"A HOLIDAY SEASON TO REMEMBER!"
This chapter was not a part of my original book. However, I feel including it in this book is important. The reason; it shows the importance of family in one's life...even if it is fifty-three years late. Thus, Christmas season 2003.
I did not approach the holiday season with apprehension as I did a year ago as described in the previous chapter. I already knew the openness and love Carol and her family had extended to me last Christmas as well as during a visit in July. I eagerly looked forward to the trip this year because of them as well as in anticipation of meeting yet a new branch of my family tree.
The drive from Dubuque, IA., where I was living then, to Midland, MI should take roughly eight and a half hours. It was clear sailing from Dubuque through the Chicago area into Indiana. Then everything changed. Moderate snow began falling in Indiana and by the time I hit Michigan, just 46 miles away, it was coming down heavy. Some people do not know how to slow down in snow and just 15 miles into Michigan everything came to a standstill. A multi-car accident was to delay me. It took almost an hour and a half to travel just one mile. Eight tow trucks later I was on the move again.
I had made a phone call to Carol at a pit stop in Sawyer, MI where she informed me that she had received word that Busia (Polish for grandmother), who had been in the hospital over a week now, was not expected to make it through the weekend. I told her not to worry about me but to do whatever she needed to do.
I drove at full speed from the standstill through Lansing, MI and suddenly once again things came to a grinding halt. A twenty mile stretch of I-69 was glaze ice. Accidents and cars in the ditch one could see for miles. Someone upstairs was not on my side was all I could think.
The drive through Michigan to Midland should take four hours. I had expected to arrive in Midland about 5 p.m. I pulled into Carol's drive way just before 8 p.m.
It was worth the drive and delays, there greeting me with wide open arms for a bear hug was Carol, a hot pot of coffee and homemade chicken soup by Bobbie!
Despite the hour and a body ready for sleep, Carol and I went to the hospital to visit Busia. She was more coherent than I had ever seen her before. It was hard to believe what the doctors had forecast.
Saturday brought two more visits to the hospital where we were even able to joke and laugh with Busia. In the evening while Carol fixed something in the kitchen I put up her new Christmas tree. The tree already had lights so that part did not need to be done. Decorating would be left for tomorrow night.
Sunday was to be a special day for me. I was to meet a new extended branch of my birth family...the Borysiak clan...twenty-eight in total.
A mass was being offered at St. Stanislaus Church in Bay City, MI. in memory of the son (David) of my third cousin Karen. I planned to attend the mass but we had all agreed we would wait and meet later in the afternoon after the immediate family had their traditional Christmas gathering.
Carol and I arrived at church early. Upon entering I did in fact recognize a few of the Borysiak family from pictures I had seen. However eager I was to meet them I decided I would wait until we had planned. We proceeded to our seat.
Well, before mass began plans changed. I could see additional members of the family arriving and taking their place with the family. Suddenly, Suzie and Karen decided they wanted to greet me before mass and over they came. Every now and then during mass I would see a wave from other family members. When mass was over they were all making a beeline in our direction. Before leaving church I had met my second cousin Eugene and his wife Irene, Joyce, Tim, Michelle as well as Suzie and Karen again and more than I could even fathom remembering. We all left church eagerly awaiting the time we would meet at Eugene/Irene's home later that afternoon.
Before the meeting, while they did their traditional gathering, I had planned on a visit to my first cousin Dorothy. I cannot make a trip to the area without going for a visit. Dorothy recently celebrated her ninetieth birthday and is as sharp as ever. We had a delightful couple hour visit along with an exchange of gifts.
We also made a quick visit to Clem and Geri's (relative on Carol's Nowak side of the family). It was then time to drive over to Eugene/Irene's home.
There was Irene waiting to greet us at the door. From the dining area came a Christmas greeting sung in Polish. We were soon surrounded with family, getting hugs. It soon felt I had known the family all my life. They were all so kind, open, warm and loving. Food, wine and other beverages were passed along with non ending conversation. I know the "girls"(Karen, Suzie, Joyce and Irene, whom I had been writing for about three months) thought they were going to get the best of me as they handed me a gift bag from all of them. I however had brought my own little packages. I had picked a small angel for each of them, attempting to choose a color or design that would be special for them. They had gotten me a book of Polish Traditions and Customs with a special message in it for me, a Christmas ornament with Merry Christmas in Polish. Karen had also presented me with a frame which had pictures of David and her family in it...that was very meaningful to me!
