While I was in Canada last year, I heard about a very remarkable person. She had just turned 90. She was born two months premature and weighed very little at birth. She was born in 1922 in the days before incubators. She was diagnosed with cerebral palsy. The doctors told the family she would not survive. Her family made up their minds to care for her and they did. They loved her, cared for her, and for generations looked after her.
Her parents had taught her to love and know God. She was a deeply religious person. This always helped her to survive.
She never walked, never learned to read or write, and she never got married. She did attend university classes and eventually dictated two books about her life. She felt sorry for herself but not for long, because of the love and support of her family. She learned to laugh and be grateful for what she was and the life she had. She spoke Ukrainian, Polish, and English and told her story to anyone who cared to listen.
When she turned 90, in 2012, the Prime Minister of Canada, the Premier of the Province, and many other politicians paid tribute to her.
When asked how she managed to survive against the odds, she is quoted as saying “I just said to myself, if I can’t do anything about it and neither can the doctors I just have to live with it”. She claims that her family helped her to understand that she would never be like the other kids. She loved her father very much; she said he told her not to get mad or angry because that is the way of life sometimes. When she was 13, her father died. Her brother took over caring for her, driving her around, and doing what he could, then he got married and moved away.
After her brother left, her brother-in-law and sister looked after her. She enjoyed going out on Sundays. But her brother-in-law died early as well. 50 years ago she decided to go to a nursing home where she still lives today.
Her extended family took over, and during all these years, still keeps coming to her to read to her, to talk with her, and to just simply be with her. It has become a long standing tradition in the family.
When she was interviewed on her 90th birthday, she said “I couldn’t have done it without my family and I couldn’t have done it without God”.
There used to be a time, and perhaps there still is a time, when all we had was family and, if we were lucky, real friends who would always be there in time of need. Obviously a family is a very important part of our life.
By Bishop Peter Stasiuk
This post is also available in: Ukrainian