If I Had to Write Your Obituary


November 26, 2014 by Katia

“Today I lost my great aunt, Dr. Nina Mikhoels, my Ninulya, who helped raise me as though I was her own and it feels like one of my protective battlements is down.”

I wrote on my Facebook wall. And it felt feeble.



Ninulya is my first and now I know what it feels like. A battlement is down and I am slightly more exposed to the elements for it. The wind blows colder against my skin, harsh words penetrate deeper.

Then Tali emailed me and said:

“It’s hard for me to imagine this. Dying is the opposite of her. She’s all fire and pillars of smoke”.

Fire and pillars of smoke. My auntie – perfectly summarized

Then Anya added:

Despite living through events that could’ve turned anybody into a skeptical human-hater, Ninulia had the largest heart and the most generous spirit. She had an immense ability to be positive, to believe in the good of people and her heart was full of kindness and acceptance. She was very funny. Her art was her passion and she worked hard well into her 80s. Anyone who met her couldn’t help but feel respect for, and awe of her. She will be missed by hundreds of her students, and by all her friends.

And once again my closest friends captured the essence of her and THIS so much better than I did.


I’ve had numerous imagined conversations with her in the last few days when she was slipping in and out of consciousness and one actual conversation, if you can call the one-sided choked up transatlantic-via-cellphone-speaker uttering of a few sentences a conversation. So many things I said to her in my mind that I could never have said out loud because they sound too much like ‘goodbye’:

Thank you for everything you’ve ever done for me – big and small, as there is no real distinction between the two categories anyways, right?

(and in my head you respond with that cheerful, high pitched “Haha” laugh which is actually a statement of pure conviction that life can be good if we just decide to make it so.)

Thank you for taking it upon yourself to play soccer outside with Petya, who was two years younger than me and teased and taunted my ten-year-old self as our house guest for a month, and I was genuinely convinced that it was his sole purpose on earth to mock me and drive me insane, and you, a woman well into her late 50s, were my ally and when things got too tense, you’d challenge him to a game of soccer. Against you.

Thank you for playing the eternal optimist to our pessimism and cynicism. It must have been exhausting at times.

Thank you for holding rehearsals with your students in our apartment when it was your turn to watch me while my leg was broken during that summer of 1989.

Thank you for trusting me with an orchid.

You got that for me for my university graduation.

Thank you for remembering my wedding anniversary and sending flowers and thank you for continuing to do so by sending them to my mom after I moved countries.

Hey, remember how when I was an undergraduate student you bought me that double CD of the Phantom of the Opera? Could you hear me singing the famous duet you loved so much when I was walking home from work after being released earlier today?

I remember childhood summers spent in your apartment – home to rescued furniture and cats – and drinking water with sugar through a glass straw with a tiny spoon that had a hole at its end that you used to stir the sugar in with. I remember the magic trick you would perform for me when you inhaled from a cigarette then blew the smoke into an empty bottle of alcohol (was it dark green?) and a smoke ring would form and slowly make its way up. I never did ask. Too late.

Do you know how much I enjoyed writing down your student assessments for you? It was a chance to experience you talk about a subject you were an expert in. No, I’m not referring only to theater, I mean people.

I never told you how amazing I found your ability to look at someone’s photograph and provide a spot on analysis of their personality. I’m sorry that talent was used up mainly on a slew of photographs of New Kids on The Block during my teen years.

There is so much I’m going to miss about you and if I talk about it it will all sound like a horrible cliche and would probably make you shrug in embarrassment, but I just can’t believe that no one will ask me ever again:  ну, как нашы герои? (“well, how are our heroes doing?” in reference to my boys).

You would probably find something comforting and pathos-deflating to tell me in response to that.

I bet you would so much better enjoy an obituary that said: survived by a bunch of stray furniture items and one (black) cat, an adoring niece, grand daughter and adored sister.