I had also made a special gift for Karen, her husband Don and daughter Michelle.
I had collected parts of thoughts each family member had shared with me after David's passing. I also added my own along with two pictures of David and one of a sunset taken in North Dakota on a lake I enjoyed visiting. I had chosen this particular picture because of David's love of nature as well as his passion for photography...especially sunsets. I created a two page tribute in David's honor and had it framed. I hope it will have a special meaning to them in the years to come.
More drink and food followed. Since most gathered had miles to drive home we planned on only a couple hour get together. Before people started to depart we of course had to take a few pictures. My digital camera was not working properly that day so I had to depend on Carol for the few I have here. I know i'll be receiving more in the days ahead from others who took pictures but here is what I can share now.
Karen and David celebrating his graduation from high school in June 2003. David was taken from us on November 6, 2003, in a traffic accident.
Tom, Kathy, Joyce, Karen, Irene, Eugene, Me, Suzie and Tim...Eugene is a second cousin with Irene as his wife, the others are all third cousins. My first meeting of them.
The BORYSIAK CLAN taken at the traditional Christmas gathering in 2002. What a family I have suddenly become a part of!
Soon hugs and kisses were being given as it came time for most of us to make our departure for the day. What a day it had been!
Carol and I ended the day with a visit to Busia. She had beaten the odds of what the doctors said on Friday. She was quite cheerful. Carol and I talked about decorating the tree. It was decided to keep it simple this year. Busia had crocheted numerous ornamanets and we decided to honor her this year by making the primary decorations those ornaments. We added a few red apples and red bows...that was all, besides the lights, that were on the tree. It looked simple but beautiful.
Monday brought a call from the hospital saying all that could be done for Busia had been done and it was time to move her from the hospital. Since she could not return to the foster care arrangement she had been living in for almost six years a nursing home had to be found. Carol decided to not return the call this day in hopes maybe things could wait until after Christmas.
I wanted to go into Bay City this day to check a few records at the county courthouse and also pay a visit to the grave of my great grand parents.
When this was completed Carol wanted to stop by the cemetery office to see if someone she had spoken with months earlier was still there and could maybe help her with something. That person was not there, however, in the midst of the conversation Carol and I made a decision to do something. Before sharing that story I need to clarify something for all who read this.
Carol is adopted. The beloved Busia we speak about is Carol's adoptive Mom, though as far as we are concerned she is just plain MOM or Busia. She is known by all who know her as Busia. I was never adopted into a family. Thus, many wonder how Carol and I can be related...even her own family.
Let me attempt to explain. No, Carol and I are not blood relatives. We do however share relatives on both her adoptive side as well as her/my birth side of our families. Carol's Mom was a Kalinowski. Her grandmother's brother married into my birth great grandmother's family...the Luczaks. This gives us, though distant, a family connection. Also, Carol's birth mother (we are 99.99% sure of this) is the niece of my great aunt Lottie Kuffel who married into my great grandfather's family...the Piechowiaks. Lottie married my great Uncle Wallace.
Thus, whether adopted or not Carol and I share family connections.
We are closer to each other than many blood relatives or even immediate families are. Those loving bonds were drawn even closer and made stronger during this trip. The bond between us will not be broken!
Surprisingly during this trip one of Carol's relatives stated,"You two are meant for each other...you should be together." I replied, "What, marriage?" The other person sheepishly smiled at me. I related this to Carol later that day. We both had the same thought...and ruin a good thing? No, Carol and I will remain cousins...and not kissin cousins:)
Now, on with the story!
The decision Carol and I made at the cemetery office was to go to the nursing home about a mile away from us and visit the woman we both strongly believed to be Carol's birth mother. Carol had searched for her birth mother previously. She had even used a court intermediary to find her. The CI did so and relayed non identifying information to Carol but said the birth mother wanted no contact with her. Though being hurt, Carol had decided not to pursue the matter any further. Our decision to visit this woman was not to attempt to begin a relationship with her but just to confirm what we already felt we knew.
As we arrived at the nursing home I told Carol, to protect her legally, I would do all the talking as I did in fact have a family connection with the woman. Carol would need to remain in the background and be silent. Tough task for Carol...sorry about that one kiddo!
We entered the home and soon were faced with a worker. We told her who we were looking for. We were actually right outside this person's door. The worker announced to her that she had visitors. I am purposely not using the person's name in sharing this story.
