On Saturday, May 28th at 3:10AM I was awakened by a telephone call. The caller asked, “Are you Anastasia’s father?” I answered, “yes.” The caller announced, ”Anastasia is dead.”
Needless to say, Kathy and I were stunned. The message was hard to believe and even harder to understand. We were spending the Memorial Day weekend at the shore with Kathy’s brother and sister-in-law, Louis and Julie. We immediately drove home to tell Irina, Anastasia’s sister, about this tragic turn of events. Of course, we cried and cried.
Within hours, loving family and friends surrounded us and remained for the next two days. Many questions were asked. Many answers were speculated. But the questions and answers fell far short of the finality of this life cut short.
The “transaction” of dying takes but a few moments. Focusing on these few moments takes away from the story of who Anastasia is. It takes away from who and how she blessed us, and those she touched.
Who was Anastasia? She was a courageous, brave, intelligent, extraordinarily generous, caring girl. These things define Anastasia.
These things will lift us from sadness. These are the things we will celebrate.
This is Anastasia’s Story
The first words I heard from Anastasia was on the night we first met her in a Russian orphanage. She was sitting next to me eating a cookie. Translated for us, she said, “Will you please brush the crumbs from my dress?” At that moment I became a father.
One week later, we traveled to America. Within minutes of the Aeroflot plane departing Moscow, refreshments were served. Kathy was sitting with Irina just in front of Anastasia and I. The week in Russia was difficult to say the least. Now we were on our way home to start our new life. Kathy ordered, a well deserved, Champaign. When the stewardess got to Anastasia and me, she offered Anastasia Coke, Sprite, Orange soda. Anastasia responded, “Nyet Champaigna.” She was overheard by many passengers around us who laughed loudly. From that moment on, she owned first class.
Our first trips to the supermarket were “main” events. The Russian language did not get in the way of the girls filling the cart with bright colored boxes having no idea of what they contained. At one point an older woman in the store overheard them calling me Papa. She came up to me, tears running down her face, and said she hadn’t heard that expression in so many years.
Adjusting to a new life in America was easy for Anastasia and Irina. We landed at Kennedy on December 13, 1997. The girls were speaking English 70 days later.
In those first weeks, it became clear that Anastasia was a “survivor” AND a “mother.” She would hide food in her room in case her new life was just a dream. She would not eat the food we served at our table until Irina was served. When Irina lost her helium balloon, Anastasia gave her her’s. After Irina wrote on her bedroom wall with magic markers, she hugged me when I limited my response to a simple, “Nyet” instead of a more severe response.
By June of that first year, Anastasia and I were sitting in a McDonalds eating lunch. And as a “new dad” I was telling her to eat this “healthy thing” before that “not so healthy thing.” She paused, looked out the window and said, “Poppy. We had no food and we had no money.” I put my arm around her a told her she did not have to worry about that anymore.
Anastasia was fascinated by the small shrimp found in Nantucket bay. She called them “skimp.” On one sunny afternoon, Anastasia organized and lead other kids for hours on a “skimping” hunt. Later that day, Anastasia went deep see fishing for the first time. She caught a bluefish that was bigger than she was. In her new English voice she squealed, “I diiiid it!
Vacation over, we were traveling home. Anastasia got into an argument with Irina. When we heard her say, “Irina, read my lips.” we knew she had mastered our language.
On one occasion while we were driving to a play date, Anastasia asked, “When grandpas adopt young girls, does God let them live longer?” I assured her the answer was YES! and marveled out loud on how she could know such a thing.
Anastasia’s School Years
From her first grade in school right up to high school, she sought out and befriended the “unpopular” kids. In middle school, when challenged to choose which clique she belonged to, she responded by saying, “ALL of them.” She refused to exclude anyone.
One of Anastasia’s loves was basketball. She loved this game and she played it all year round. I would go to most of her games and witnessed her tenacity and drive.
The Troubles Surface
Anastasia changed dramatically during the summer prior to her first year in high school. Something was going on and for the next several years we struggled. At first, it was trial and error guesswork. Were these normal adolescent issues? Was it an inability to focus? As nothing seemed to work, we pushed into the realm of psychology and psychiatry. The professionals failed to diagnose the real issue for 7 years. Two years ago, Anastasia was accurately diagnosed with severe PTSD due to continuous, early childhood trauma in the years before we knew her. Learning this, we ramped up the professional care to get her in-patient treatment, counseling, and attempted structured living for the last two years.
We have reports from her treatment caregivers, to quote: “Anastasia was a light to so many others in treatment. She helped so many people.” Sadly, she was unable to help herself.
Loss of a First Love
During one of her treatment cycles in Florida, she met and fell in love with Barry Tharp, a kind and sensitive young man from Chicago. She told me she loved him because he really knew her and that they had accepted each other with no “judgments.” On December 28th 2014 Barry lost his life in the same way Anastasia did. On the 28th of every month, after Barry’s death, Anastasia would lock into grief and deep depression. We surmise, it is not coincidental that Anastasia died on the 28th of May.
A Brief Respite of Great Joy
We saw Anastasia alive, for the last time, 2 weeks ago at Irina’s graduation party. She appeared happy and looked the healthiest we had seen her in recent years. She told us of her plan to move with a friend of hers to Fayetteville, North Carolina since she now had a job that could be transferred from Florida. She told Kathy, “Mommy I’m healthy now.” We thought finally, she was “stepping into her life.” We were so encouraged.
Our happiness was short lived.
Our efforts combined with her care givers in Florida, were to no avail. As evidenced today, we clearly lost this struggle. In the end she could not overcome the perfect storm of severe childhood abuse, mental illness and the tragic loss of her first love.
We know Anastasia suffered, as did we, for 9 long years. We believe that God, in his infinite mercy, did not intervene on that dreadful night. We surmise that he thought “enough was enough” and called her home. It is reported that she died in her sleep with no apparent suffering or anguish.
The Anastasia We Will Remember
We will sorely miss our beautiful child, our “controlling” big sister, our caring friend and the frustrating girl who was unable to turn to the light. That said, we will remember, Anastasia, “the doer”, who helped others, who visited friends in prison, who fed the homeless, who shared her spectacular smile with all who knew her. And what I love most, was her abiding innocence.
Many of you may ask, “how can we possibly overcome such a loss?” I don’t subscribe to notions like, “When you bury your child, you can never fill the hole in your heart.” The good news is: WE CAN AND WE WILL!
Our hearts will be filled by all of you.
We will carry on.
The sun will come out.
We will laugh and live our lives with even MORE purpose.
But Now It’s Time to Say Farewell
Anastasia, the battle is over. You have found peace. There will be no more suffering. The worries of your family and friends are now calmed.
Goodbye for now sweet girl. Until we meet again.
Your loving family.
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