived in such a land of plenty yet I could not make a difference in my relatives' lives. I sent them clothes, toys, shoes, aspirin, Tylenol, coloring books, pencils, mittens, scarves, chocolate, childrens books, endless packages, but I was helpless with medicine. They could not understand our prescription system, how expensive drugs were, and how desperately poor I was. I could hardly afford care for myself and my children.

When daddy became partially paralyzed from the cracked skull after being pushed by his colleagues from a rafinery platform, nobody tended to him from Saturday to Wednesday. He languished half-paralized until his sister came to visit and found him in such condition. She called the ambulance which arrived three hours late with no medical help. He was taken to the hospital where they did precious nothing for him other than let him die a slow and painful death of starvation and thirst. His sister was there to help him eat and drink some but, after a while, he was unable to swallow. The hospital gave him no IV fluids, treatment, or care. He survived for several days because my aunt Marcella kept him alive.

I was never able to fly because I had fractured a disk and I was in traction myself in the hospital. I had no family to care for me, but I had skilled doctors and nurses. I was lucky that mom was here and took care of my little girls. While in traction, I was agonizing and screaming on the inside that I could not be with my dad. He was on his death bed and I could not say good-bye. I talked on the phone with doctors whenever I could find one, they were very dismissive, impolite, and uncaring. They had written my dad off and administered no treatment. I offered to pay anything they wanted in dollars but theirs skills were not up to the task. There was only one CT scanner in the country and it was at the military hospital in another town 35 miles away. Dad would not have been allowed in such facility as it was reserved for the top brass and the ruling elite. I spent thousands of dollars on phone calls, talking to people I did not even know, unable to say good-bye to my dad who, by now, could only speak in whispers. They told me that aunt Marcella pulled his bed to a phone in the ward's hallway, and he heard my voice, tears streaming down his face, but could not talk back. He died with a wadded picture of me and my daughters in Easter outfits that I had sent him a month earlier. Before he lost his voice, he was telling the doctors how proud he was of his only child who became a doctor in America.

Both families took over and gave my dad a memorable funeral in the village in which he was born. He was buried next to his mother, the beautiful blue-eyed Ecaterina Apostolescu, who had raised 8 children alone since the age of thirty-two. My paternal grandfather and his brothers had died either in World War II or from wounds acquired in the war. The extended family on both sides was present at the funeral, yet, here I was, eight thousand miles away in traction from a crushed disk. I felt like the worst child in the world and to this day, I cannot forgive myself for having left my country in spite of the fact that I have raised a family of my own and have made a difference in thousands of students' lives here in the U.S. The fact that I was not there was and is inexcusable.

I was devastated and did not wish to participate in the graduation ceremonies that month at MSU. I was receiving my doctoral degree and President George Bush was coming to deliver the commencement address. Doctoral candidates were handed diplomas directly by the commencement speaker and their names were called on stage. The President of MSU was a jogging friend - he talked me into attending and I later received a letter of condoleances from the President of the United States, George Bush Sr. My only consolation was that I dedicated on my mortarboard "4 my dad" the entire degree. I could not have been there without my dad giving up the only child he's ever had, knowing that he would not see me much anymore, given the distance.

Every time I see flowers or my husband brings me flowers, I think of my dad, of all the wonderful things he gave up so that I, my children, and all the other people I've touched could have brighter days. In remembrance of him and his name, we celebrate the holiday of flowers, Florii, around the orthodox Easter.

Aunt Stella was mom's middle sister, a skilled accountant, seamstress, homemaker, and mother. I spent many years growing up in the her home. She held me in church during my baptism as a baby and she was to take over, should something bad had befallen my mother. She was an inspiration for her tenacity and audacity to do the impossible. She never gave up and had a strong love of learning. She wrote many letters encouraging me to succeed here in the U.S. As early as last year, at the age of 75, she was strong enough to grow a garden, take care of her two grandchildren, and be a deputy on the village board. When cancer was discovered on her colon, doctors told her that due to her advanced age, it would be futile for the state to spend so much money to treat her when her life expectancy was fast approaching. Medical resources were limited and had to be rationed under the socialized medical system. She refused to give up and her youngest son went to work in Italy to earn enough money to pay for her chemotherapy. She underwent treatment but it was too late, the cancer had metastasized to other organs and bones. She never believed she was going to die, her attitude was positive although she was not receiving enough morphine for pain. I talked to her a lot on the phone during the last months of her life and her positive outlook made me understand that we should not allow pain and despair to rule us. Life is too short to mourn perennially, it is meant to rejoice and laugh often. Aunt Stela, as her Latin name says, was a true "star," shining brightly now in heaven.

My beloved dad and aunt, rest in peace, you will never be forgotten!

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