Soon, there I was sitting just feet away from this woman. Carol had found a chair behind a dresser where she could sit and observe.
I remembered the physical description Carol had shared with me; a small frail eighty-seven year old woman, hard of hearing and a bitchiness about her. Two out of three were immediately identified...the third would soon follow.
I told her who I was. Due to her hearing problems I had to repeat this. I told her I was connected to her through my Aunt Lottie. I stated the last name and as soon as I did...the bitchy side showed itself. Her angry reply, " I won't answer any questions without a representative with me." I told her again I just wanted to know if she remembered anything about my Aunt. She repeated her initial reply! I could see I was not going to get anywhere. I hestitated before saying anything so I could look very closely at her. Yes, I was looking for something. Once I saw it I told her I would go get someone...I had no intention of doing so.
I got up to leave. Carol also got up so she could stay in front of me as I left. as I began walking I could see out of the corner of my eye the woman stretching herself in her chair attempting to observe this person who was with me. I have a feeling she knew who Carol was and wanted to get one look at her...possibly her only look yet in her lifetime at the daughter she had rejected.
I had only one thing to say to Carol immediately upon our leaving the home..."IT IS HER! I AM 100% SURE!" Yes, she fit the physcial attributes given to her and she was hard of hearing and bitchy...but it was more than that.
I saw it in her eyes! That was what I was attempting to see when I observed her closely. When I mentioned the family surname I saw first fear in her eyes...fear that she had in fact been found by more than just the court intermediary! I also observed, despite the glasses she was wearing, a resemblance to Carol. As Carol and I walked to the car I shared this information with her.
I saw relief in Carol, the fact that she too felt we had confirmed this woman was her birth mother and now she could lay it entirely to rest. She could go on without her in her life. The only other feeling Carol had was as mine...pity. Pity because we knew this woman had no other family. Pity that she would never get to know her only child. It will be that woman's loss in this final chapter of her life. She will go to her grave not knowing the beautiful daughter she gave birth to and all she has become to so many!
We made a late afternoon visit to Busia. Surprisingly, or maybe not, we both seemed to have the same thoughts and expressed them as we walked down the hospital steps upon leaving Busia. We could forget the woman in the nursing home...Carol's "REAL MOM" we had just left!
We then went for a dinner that had been planned for us. We went to Bob and Pat's, close friends of Carol who had also become my friends last year. Walleye, potatoes, vegetable, salad and desert awaited us...you haven't had fish until you had walleye! We were also able to visit with their grand daughter Jackie, her husband Brandon with the southern twang of Mississippi very clear and their son Zac. What a mover and shaker he is for one so young!
Tuesday the hospital called yet again, this time it couldn't be avoided. A nursing home was suggested for Busia. They were not sure if a bed would be available before Christmas but would be in touch. Tuesday, besides visiting Busia was a quiet day for us...a needed one at that.
A call came from the hospital early Christmas Eve morning..a bed was available and Busia would be moved at 11:30 a.m. Carol and I arrived at the home at the appointed hour to find Busia was already there. This was not a good day for Busia. She was in pain where she had not been in pain before, agitated and Carol and I also saw on her feet signs that appear when the body appears to begin the shutting down process. It seemed that nothing said or done could make her comfortable. She pleaded with us both to take out of there, which of course could not be done. Finally, almost in desperation, I thought of past hospice training and practice I had done. I decided to sit on the floor beside Busia's bed, to hold and caress her hand and softly attempt to speak with her in order to relax her and hopefully fall asleep. After roughly twenty minutes or so of doing this Busia fell in a peaceful sleep. Rather than giving her a kiss and hug as we departed it was thought best not to do this so as not to disturb her.
We also decided to go forth with our plans for Christmas Eve. This included attending Christmas Eve mass at St. Anthony's and then gathering at Debi/Jerry's as we had done last year.
After leaving Debi/Jerry's Carol, Deanne and I sat up until almost three in the morning. I watched as Deanne made a tie blanket for one of the nieces. She made me one last Christmas which I just love. Knowing morning would come soon and plans for the day ahead we all found our beds for the night.
The traditional family Polish brunch was planned for 2 p.m. The later time was to allow for Pete's (a close friend of family) Mom (Dolly) to arrive at the airport and make their way to the house. Of course a few pictures were taken before brunch.
