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#Leapfear Day 1: Valentina

I am pretty sure she wouldn’t like what I am about to do.

She was incredibly private. Even to those closest to her. In fact it was one of the things I frequently heard when people talked to me about her after she died. That and how much she loved to dress well. In her words: champagne taste on a beer budget. In the words of my friend, “I am reminded of the glamorous Hollywood stars of the past – poised, polished, intelligent, articulate and classy.” Truer words were never spoken.

My Mother, Valentina Regina Pudymaitis (nee Wojtecka), was an extraordinary woman. I know we all think that about our mothers, but this time it is really true.

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My project #leapfear is tribute to her. I knew that February this year was going to be tough for me. It is the month that she died last year. The day before February was her birthday. It also has Valentine’s Day which was so clearly her day:) I miss her and the first anniversaries are always the hardest. I am the soft one. I feel deeply. I’ve cried over commercials (in my defense, they were really, really powerful ones!). Tears come easily to me. In the past year without her, I have shed many. I know that would annoy her to no end but it is what I do.

My mother was a strong woman. Intelligent, brave, compassionate, loving, giving, beautiful, and never let herself give in to her fears. Of course she had them. But she didn’t give in to them.
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So this month, I will pay tribute to women who have also faced their fears and moved past them. Many of these women are strangers to me. Some of these women I have known and some I love. Each woman has a story of overcoming their fear to live the life they were meant to. They are in different parts of their journeys but each has chosen to share their story with you. I hope you leave comments of appreciation in the posts so that their courage in coming forward to share is acknowledged and appreciated.

So how do I honour such a private woman on day one of #leapfear? By sharing with you the words of some of those people who were lucky enough to have loved and been loved by her.

In the words of Valentina’s Grandchildren

They called her “Bobute” which is grandmother in Lithuanian. She adored her grandchildren with every fiber in her being. And they always knew that. In order of age:

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Her granddaughter Alex:

“Self confidence is something I have always struggled with and continue to struggle with this to this day. I think my Bobute knew this because one of the things she tried to teach me was to love myself and to allow myself to feel beautiful. She always seemed to have this sixth sense of when I was feeling down or upset with my looks. Bobute would sit me down and ask me why I was feeling the way that I was. Once she had let me wallow in negative thoughts she would tell me what she saw in me and how she found I was beautiful, inside and out. She was always around when I needed a confidence boost or a pep talk. When she was done I would always feel like there might be something in me that WAS beautiful, even if I couldn’t see it. Bobute would always take the time to remind me how beautiful I was and how much she loved her grandkids. Although I continue to struggle with my self esteem, whenever I have negative thoughts or am feeling down I hear my grandma in my ear telling me how beautiful I am and how I should be proud to show off my beauty. My Bobute was my own personal cheerleader and an amazing person. I miss her every day.”

Her grandson Frank:

“One of the things that I will always remember is how she always told me not to judge people before you got to know them. Specifically I remember being intimidated/scared by my very close friend Zack (years before we became very close friends) and I remember her telling me I should go and talk to him and get to know him. It took me a couple of trips together with him and finally moving to the university before I got the courage to start really talking to him and soon after that we became super close friends. And I remember telling Bobute about how we are going to be rooming together and she reminded me of how years before I thought he was a scary guy and that we would probably not be friends and that she was the one who told me to go and talk to him.”

Her granddaughter Hannah:

“I’ve been struggling for a while to find the words that could adequately capture the exceptional woman that I was lucky to call my Bobute. She was a fierce supporter of her family and friends, a loving and caring woman, and an incredible grandmother.
No matter what you did, she would find something to be proud of and help remind you of how important you are. You could get a 90% or a 60% on an exam and she would still beam and talk about how brilliant you are. You could lose a class election really badly, or get rejected from countless jobs and she would go on and on about how brave you were for putting yourself out there in the first place. She could talk forever about how stunning you looked in a certain colour, listen to every song you tried to learn to play, check in on all of your friends, and (even if you didn’t want to hear it at the time) gave great advice on everything from school to friends to boys. She was the first person you’d want to call with good news because you knew that no one else would have quite the same reaction. At the end of the day, you always knew how much she loved you and that meant more than words can describe.”

Her granddaughter Kathleen:

“After my Bobute died, we began cleaning her apartment. While there, my mom found a note that had been addressed to me. It basically talked about how much she believed in me and how proud she was of me. I framed the paper and put it in my room. Her trust and faith in me was never ending. She was one of my biggest supporters in everything I did, from sports, to theatre, to school. Her love and support was never ending, and this is a beautiful reminder. I loved her very much. Whenever I get good news, I want to call and tell her. She was an amazing women, truly one of a kind.”

Her granddaughter Sammie:

“My grandma was my hero, just from her view on life until she died. She would only look at the positives no matter how hard things got. When I asked her how she could possibly be like this she told me it wasn’t always so easy. It took her a lot of time to find out who she was and how to embrace it. She would start with the little things each day and each day a smile grew. That smile was contagious and passed on to her family. I believe if she were still here, Bobute would tell us to always look at the bright side of life no matter how dark it gets because, even if it’s dark, there are still the stars.”

