We are Family

My Uncle Emil died last week. “He had 88 great years, one bad week,” was the family refrain as we laid him to rest on Monday. Funerals are such bittersweet occasions, aren’t they? They are full of happy memories of time shared with our loved ones and sadness for the reality that we will no longer share hugs and kisses. This funeral and family gathering was no exception…and it was so much more. I am blessed that I was able to reconnect with some family members that I had not seen in more than 17 years—some even longer. Even though much time and distance had separated us, Emil brought us all together again: children, grandchildren, cousins, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews and friends. In an instant, I was welcomed into the family fold. I was aware of the love and history that bind us.

Our family patriarch, Milos, came to this country from Croatia in the early 1900s. He married my grandmother, Frances, and together they had four children: Mildred, Michael, Emil and Thomas. Thomas—Tommy—was the youngest, and my father. He was the first of that generation to die. He was only 67. My grandmother, who we call “Bubbie,” outlived her baby boy. She cried, “God took the wrong one! It should have been me…” But God clearly had other plans. Bubbie lived to be 103. Her third child, Emil, was the last to go…and it is he who we honor and remember this week.

As I listened to each of Emil’s children share their memories of him…as I watched his eight grandchildren serve as his pallbearers, it struck me that we are all connected, whether we are related or not; whether we live in our bodies or in spirit; whether we were born in this country or another; whether we are alive now or lived in another century. We are all connected. We belong to the same family—the family of man. It’s been said that it is in our DNA to love and respect one another. Science—quantum physics—teaches that we are born to be community. We are born to be our brother’s keeper. If science didn’t bear this out, how would we know this is true? Here’s how: All we have to do is hear the stories of acts of kindness and compassion, and that part of our DNA is activated. Think back to the aftermath of 9-11 and seeing the stories of how people from all across our country—all across the planet—came together to help us heal and rebuild. More recently, when the earthquake and tsunami hit Japan, how did you feel when you saw the news stories? When you heard the stories of people helping people, of triumph or perseverance? You no doubt experienced a feeling in your heart. It’s that feeling that connects us to the community at large; that reminds us that we belong to a whole greater than who we are as individuals. And that feeling is all the more pronounced when we are with our family, given or chosen.

This is the legacy that Uncle Emil and his generation, and the generation before them, leave for us: A sense of deep contentment and deep connection for having belonged to them. A knowing that we belong to something far grander than the eye can see. It must be felt by the heart and communicated by the soul. This is what I felt and heard as I walked away from Uncle Emil’s grave site on Monday. As I passed by one tombstone after another that bore the names of my people—Kovacevic, Luketic, Verbanovic, Matalski—a deep and abiding pride swelled up inside me: These are my people. These people were good, hard working, loving, family driven. These people built this community and contributed to its success. These people are part of the fabric of our great nation. I am proud to belong to these people.


Please share your thoughts, insights and questions below. Your participation provides wisdom that all can benefit from. Thank you!

Denise Yamada © 12/2011


2 comments to We are Family

  • Janeen Kovacevic

    Dear Pappie…

    It makes me so sad to be writing this right now but it is comforting to know that you are up in heaven playing with Nonie and our family who can no longer be here with us today. As I drove home from work the night before you passed away, a light flickered above me about a minute from home. It was then that I knew Nonie was coming to get you to take you up there with her and all of our loved ones. Nonie is in the lights for me and one either comes on or goes off and I know she is there just helping me through. Now that you are no longer here for me to hug and hold your hand, one day soon I will figure out the how, the what, the where you are in my everyday. As my friend Jenn’s 10 year old daughter Riley wrote to me in a card on Thursday nite that read… He will always be in your… and drew a heart was such a comforting thing to me which is so true. Then I went upstairs to see her other three kids, Raegan one of the 4 year old twins super excited to see me… jumps up gives me the hugest hug and says to me.. your grandpa died today… I was like yeah hunnie he did.. and then Peighton the other twin as she is putting suction cup toothbrushes on the mirror turns around to me and goes… well.. he’s in heaven the sweetest way ever and turns back around and karate chops the toothbrushes off the mirror…………. It is just amazing how kids can just help you through anything and make you smile when you just feel like there is no way you are going to be ok!

    As I read through the 50th anniversary book, and listened to people talk yesterday, here are the things that stick out the most to me and everyone around and how you will be remembered…
    1. Your Pap Pap Hat and toothpicks
    2. Your little pencils and drawing of Big Chief Big Nose
    3. Your trips to the ice cream shop and to climb on the tank
    4. Your un ending amount of Stories
    5. Your Kielbasi Karate
    6. Your cheese, crackers, pepperoni, and pickle tray oh and who could forget the Kielbasi
    7. Your Old Guys Rule shirt and Old Milwaulkes Americas Best Tastung Beer
    8. Your sparkler can on the 4th of July
    9. Your full body shake of a laugh
    11. Your love for your family and friends
    12. Your fight til the end

    The following is one of my favorite poems which has been since my best friends since I was two’s Grandma passed away in 1999 which was printed on her Announcement Card which sits with all my friends and family cards who are no longer with us….clipped in my visor by my guardian angel in my car…

    Footprints in the Sand by…Mary Stevenson, 1936
    One night I dreamed I was walking along the beach with the Lord.
    Many scenes from my life flashed across the sky.
    In each scene I noticed footprints in the sand.
    Sometimes there were two sets of footprints,
    other times there was one only.
    This bothered me because I noticed that during the low periods of my life, when I was suffering from anguish, sorrow or defeat,
    I could see only one set of footprints,
    so I said to the Lord,
    “You promised me Lord, that if I followed you,
    you would walk with me always.
    But I have noticed that during the most trying periods of my life there has only been one set of footprints in the sand.
    Why, when I needed you most, have you not been there for me?”
    The Lord replied,
    “The times when you have seen only one set of footprints is when I carried you.”

    It is times like these where I really only have one set of footprints in my sand as well as a lot of other people. This is also when we learn to walk by faith and not by sight, learn to rely on the amazing friends and families that God has blessed us with, and learn to remember what Paul wrote to us in the book of Philippians…. chapter 4 verse 13 ” I can do all things through him who gives me strength”

    Dear God… Please give me and my family and friends the strength, endurance, and will power to be ok. It surely has been a rough couple of weeks and I just thank you for helping us through. Please be with Grammie and Pappie as they are no longer together in flesh but will be in each others heart for eternity. One day they will be together again but until then help Grammie to guard her heart, help her to remember all the reasons she loves Pappie, and help her feel how much she is loved and not alone. Please be with my family and friends near and far and keep them safe. Thank you for your many blessings. We will miss you Pappie… Love You! In your name I pray…

    Love Janeen

  • Chrissy Kovacevic

    Thank you so much for the wonderful tribute to my Dad. You were always great at putting into words such an amazing perspective on life, community and in rhis case, death. It was great seeing you and spending time with you. I miss you. Have wonderful Christmas and a Happy New Year

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