Surrounded by Love

My grandmother Parania died yesterday evening. She was 88 years old, and she was the remarkable matriarch of our Dudycz family.

I have been staring at those two sentences for the last several hours, not sure where to go after that.

Do I write about how she lived through WWII, left her home and family in Ukraine, met my grandfather and moved to America, lived an incredible life and raised six children while working nights?

Do I write about the large family holidays in her home, filled with food and laughter and so much love?

Do I write about the way she carried herself with the grace and presence of a queen, the way she radiated with pride when her sons and daughters, grandchildren and great-grandchildren succeeded? She knew that their joy and accomplishments were also hers because she was at the heart of it—along with my grandfather, she was the foundation of this strong, growing family.


Dudycz Family (Sophia’s Communion), 1954

That’s the key. Family was the most important thing to my baba, and nothing made her happier than to be surrounded by everyone she loved.

The Dudycz Family, 1979

For the last several months, her health had been failing, and my father and his siblings took turns caring for her and my grandfather. They would stop by each day on a revolving schedule, making sure that all their needs were being met.

When it became increasingly evident that she was dying, hospice was called in and many of the grandchildren stopped by to visit for what we knew could be the last time—to tell her we loved her and to be there for the woman who devoted her life to her family.

Baba 1987

The last time I saw Baba, they had already moved her bed (now a hospital bed) into the living room. She was bedridden, and it was hard to see her that way—she had always been up and about, cooking and baking, embroidering pillows, sewing clothes, bouncing babies on her knee. Two of my cousins were there when I arrived, and I was grateful because my older cousin, Chris, has the gift of chatter that I lack in situations such as that one.

My cousin talked to Baba with that big smile of hers, telling her all about the family bbq and the adventures of the youngest members of the family, our children, Baba’s great-grandchildren. At one point Chris said something about the girls in the family inheriting all their beauty from my grandmother, and Baba chuckled and smiled. It was the last time I heard her laugh, and it was a much quieter version of the robust laughter that would usually fill a room. But it was a laugh, a glimpse of the Baba that was trapped in that failing body. Her bright spirit still shone in her big blue eyes.

Birthdays at Baba’s, 1980

It was a gift, and I was grateful that Chris could share those anecdotes to make our Baba smile. When Baba got tired, we kissed her and told her we loved her, then moved to the kitchen to spend some time with our grandfather, our Dido. My Uncle and Father shared some stories about caring for their parents with a mixture of humor and honesty that is the norm in our family.

We talked and laughed, and it felt like we were in the right place at the right time. It felt good to fill that kitchen with love. That’s what my Baba always did. My father walked over to check on her, and Baba told him that she had a “beautiful family.”

I knew that she had felt the love in the house, in the kitchen, from our visit. I knew that it meant a lot to her not only to have us visit, but to have us together, to know that we would carry on together. No matter what. We had learned from her and my dido, and from our parents, the importance of family.

For as long as I can remember, Baba would tape the photos of her family to the kitchen wall. “Baba’s Wall” I called it in my head. At the kitchen table, she and Dido would eat with their growing family beside them. We were close to them, even when we were miles away.

Baba & Dido 1991

Throughout this process of dying, slow and uncertain as it was, I watched my father and his siblings devote their days and nights to care for their mother. I know this is not the norm in our modern age. I know that it’s not always possible, but for them, caring for their mother and father was not something to be handed off to others. She was their Mama, our Baba, and she gave us so much. How could they not make her feel cared for, safe, loved, and never alone? They did it with smiles and love, they supported one another when it got hard or painful, they were there for her and for each other. It is one of the most touching and inspirational things I have ever seen.

And in the end, after months of having her body fail, my Baba died held in the loving arms of her six children in a moment that my father (the youngest son) called beautiful and holy. I think it was exactly the way she would have wanted to go, engulfed in love by the children she raised and of whom she was so proud.