Her grandson Michael:

“I can remember a single vivid moment the night of her death. I didn’t entirely know truly how fast her life was coming to an end so most of the final day is filled with memories of being sad. The one moment was in her hospital room with our family. She was so exhausted. The past day or two she wasn’t really there as she was a week ago, and most of the time she was asleep or not having the energy to engage in the room. I can’t exactly remember if I was leaving of entering the room with my family but in that few seconds she used up all her energy to wave and smile at us. She had always demonstrated her love for everyone but this stood out. She used everything she had inside her to show her affection for her loved ones in one of her final hours just to make sure we knew. This is one of the many reasons why Bobute was amazing.”

 

Her dear friend Marg. These two women have shared a friendship that has spanned decades. Marg chose to honour my mom by answering the same questions each woman in this project will be answering.
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What changed that made you realize you were living a life of fear?
My friend Val faced fear long before I knew her. Leaving behind those she loved, her family, her war torn home and all that was familiar to venture forth to a new world where she did not know the customs or the language . She did this alone and she faced her future with courage and faith. She learned another language and attained a university education. I was almost forty when I met her and afraid to leave my comfortable vocation as housewife and mother to seven children and go back to school to get a university education. I know today that I was fearful that I was not intelligent enough to do so.

Once you realized that you were living a life in fear, what stopped you from moving forward? What held you back for so long?
I think what held me back for so long was the belief that I lacked the intelligence to accomplish my goal. I had not been a good student in high school and always compared myself to others. Val encouraged me to believe in myself I think in the beginning she believed enough in me for both of us. She said ” How old will you be in 5 years if you do this and when I said 45 she said and how old will you be in 5 years if you do not and I said 45. then she said what do you have to lose. Many cups of coffee and many words of love and encouragement I was able to achieve this goal. Not only did I achieve this goal I graduated Cum Laude and the most important thing I learned was not to let fear stop me and to change my negative self talk to positive self talk.

Once you did take the leap, what did you have to let go of?
Negative self talk and the fear of what others would think

Once you let go, what did you find on the other side that was worth taking the leap?
Self confidence
What would you tell someone whose fears are still holding them back?
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Is there anything else you would like to share with people on the blog?

During the forty years that I knew and loved Val she taught me many things. Some by our conversations, some by observation, some by being privileged to share in her family life, some by watching the loving care she provided to her elderly father in law during his dying days and some by how she faced the loss of the man she had loved so deeply for so many years and most recently how she faced her own death. She was a courageous, humble woman deeply committed to those she loved, she was always willing to help in any ways she could. Over these years we shared the sorrow of loss ,the joys of our growing families, the accomplishments of each other and the knowledge that our friendship would always endure.

Val was strong, humble, loyal, courageous, generous, inquisitive, supportive . She had a life long love of learning. I am grateful to have called her my friend.

 

Her dear friend Raffaela. Raff and my Mom met when Raff came to the Women in Crisis Centre as a client in Sault Ste Marie. My Mom broke the rules to help Raffaela and it was totally worth it. Out of this formed a kind of sisterhood. Fights and all. That is what happens when a Lithuanian and an Italian become such close friends. Raffaela chose to share how my mom made an impact on her.

“Your mom was a pillar of strength. Once she set her eyes on you, she could see your value and not give up on you. She would carry you but she didn’t let go until you tasted the difference that your new life could have. She did it for you, to show it could be done. She would use herself as a leverage to see you succeed. She did not spare the cost – as a survivor. She believed you were worth the risk.”
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My Mom’s Friend, and surrogate daughter, Terri 

“Paul & I were just talking about when we flew to London to purchase my car and I asked your Mom if we could take her out or visit her. Your Mom insisted Paul & I come to her home and she hosted us to a beautiful lunch. She had the table set beautifully, with fresh fresh buns and lunch meats and condiments, lettuce, tomatoes… And she was so inviting and so happy we went to her home. Your Mom was such an incredible classy lady with a knack for great shopping deals. I can see your mom right now in her long slim skirt and her stylish sweaters. She looked fabulous, loved being dressed up but always was patient to wait for the bargains! And she would wait! Your Mom was kind, gentle, genuine, incredibly proud, very private but would let me in on knowing her hardships in her life. She was my Confidant, my “go to person” for everything. She was always objective, but straight forward. She was smart, independent and just a real good person that I was so privileged to mentor in the workplace and luckily enough to have developed our friendship that will always hold a place in my heart forever. I would always acknowledge her birthday and here we are today/yesterday all we have is our beautiful memories of her… I miss her dearly and I know she would be so so happy knowing I met you Anita. I have been given a gift if a sista from your Mom. And as a result you have provided my mom & I with treasured memories forever. Thank you Val! Love you forever…. “

 

 

2016-02-01_0004.jpgWords seem so inadequate to describe my Mom. So this is why #leapfear emerged. This is my tribute. To use her voice, even in her death, to inspire us to move past our fear and to live our lives as they were meant to be.