Xmas Letter

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Seven years as an American citizen, I figured it is about time I send out my first Holiday letter. Where does one begin?

The biggest accomplishments this year for me, as in every year since they were born, are Matei and Ella. They continue to amaze me with their strong personalities, kindness, intelligence, stubbornness and humor.

Matei continues to be an incredible athlete. He started soccer in the YMCA this year, but moved onto the more competitive Colorado Rush league. He is nicknamed “the secret weapon” for his speed and goals and continued to score goal after goal after goal. He is doing great in basketball and swimming and he proudly boasts he is a better skier than his mother (clearly, he has been hanging out with his dad too much). He’s a strong fan of the Broncos and Tebow in particular. Being involved in sports has helped Matei achieve a new stage of maturity, he learned to control his emotions (he is half Romanian, afterall) and he is more disciplined. Alas, he is also a lot more articulate, more outspoken and more sarcastic, which of course amaze and annoy his mother at the same time.

Ella is as much of a princess as she’s always been. We still have a lot of pink in our house, princess outfits and tutus galore. Ella is a firm believer that girls only stick with girls (oh, lord, please make that last till she is 25). Therefore mommy has to dress her, put her to sleep, feed her, take her to school, take her to the bathroom, take her  shopping,  do nails together and do just about everything together. She is my shadow. I sometimes feel like a metaphorical Hunchback of Notre Dame. This year Ella assumed the role of household head, successfully bossing her dad and brother around. She is a favorite at school, a fast learner and a very kind little girl. She loves nothing more than taking care of her younger cousins and keeps telling everyone who will listen she wants to be a “mommy” when she grows up. That is of course, after she goes to college and gets a master’s degree from Harvard.

Jeffrey’s business continues to thrive. He keeps busy with the carwashes, commercial buildings, credit card equipment company, real estate business and so on. He diligently makes the money his wife and daughter diligently help spend. He continues to keep busy with his hobby, the saltwater fish tank he built the house around. He spends a lot of quality time with the fish, at times making the wife question priorities. But Jeffrey’s favorite activity is spending time with his kiddos and is instrumental in Matei’s athletic accomplishments.

I have had a busy year with kids, soccer and basketball games, keeping the house, and work. I feel like a Starbucks to-go cup: always in a hurry, always on the move.  I continue to love my work on behalf of kiddos and people with Down syndrome by working at the Global Down Syndrome Foundation and serving on the board of Mile High Down Syndrome Association. I also love the role I play on the advisory board of the John Lynch Foundation. I have, for the first time, trained for and finished a half marathon under 2 hrs. (1:57:48, but who is keeping score?). My mother came to visit for three months and helped with the kids and the house. I miss my sister, my family and Romania with all my heart.

But what I want to talk about most in this letter is my father-in-law, David. For those of you who don’t know, in December of last year he has been diagnosed with stage IV Lymphoma. David has fought really hard and bravely went through grueling rounds of chemo. Unfortunately, the treatments ultimately proved to be ineffective.  We lost him yesterday, Monday, December 19, at 7:00am.

When I came to the States 13 years ago, David welcomed me with open arms. He treated me like the daughter he never had. He lovingly called me by my Chinese name, Anqi (“angel”)-he is the only person in this world who genuinely believes I am an angel. He accepted me for who I am, the good and the bad, and never judged me. He loved his family unconditionally. He fought cancer with the same determination and simplicity in which he lived his life. He drew strength from his wife, sons and daughter-in-laws and his four grandkids. He was and is to me, the epitome of the father I never had. I will always take with me the image of him grabbing Matei and holding him so tight the night before his passing. He could no longer talk, but his firm grip said it all: he was not ready to leave us and he still had a lot of love to give.

I pray for strength for the family. And I pray that one day, we will find a cure for cancer.

For the holidays and the New Year, I wish you all the same I wish for myself: health, happiness, love and yes, world peace. I hope you enjoy the little things in life, love with passion, follow your heart and have no regrets.

Happy Holidays. Sărbători Fericite. With love,

Ella, Matei, Anca and Jeffrey

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Reflections

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Recently I lost my father in law, David. A kind, gentle man, he passed away on December 19, after fighting cancer unsuccessfully. I was crushed, for he was more of a father to me than my own biological dad. I came to the States 13 years ago with nothing but two suitcases. Everything I owned, except my precious books, was in those suitcases. I was worried and I was wary of moving to a new country, getting married and leaving my family behind. David sensed it and welcomed me with open arms.

I remember having a fight with Jeffrey and storming out of the house, crying. Was walking aimlessly when he caught up with me, took me for a ride in the truck and gave me some sound advice. I loved how he called me by my Chinese name, which ironically means “angel”.  He used to also drive me insane. He knew how to rattle me. He would pick up my kids when they were still babies, and turn them upside down in front of me, which he knew would anger me. He used to laugh seeing me mad.

Romanians -and other cultures- tend to gather around the one who is losing a friend or family member. Death brings a very raw emotion in our culture, grief is felt with an acutness which I find unique. It is for many, a traumatizing experience. Traditionally, in the country side, Romanians hired “bocitoare”,-wailers, to mourn the death of a loved one.

David’s death is my first experience with how Americans react to death. I sent out notices to few of my American friends about his passing. I heard back from very few, and I heard nothing from others. Couple asked if there was something they can do, and that was the end of it. One of my friends, ironically the man who works at the Hospice where David passed, was there for me the whole way and came to the funeral.

My bosses, who are Chinese and Italian respectively and their daughter, my direct boss, sent heart-felt notes, and care packages for the family. Had they not been travelling, they would have attended the funeral. Since then, they have honored my father in law with donations to the Denver Hospice, and David has a plaque dedicated to him at the facility.

So I still found myself musing over and wondering, what is it that makes some of us so wary of death? Is it respect for the family, the fear of “bothering”, or is it just denial for the concept of death? Is the fear of witnessing vulnerability, not knowing how to react to one’s grief? Is it a dissociation from a reality that we will all face one day?

Not sure. In all honesty, I look at my own American family. I witnessed my husband and his brother’s grief. A very quiet, introvert way of dealing with the very raw pain. I sensed it more than I witnessed it. Fighting back-hard-the tears. I read my husband eulogy to his father, because he was in too much pain and afraid to break down in front of an audience. And then I look at my mom-in-law, who is Chinese, whose emotions were so deep, so out in the open. Prying her away from my father-in-law after his passing, and at the services, holding the open casket and moving as in a dance to the sound of the first song they danced to together 43 years ago.

Is there a moral to the story? Not really. Just the observation that we all react differently to our own grief and to the grief of others. And that our expectations are just that: expectations and nothing more.