I learned so much from Baba Dudycz, and I’m sure that I’ll write more about it someday. There are those things we hold onto: the lessons and traditions we’ve learned, the memories we recall, the physical objects that tie us to someone who’s died. I will think of my Baba when I’ve made Easter babka from her recipe, when I spread her embroidery on the dining room table, when I add another photograph to my own wall.

Baba Making Varenyky 1992

This week we will gather together to bury her, and it will be hard. But we will have each other, and I have no doubt that she will be there as we honor her memory, as we share stories, as we laugh and cry. Together. Her “beautiful family.”

Vichnaya Pamyat. (Eternal Memory.)

Baba, I love you.

Published by Valya

Valya Dudycz Lupescu has been making magic with food and words for more than 20 years, incorporating folklore from her Ukrainian heritage with practices that honor the Earth. She’s a writer, content developer, instructor, and mother of three teenagers. Valya is the author of MOTHER CHRISTMAS, THE SILENCE OF TREES, and the founding editor of CONCLAVE: A Journal of Character. Along with Stephen H. Segal, she is the co-author of FORKING GOOD: An Unofficial Cookbook for Fans of The Good Place and GEEK PARENTING: What Joffrey, Jor-El, Maleficent, and the McFlys Teach Us about Raising a Family (Quirk Books), and co-founder of the Wyrd Words storytelling laboratory. Valya earned her MFA in Writing from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and her poetry and prose have been published in anthologies and magazines that include, The Year's Best Dark Fantasy & Horror, Kenyon Review, Culture, Gargoyle Magazine, Gone Lawn, Strange Horizons, Mythic Delirium. You can find her on Twitter @valya and on @valya

9 thoughts on “Surrounded by Love”

  1. Sharon Janesick says:

    Valya, I read your tribute aloud to Steve as we cleaned the kitchen after dinner. Mostly I just tried not to cry as I read your beautiful words. It truly felt like the passing of an era, of a way of life. And she was so loved, it was clear from your words. Made me want to read your book again, perhaps that is not odd.
    Hugs and love,

  2. Josephine Costa says:

    Valya, you have a way with words. I enjoyed reading about your Baba and your wonderful family. It truly brought me back to my childhood when I first met Chris in the 2nd grade. The picture of you at your baba’s birthday party with the other girls brought tears to my eyes. I can understand what wonderful memories you had as a child and as an adult with someone you adored. My prayers are with you and your family!
    Josephine Concialdi Costa

  3. Nathalie ( @spacedlaw ) says:

    A wonderful tribute. She had a good life in you all and a sweeter death for it.

  4. Irene Serwa says:

    Dearest Valya,
    Your letter about your Grandmother exudes so much love and gentleness. You could have been writing about my Mother who is slowly reaching her end. I cry with you and your family for your great loss and for myself, I guess, because I will shortly be going through the same journey. Thank you for sharing your Grandmother’s life with us. I wish I knew her. With thoughts and prayers, Irene Serwa

  5. Mary Ryan Pettersen says:

    Valya, my heart aches for you and your family. Your tribute here brings your Baba to life for the rest of us. It was so very beautiful and my thoughts and prayers are with you all. The memories will definitely live on forever, through continued stories with your children too. We talk about our Baba, who passed last year, all the time and cherish our memories and time spent together. I hope your special memories bring your family comfort during this difficult time.

  6. Doris Karpiel says:

    valya, that was a beautiful tribute to a beautiful woman. Doris Karpiel

  7. Oksana Batorfalvy says:

    What a beautiful tribute to an amazing woman. Вічна її память.

  8. Eleanor Lupescu says:

    Dear Valya, I just wanted you to know that I thought that was one of the best stories of “love” for a family member that I ever read. What a beautiful family that you have. I’m happy that I’m part of it through my son, Mark, your husband.
    Take care and love, Mom Lupescu

  9. Janet says:

    Beautiful, heartfelt, and befitting a woman who had such a profound impact on the amazing woman *you* have become.

    My heart and thoughts are with you. I wish you peace.

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