Remembering Don

My father-in-law, Donald Lupescu, passed away this morning. He had gone into the hospital on Friday evening after a fall, and they discovered severe bleeding on his brain and an infected valve in his heart. It proved too much for his body, and he became unresponsive on Saturday and slowly slipped away, giving family the chance to sit with him, talk with him, and say goodbye.

One of the last things that Don did before he was taken to the hospital was pick out a birthday card for me that Eleanor later passed down. On the front it reads:

“Any woman can be a daughter-in-law. But it takes a certain spirit, an openness, and generosity of heart to make the “in-law” part drop away, leaving that comfortable word “daughter.”

In this same way, from the beginning, Eleanor and Don were Mom and Dad. They welcomed me into their family with so much love and generosity of spirit. Together we enjoyed long conversations over leisurely dinners and glasses of wine as we got to know each other and discovered mutual interests like travel and wine and excellent restaurants…and books.

In my family, it is no secret that I’m the odd one—the nerdy dreamer with her nose in books. With Don, I found a kindred spirit. He loved comics and science fiction novels, and he had raised his boys to do the same.

LiamChristening2005

With Maya, Liam, Lana, and their cousins, he had a new crop of Lupescus to initiate into the world of technology, toys, and all things geeky, from Super Hero Squad to Star Wars to the Spectacular Spider-Man, and other storylines that I could not keep up with.

Kidsgrandma2007

Don started recording superhero cartoons and passing them down to us on dvds, classics and new ones. As the kids’ personalities developed, he knew the best new toys for each one. He would peruse the shelves of Targets to get all the Cars movie characters or the best new Wii game. It was not just that he had a shared love of these things, Don was always thinking of others.

Mark and I were talking earlier about his father, and he said that his father will be remembered by the way he treated people, by his many acts of kindness. It’s so true. Mark’s father and mother have always been some of the kindest people I have ever known.

117_1713

I was looking back over my many emails from Don today, and so many of them were thanking us on behalf of him and Eleanor for a visit or a dinner or photos sent. He was always appreciative and always thinking of his children and grandchildren. He would see something animal-related and share it with Maya, or something car-related to share with Liam. He knew my love of music, especially folk music, and he’d record Bob Dylan special that had aired on PBS, or dozens of other concerts and music-related tributes for me, because he knew I would never have the time to do it myself. During the years when the kids were babies, I would not have seen any films if it were not for those shared by Don. He knew our tastes, and they were movies I usually ended up loving but would never have seen otherwise.

DE2005

Don and Eleanor would come over and play with the kids a few times each month, and the kids loved that time. I’m so grateful for the many good memories that we have to hold onto. The kids treasured that time with Grandpa Don and Grandma Ellie, as did we.

1264714_10201130112988904_1280847422_o

After dinner and dessert, when the kids would run off to play on their own, the adults would sit with our coffees and chat—about episodes of Lost, or the newest Doctor, or the penultimate episode of Battlestar Galactica, or the latest Hobbit movie, or who got killed on the Walking Dead.

Other than Mark, Don was the only one in my family who read Neil Gaiman’s comics and books (and got a chuckle at Miss Lupescu in The Graveyard Book). Don was one of very few I knew who had read Gene Wolfe and understood his importance as I was planning the Fuller Award to honor Gene.

babyMaya2003

For those years when we were living back and forth between Chicago and Germany, when the kids were babies (and I was sleep-deprived and not very social), Don was one very few people with whom I could discuss the geekier things in my life. He was not just supportive of my writing, he also understood the continuum that I was a part of: those writers who came before me and shaped the stories I am now trying to tell.

Don was someone who loved a good story—in a book or a tv show or a movie. He was someone who delighted in clever plots and characters, and he enjoyed talking about them. He was a kindred spirit who questioned and wondered and imagined.

279785_118666688227162_1527038_o

There are many other people, friends and family, who can speak with greater authority about Don’s life: his childhood in Chicago, his education, his service in the Army, his career at ComEd, his marriage to Eleanor and life with his sons, the things he accomplished, the places he traveled, the lives he touched, the people he loved and those who loved him.

I only had the privilege of knowing Don for 15 years, but in that time I got to know a man who was intelligent and creative, clever and playful, generous and appreciative, and so thoughtful. Don opened his home and his heart to me, and I am a better person for having known and loved him.

I’m grateful that the kids had a chance to see him and say goodbye on Wednesday, even if Grandpa Don was just lying there peacefully through it all. They each held his hand, and they told him they loved him and would miss him. I had explained to them that hearing is one of the last things to go when a person is dying, and I truly believe that Grandpa Don could hear them and his spirit was present and close, even if body gave no sign.

2012,jpg

Don had a beautiful singing voice and loved music in a way that we love music, and so at the hospital, the kids wanted to sing a song for him.

In that tear-filled moment, they could only think to sing “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” the slightly altered version I have sung for them before sleep since they were babies:

Somewhere over the rainbow, way up high,
there’s a land that I heard of once in a lullaby.

Somewhere, over the rainbow, skies are blue.
That’s where I will go tonight when I dream of you.

Dreams have always been important in my family, and I like the idea that the dead can visit us in our dreams. I feel like my grandparents connect with me in that way, as well as my friend Myron and occasionally others.

I like to think that Don will do the same, that in my dreams, we will have a slice of chocolate cake or a Swedish Flop and coffee with some sweet-flavored creamer. Then we’ll talk about the newest X-Men movie or Doctor Who episode. I’ll ask him about death, and first he’ll make a sarcastic remark about the actual state of the Pearly Gates, and I won’t quite know that he’s joking until he grins at me (Lupescus and their sarcasm). We’ll talk about the kids, and he’ll listen with a bemused grin as I ramble on about my latest writing project or travels. Then I’ll give him a hug (because he was also a good hugger).

