June 15, 2018

The "Processing Grief" Part of the Writing Life

With Father's Day upon us, I find myself reflecting on world events impacting children and families and how my own family has been hit hard with personal loss over the last few months. There has been a lot of grief to process.
Photo Credit: Dawn Prochovnic

My kids lost two grandparents (which means I lost two parents) in the span of a month and a day. Pee-Paw had suffered from tremendous back and hip pain for many years. Last fall, this pain intensified, and it was discovered that there was a mass growing in his spine. He had planned to undergo surgery in January, but in late December he was rushed to the hospital because the mass had grown, putting pressure on his spine and diminishing his ability to bare his own weight. The spine surgery itself went well. Sadly, the mass was not benign--it was melanoma that had metastasized, likely from a melanoma that had been removed from his shoulder more than a dozen years earlier. Pee-Paw experienced a series of mishaps and setbacks during his surgical recovery process, and as a result he never fully recovered from his surgery.

A couple of days before Pee-Paw transferred from the hospital into home-based hospice, family members gathered in a spacious hospital room with a gorgeous view that his doctor had thoughtfully moved him into. Pee-Paw called this gathering "his party," and in a way, that is exactly what it was. One of the family members that attended this party was my father-in-law, aka Pop, 92 years old and in declining health. He and Pee-Paw teased about who would make it to the other side first. I think Pee-Paw actually said, "I'll race you." Pee-Paw "won," but not by much. Pee-Paw entered into home-based hospice on February 21, 2018, and he passed away in his home, with his family and his beloved pets by his side on March 7, 2018. He did not want a service or any type of public gathering, but our family has privately gathered and grieved, and we are still grieving.

A couple of days after Pee-Paw entered into home-based hospice at his home, Pop entered into palliative care, and soon after home-based hospice in his home. I remember saying to my sister that I simply moved my Hospice Office from one house to the next. The month following Pee-Paw's passing was spent in my husband's childhood home, supporting my parents-in-law, and sharing in family time with the love and support offered by (oh so wonderful) Hospice nurses. Pop passed away snuggled into bed with his loving wife by his side on April 8, 2018. He was ready to go. Our world will never be the same without him.

On May 20, 2018, we had a very moving celebration of life for Pop. I've shared below Pop's heartfelt obituary and the words I shared at his service. But before I move onto that, I must share what is troubling my heart today. It might feel like an abrupt transition, but it is what is on my mind as I think about Pop each and every day while the United States, under the Trump administration, separates innocent, immigrant children from their parents as a matter of policy.

As you will discover in reading Pop's story in his obituary below, he was a Holocaust survivor and an immigrant. His family and his friends and neighbors were forced out of their homes and moved into "the ghetto" as a matter of policy because they were Jewish. Pop's father died in the ghetto, and Pop was separated from his mother and siblings when they were put onto different trains and transported like livestock to prison work camps and gas chambers. Although Pop lived a full and remarkable life, he felt the loss of the separation from his family until his dying day. In the last weeks and months of his life, Pop had relentless nightmares about the atrocities he experienced in his childhood. Many of those nightmares centered on the experience of being separated from his mother, and he woke up from most all of his nightmares calling out for his mother. Fellow Americans, don't think for a minute that the innocent children our country is separating from mothers and fathers and siblings will simply recover from the atrocity of familial separation we are, as a matter of policy, inflicting on them.  If you find this policy appalling, Stand up. Speak up. Take action. Here are some ways to get started.

And if you need some inspiration, find it in the remarkable life of Henry Prochovnic, and in the love that he had for his family, and that you, dear reader, may have for your own family. Here is Pop's obituary:

Henry Prochovnic
December 12, 1925 - April 8, 201
Henry Prochovnic, extraordinary husband, father, grandfather, and great-grandfather, passed away peacefully on Sunday, April 8, 2018 at the age of 92. His long-standing final wishes were met with honor and love: to pass in his home, in his own bed, with his beautiful wife by his side. 

