Monday, March 2, 2015

Through a Glass, Darkly

Part Six 
(Begin with Part One of the Family Connection series here)

1 Corinthians 13:12: "For now we see through a glass darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known."

With special thanks and love to my dear new sister, Lia Tsivtsivadze, for sharing
 her loving memory of Igor, and for her family's research
and contribution to this post. I thank God 
our lives are forever linked! 

Igor and Lia, age four

"It seemed he was doomed from the beginning." 

Lia's words describing her beloved cousin Igor, stabbed like a knife in my wounded heart. The
Lia and Igor 
revelation of Igor's unfortunate life and early death was still too fresh a tragedy. The stories and photos gradually filtered in, first from Roma's sister, Liana, then his father's cousin, Lia, and then another of Igor's cousins, Zaur. The puzzle pieces created a story of a beautiful and loved young man who just couldn't seem to catch a break.

We all know people like that, people who hardly have a fair chance in life. By no fault of their own, misfortune ambushes them at every turn.

But where did I get this notion of "fairness" as the standard, as the norm? Because my life has been relatively smooth and easy, I say I am "blessed." But I deserve this blessing no more than Igor deserved his curse, at least that is what it appears from our human viewpoint, a curse. It will remain a mystery, my human concept of fair. God is fair. I trust that truth.

For whatever reason, I wept off and on for days, mourning a man who had been dead for eight years. At first I read private messages about him translated by Lia's daughter Elene. Then Zaur reached out to me, offering what he remembered. Then Lia's mother contributed her cherished memories of a loved nephew she knew so well. Another cousin, an English teacher, also contributed to the translations of the recollections of a boy, then a man, who had endeared himself to so many, and whose tragic life had broken hearts of those who knew and loved him best. They each introduced me to Igor, all in hopes that we would know and understand him better. This knowledge will one day be a gift to his son.

                                               *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *

Roma's grandfather, Roman Sujashvili, (translated Sudzhashvili in our documents and Roma's legal middle name) was born in Georgia in 1937. He had three sisters and loving parents. A former republic of the Soviet Union, Georgia, (in green) is wedged between the northeastern border of Turkey to the south, and to the north, the Caucus Mountains shared by Eastern European Russian (in pale yellow). Surnames ending in -vili are as traditionally Georgian as names beginning with Mac- are Scottish.

Because jobs were scarce in Georgia, Roman's family moved to Mozdok in North Osettia, Alana, in the scenic Caucus region of Russia, in 1959 or 60.  From Northern Georgia to Mozdok is 90 miles, or 2.5 hour drive across the rugged mountains. Proud and noble nationals, Georgians traditionally chose to marry other Georgians, but Roman met and married a Ukrainian-born Russian woman, Emma. She persuaded Roman to move to Ukraine when their daughter, Eteri, was four, and Igor, two.
Roman  and Emma with Eteri and Igor, 1965

Once settled in Ukraine, Roman joined the Ukrainian Army. He often traveled, sometimes being away from home for as long as a month at a time. One day he returned home to find his family missing. He learned Emma had gone away with her lover, and left the children in the streets. Neighbors had taken the children to an orphanage.

I recall with heartbreaking clarity peeling my own screaming children's limbs from my neck and legs in their desperate attempt to prevent me from leaving them. I only left them for hours at a time. They were pretty confident I would return for them. I have also known first hand the agony of homesickness, even when I knew I had a home to return to. The image of those abandoned children haunted me, knowing that trauma never goes away for so many institutionalized children.

It was no simple task for Roman to regain custody of his own children. He had to prove he was capable of taking care of two small children while he worked. The court case lasted six months, while the young siblings clung to each other, their bond deepened, as they tried not to lose hope. Roman was finally allowed to take his children from the orphanage in Ukraine back to Mozdok where his parents could help him care for them.

About that time, Emma returned and wanted to take Eteri with her. When Roman refused to allow it, Emma claimed the girl was not Roman's. Before an age of paternity testing, Emma's wishes prevailed. So the children, ages six and four at the time, were separated, and another bonding thread was broken for young Igor.

For two years, Roman's loving parents looked after their grandson while Roman worked. Before long Roman married a Russian woman named Raisa. Igor returned to live with his father and his new wife. With Raisa, Roman had another daughter and son.

Roman, Igor, and Raisa
Having a new mother and another change in his life was difficult for Igor. Perhaps he missed his grandparents' stability.

Lia, who has been so gracious in telling me the story of her family, was always very close to Igor. Born the same year in 1965, Lia and Igor spent a lot of their childhood together. Lia's parents brought Igor to spend summers with their family who lived in neighboring Chechnya. Lia described Igor  as "naughty and stubborn, but at the same time, very clever, kind and understanding." Although Igor loved his new step mother in his own way, he struggled to get used to his new life and he resisted following her rules. Problems escalated, and at times, Igor returned to live with his grandparents.

Igor, high school.3rd from right. 
When Igor was seventeen, he fell in love with Marina. When Marina became pregnant, Igor wanted to do the right thing, so the teens married. Roman was against the marriage, for he did not want his son to repeat the mistakes he himself had made.

At age eighteen, Igor was required to serve in the army. In May, 1984, while he was in the military, Liana was born. The young couple named her after Igor's beloved cousin Lia. Marrying young presented challenges to the young family. Employment after his service in the army was difficult. Marina and Igor struggled financially and in their marriage relationship.
Igor, 18, uncanny resemblance to his son

In 1987, Roman became ill with cancer. Shortly after his fiftieth birthday, he died, and was buried in Tbilisi, Georgia. Roman's house in Mozdok became his wife's property, and she was not willing to allow the struggling family to live there any longer, as she remarried eleven months after her husband's death.

In 1989, a second daughter, Diana, was born. Igor could not afford to support his family, as the early marriage had prevented him for getting a higher education and training for a better job.  At that time, the political strain between Georgia and Russia worsened, and the borders were closed.

As the Soviet Union weakened in early 1991, Soviet Georgia declared independence from the USSR to become the new state of Georgia.

In the spring of 1994, unrest in Mozdok on the border escalated, and, to avoid getting involved in the hostilities, Igor, with a new plan, managed to cross the southern border into Georgia. When he arrived in Tbilisi, his aunt, Lia's mother, was waiting for him. She was determined to help her beloved nephew with his plan to move his pregnant wife and two daughters to Georgia. While living with his aunt and looking for a job, his aunt remarked that he was always willing to help around the house with any needed chore. He finally secured a job with a small company to paint decorations on ceramic vases and ornaments. The opportunity and responsibilities seemed a perfect fit for the eager young man who had always been a talented artist.

(Anyone who knows my family knows that many of us identify ourselves as artists!)

Renewed with hope and ambition, Igor finally looked to a brighter future. In the midst of that hope, Igor got devastating news from home. His second daughter, Diana, had been killed in a car accident traveling to the corner store.

I have wept like Igor was my family member. The tragedies I read seem like they happened today instead of many years ago. I pray for his family members who have dug up old wounds so I might know Igor better. I feel as if I have become part of this story. I pray that Roma will one day feel a part of this story too.

Oh the tears! I didn't cry as much when my dear mother died.

And there is so much more . . .

Continue here

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