My grandmother-in-law (or Babcia in Polish) passed away this week. She lived into her 90’s despite seemingly insurmountable obstacles. She survived a Nazi bullet in her leg. She lost two husbands–one to war and the other to a senseless act of criminal violence. She endured the the privations of the Soviet occupation of Poland–a working mother running both a household and a house painting business. She was forced by circumstance to emigrate to the U.S. in her 70’s–a place where she did not speak the language and knew only her daughter, son-in-law and two grandchildren.
Despite the pain, emotional turmoil and setbacks in her life, Babcia was a kind woman with a wicked sense of humor. Even though I was never able to hold a real conversation with her, we made do with snatches of words we each had learned from each other’s language, hand gestures and a general sense that we’d figure out the gist of what we were trying to say to each other. She lit up whenever anyone was about to take a photograph, striking a professional pose that supermodels would envy. She loved both small children and doggies, delighted by their very presence.
The Church had an important place in Babcia’s life–the institution that kept the notion of the Polish state alive during the depths of war and hostile occupation. The devotion to the Church was no doubt deepened when the Vatican chose a son of Poland to become Pope and he helped lead his homeland into the light of freedom. During Babcia’s final battles with poor health, I saw a parallel between her situation and her beloved Pope John Paul 2’s final days on earth. Both proved the truth that the dignity of a person’s life is not diminished by poor health, sickness or disease.
Babcia was a wonderful person and I will miss her terribly.