Henry was born in a small town in Poland in 1925, where he lived with his family until the Nazi invasion. His parents (Schmuel & Dovorah) and brothers (Alek & Beumo) perished in the Holocaust. Henry survived, enduring the atrocities of Auschwitz and other concentration camps. In 1948, he immigrated to America through Ellis Island and settled in Portland, Oregon. In 1962, he was joyfully reunited with his sister, Rose, after discovering that she, too, was a Holocaust survivor.

Henry first set eyes on the love of his life, Tatiana "Teena,“ in 1952. They married that same year, and soon after started the family that would become Henry’s proudest accomplishment. In July of last year, Henry and Teena celebrated their 65th wedding anniversary. In the days and hours leading up to Henry’s passing, the family home of 63 years was typically abuzz with activity, love, and support from family members spanning four generations.

Henry took pride in providing for his family and was a valued and dedicated employee of Northwest Packing Company for 41 years, retiring in 1990. He had an exceptional work ethic, never missing a day of work or an opportunity to work overtime. During his retirement years, Henry logged thousands of miles bicycle riding on Willamette Boulevard.  

While Henry is known for his work ethic, strength, and stubbornness, his lasting legacy is his enduring adoration for his wife Teena and the family they created and nurtured over the past seven decades. Henry is survived by his wife, Teena; children, Dorothy (Greg), John (Karen), and Sam (Dawn); grandchildren, Ilene (Parker), Lisa (Sam), Jason (Heather), Patricia (Nathan), Katia, and Nikko; and great-grandchildren, Donavin, Autumn, Alex, Olivia, Savannah, Carter, Connor, Evalynn, Henry, and Matthew.

*****

And here are the words I spoke at Pop's service:

****

My Love Letter to Pop: 

Dear Pop,

There are some things I’d like to thank you for. First of all, thank you for raising such a kind and gentle son.  (I’m talking about Sam of course—I don’t know what happened with John ; )

Seriously, though, you raised an amazing family, and I’m grateful to have married into it and to have been welcomed with such open arms. I hold a clear memory of the day that Sam first introduced me to you. Right away you said, “Call me Pop. That’s what everyone calls me.” That wasn’t true of course; only family members call you Pop. But that was your way of saying, “I already love you. Welcome to the family.” That was back when I was 18.

I am so grateful for the love you’ve shown me over the years and for the example you set in devoting yourself to loving Mom and the family you created together. Your adoration for your grandkids is indisputable, and I’m particularly grateful for the love you’ve shared with Katia and Nikko. Each and every time those kids walked through your kitchen door, your eyes lit up, your smile beamed from ear to ear, and your voice let out a hearty greeting —whether you’d seen us as recently as the day before, or it had been a week a more since our last visit. You were delighted, each and every time. 

Most of all, though, I am grateful for your strength. That you somehow endured the atrocities you witnessed and were subjected to during the Holocaust. I am acutely aware of the fact that had you not survived, the life I know and share with your son and our two children would not exist. 

On a lighter note, speaking of strength, you set the bar very high for lid tightening and knot tying. Any time Sam and I attempt to secure something to the roof of our vehicle, I think of you. I’m pretty sure you would never be satisfied with any of our rock solid best attempts at knot tying. 

You also set the bar very high in terms of household safety. I promise I will think of you every time I test the smoke alarm. And I promise, I’m gonna test it regularly. 


I love you, Pop. I always have. I always will. 

****
The picture below is the family that Pop created, nurtured, and loved. A family that exists because America once welcomed immigrants and had values that aligned with the words on the Statue of Liberty: 

"Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"  (Source: NPS.gov)


I promise you, Pop, I will continue to work for an America worthy of those words. For those who want to join me, you can begin by doing what Stephan Colbert suggests: "...for Father's Day, call your elected representatives and demand they do something. Because I sincerely believe that it doesn't matter who you voted for--if you let this happen in our name, we are a feckless country." 

Photo Credit: Lisa Marie Photography

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