A brunch of Polish sausage and meatballs, scrambled eggs (yes, I got volunteered to make them again this year) and toast was set upon the table as we all gathered around it. It didn't take us long to empty the bowls of their contents. Gathering up the dirty dishes and cleaning up the kitchen was in progress when the call came!
Busia (Elsie Nowak) age ninety passed from this life at 3:15 p.m. Christmas afternoon.
Elsie Nowak (Beloved Busia)
January 4, 1913-December 25, 2003
Carol and I were to find out later that we both had thoughts earlier in the day that Busia might pass that day. We had also even thought of going to visit her that morning but when the home was called they said she had had a peaceful night and was having a peaceful morning. It was decided we would go and visit her that evening. We did go see her but not as we had planned.
Debbie, Busia's caretaker at the adult foster care home she resided at had stopped to pay a visit. The nurses had taken Busia's vital not long before and all were stable. It seems the Lord waited for Busia to hear a familiar voice before calling her home. One could not have asked for a better caretaker than Debbie.
Arrangements were made so the children could still enjoy Christmas Day as we adults went to the nursing home to say a farewell to Busia before the funeral home was called. We were greeted by three amazing friends of Carol's (really all of us) Debi, Pat and Bobbie along with Pat's daughter Kris. We spent about an hour saying our good-byes and also allowed private time for just Carol and her daughters Liane and Deanne.
It was decided after the call was made to the funeral home that Christmas, for the sake of the children, as well as us in all likelihood should go on.
We returned home to do the gift exchanges. Here are just a few pictures of the evening.
Though Christmas did go on and yes, there was much laughter...it also was somber as I know most of us had thoughts of Busia running through our minds.
Friday was a day of making final arrangements for Busia. A trip to the funeral home, the church and to the florist.
Visitation was on Sunday. Deanne had done Busia's hair and nails on Saturday. I must say Busia looked beautiful as well as peaceful when we saw her. The plan was for one day visitation from 2-9 p.m. Many family members and friends stopped to pay their respects. Carol kept pulling on my arm saying how she wanted me to meet this person and that person.
I was back in the family resting room when I heard Carol once again say there was someone there to meet me. I was in for a shocker! When I came out to the lobby there stood Irene and Joyce. Yes, my newest family members. I cannot say how much that meant to me! Knowing we had just met a week before and here they were to pay their respects to Busia as though we had known each other all our lives. It took all I could muster to stop the tears from flowing as I hugged Irene. It didn't end here. Shortly thereafter in walked Karen with her husband Don. I know what it took for them to make this trip having buried their son David just weeks before. They definitely showed me what "family" meant to them and it is something I will always hold near and dear.
It was a long day at the funeral home and I know as we left in the evening all of us were wiped out...but tomorrow was yet another day ahead of us.
Busia's funeral was at 10 a.m. at St. Anthony's on Monday, December 29. Family friends and family served as pallbearers. Carol read a beautiful passage about wife/mothers which was so appropriate for the occasion. I read what is called the "Love" passage from the book of Corinthians. I could not help as I looked out to the congregation gathered of how true this passage was for Busia. She lived the chapter. Beginning with her marriage and life long love affair with her Ed. Her taking into her home fifty seven years ago a beautiful six week old baby girl whom she would call her own...Carol. She would teach Carol about love, values, responsibility to name just a few. Carol passed this on to her daughters Liane and Deanne. Someday I know Deanne will pass them on to her children when she has them...today Liane passes them on to her six children. Carol, Busia's grandchildren and great grand children will forever be her living legacy. Deanne gave a eulogy of memories she had of Busia...it was well written and delivered. She has some great memories!
Busia was laid to rest beside her beloved Ed. A light hearted moment came after the casket was placed on the stand for the burial right. Carol saw the hinges on the casket facing her. She called to the funeral director that she thought the casket was facing the wrong way...with Busia's feet facing the headstone. John let us know that in this cemetery the head always faces the cross in the center of the circle where the grave site was. Carol's reply was..."and to think I been talking to my Dad's feet all these years!"
A funeral breakfast followed the burial. Flowers were gathered for Carol, Liane, Deanne each great grandchild, myself and a few chosen ones so they could be dried and placed in acrylic in remembrance of Busia. Surprisingly, despite the sorrow I know each of us felt we were at peace. We, I am sure remembered Carol's words after Busia passed, "The Christ child needed someone to rock the manger...He chose Busia." We will all miss her but know she is now in a place without pain or any earthly sorrows...she has gone to the reward she worked ninety plus years for. May you rest in peace Busia!