And I’ll tell him what he already knows—that we love him and miss him, and he will never ever be forgotten.

DonJuly2014

We already miss you, Don. Vichanaya Pamyat (“Eternal Memory”).

Holding Summer In Your Hand

I’m not much of a beach person or a swimmer, but I like summer; and I love what summer brings: conversations in the shade, wine on the patio, warm nights with music playing softly.

In Chicago, the days can be sweltering, but sometimes we get lucky. Sometimes we get summer days that are bright and comfortable, the kind of golden-hued days I remember from childhood– filled with laughter and imaginative adventures late into the night. The best summer days end when we tumble into bed exhausted and fully satisfied, our bodies tired and our hearts full.

So much of last summer was shadowed in heartache because of the failing health and deaths of my grandmother and grandfather. There were moments of happiness and moments of beauty,  but they were tempered by a longing for days when Baba and Dido were healthy and strong.

babadidosquare We are approaching the one year anniversary of my Baba’s death, and it’s still hard to believe she’s not sitting across the kitchen table from my Dido in the Ukrainian Village, serving him some of her delicious varenyky or a slice of torte with his coffee, maybe indulging him as he asks for more peaches or pickles.

I think of them all the time, and I feel them around, especially my Baba. I believe that she still watches over us–her children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. She was a caretaker and the matriarch, and I can’t believe she would let death stop her.

Our lives move so fast; we orbit around one another, busy until something forces us to stop. If we’re lucky, it’s a happy occasion that reminds us to notice the circles of which we are a part.

This summer I am trying to be mindful of those moments of  joy in the company of family, tribe, and kindred spirits. There have been several: a 4th of July family bbq, visits with friends in the backyard, campfire chats, margaritas after swimming, lunch with out-of-town friends, and thoughtful conversations over wine as the sun comes up.

I began this post with the intention of writing about specific highlights so far (camping with the kids and friends, lunch with Gene and Neil, Neil’s Ocean reading and time spent with the illustrious Cat, my first Readercon and the wonderful people I met there). Each one was a cherished moment, and together they have shaped this summer into a remarkable one so far.

The remaining weeks of summer stretch not too far into the future, and autumn waits close by to take its place. Before the leaves fall, there are a few more trips to be taken and adventures to be had, good books to read (some written by friends), wine to drink, stories to be written, and children to play with.

“Hold summer in your hand, pour summer in a glass, a tiny glass of course, the smallest tingling sip for children; change the season in your veins by raising glass to lip and tilting summer in.” ~Ray Bradbury, DANDELION WINE

NVG
Lunch with Neil Gaiman and Gene Wolfe, Chicago.
At the train station with Marco Palmieri and Sam J. Miller.
At the train station with Marco Palmieri and Sam J. Miller, Boston.
readercondinner2013
Another marvelous Readercon dinner.
NancyDoraValya
After our interviews with Gil Roth for his Virtual Memories Podcast (Nancy Hightower, Theodora Goss, Valya Dudycz Lupescu)
sillyoasis
Camping with friends.

Listening

It’s summer, and so I’ve started reading The Hobbit to the kids before bedtime. Even the youngest is entranced, her imagination exploding with hobbits and dwarves. I love to read beautiful writing, well-crafted sentences, dramatic passages, poetic phrases. It’s a joy; and as a writer, I try to learn something from the work, even as I say the words aloud to the captive audience of my children.

My parents read to us before bed, and I loved it. As soon as I got to college and learned about author readings, I was entranced! What a joy to hear the words of beloved writers spoken aloud. Similarly, I love audiobooks–to sit or walk or drive and listen as the stories come alive. It feels decadent, because I’m doing none of the work, just listening to the luscious words and watching the pictures in my mind’s eye.

Recently, I’ve been on a short story kick, so I looked up short story anthologies that were available as audiobooks. I wanted to share two that I really enjoyed. The stories are excellent and well-narrated:

The Best of Fantasy and Science Fiction Magazine, a “super-duper triple issue, comprised ten key selections (most of the contents, actually) of FSF‘s September issue and the forthcoming double October/November issue” 2003. All very different, there are some real gems in those issues, including stories by Gene Wolfe, Joe Haldeman, Terry Bisson, and more.

Naked City, edited by the wonderful Ellen Datlow, includes stories by Peter Beagle, John Crowley, Ellen Kushner, Jeffrey Ford, and so many others. Maybe it’s from growing up in Chicago, but I love stories that feature cities as characters or integral backdrops, and this anthology has a fantastic range of responses to the “naked city.” I enjoyed all of them, but I think my favorite may be Delia Sherman’s “How the Pooka Came to New York City.”

While not a short story, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Neil Gaiman’s newest novel The Ocean at the End of the Lane (which recently reached #1 on the New York Times Best Seller List!)

I already had the pleasure of reading the novel (you can read my Goodreads review here), but I was especially looking forward to hearing it read.

If you have attended one of Neil’s readings or listened to an audiobook that he narrated, you quickly get the music of his voice in your head. I think that it gets to the point where you can read the words and hear him there in your mind’s ear, because he is as much a storyteller as he is a writer. In words and performance, he knows how and when to build tension, to make you feel unexpected and conflicting emotions, to surprise you, to scare you, and to create a genuine empathy for characters who come to life in brilliant dialog.

The Ocean at the End of the Lane is one of his finest so far, and I could not wait to hear Neil read it aloud. I was not disappointed. It’s wonderful. If people loved the novel, they will cherish the audiobook, because the intimacy, honesty, and raw nostalgia of this mythic, yet very human, tale are even more compelling when listening to Neil’s reading.

xxo