I think you would be happy to know that I am sad but not devastated. You used a lot of proverbs unapologetically, never worrying that they may sound cliche. I will do the same. I am sad but not devastated. The part of my soul which is you is still there. Yes, that soul is a little bit more exposed right now, but it will look ever more intently for affirmations of you. And it will find them in Ben’s intense facial expression and passionate stories. In cats and certain words like “dramaturge”. In stray furniture and blue bear.

You are a part of me forever.

31 thoughts on “If I Had to Write Your Obituary

  1. Sandy Ramsey says:

    Katia, I am so very sorry for your loss. This is so absolutely beautiful that I couldn’t help but cry a little for a woman I didn’t even know. What a brilliant picture you’ve painted here and I am positive your great aunt was so very much more. May she rest in peace and may you perhaps find some for yourself.

    • Katia says:

      Reading your comment this morning – the first or second one in, I believe – meant so much to me this morning, Sandy. You are absolutely right. Telling people at work, where I’m not really known as I’ve just started a month ago I had to explain: “my great aunt…” and it almost felt like I was diminishing her importance. She was so much more. Thank you for pointing it out.

  2. mamalisa4 says:

    This was beautifully written and very touching. I am so very sorry for your loss. Now you have an angel you know by name.

    • Katia says:

      I keep coming back to your comment in my mind in the last day. Thank you so much for saying this. I am so so touched. xo

      • mamalisa4 says:

        Oh if I saw you I would hug you! Not in a weird creepy way, but in friend way because I have had some great people leave me too and I know its not easy. Please know, in your heart of heart that you will always be connected with her. Love is forever!!

      • Katia says:

        The past few days after Tuesday last week were a bit of a fog, yet some comments just gave me so much strength. Thank you so, so, so much for these wonderful words. I can’t tell you how much comfort I found in them.

  3. Sarah says:

    I’m so sorry. You’re right; it’s never the same. But what a beautiful obit–like you’re talking to her. She sounds like she was extraordinary.

    • Katia says:

      Thank you so much, dear friend! You’re right I wanted to talk to her for the last time. Or maybe not. Who knows, maybe these conversations never really stop. I’ve caught myself talking to her in my head a few times today 🙂 xoxo

  4. profiar says:

    Reblogged this on REFORMA EDUKATIVO-ARSIMORE and commented:
    postim i bukur

  5. Tearing up over here. What a wonderful tribute to such a remarkable person. I feel as if I knew her. I can’t but help believe that she is grinning over your comment that you are sad but not devastated. Surely she’d expect nothing less. Hugs Katia. Hugs.

    • Katia says:

      There’s a constant stream of thoughts flooding me today. I think of all the “nevers” the ways in which I didn’t perfectly capture her and didn’t do her justice and it means so much, Kelly, that you say you feel as though you knew her. Big big hugs to you, my sweet friend.

  6. lrconsiderer says:

    Not feeble, my friend. Just your reaction – your initial grief formed and poured out in the way you could manage at the time.

    I’m glad you’re not devastated, and I’m glad that you’re singing opera to her and seeing her face in Ben’s. I hope you continue to find ways to keep her alive in your heart.

    • Katia says:

      You are wise, my friend. And you are also the essence of a good friend, you’re always there. And you’re a presence. And you’re comforting. Hugs and kisses.

      • lrconsiderer says:

        I know little about grief, really – my time will come. But I know enough ‘recycled’ wisdom to understand that it doesn’t happen in the same way, or the ordered way, or the expected way, for everyone. And that responses are incredibly varied and take different lengths of time and waver back and forth in intensity and…just are entirely a law unto themselves.

        I’m here. I try to be, at any rate. I’m pleased you find me comforting *wrap-around hugs*

      • Katia says:

        I know. Right now I’m at the “I can’t believe my 89 year old very sick auntie died” (I know she would have laughed at this) stage. I caught myself saying “I can’t believe it”. I know there is no one size fits all way to mourn, I just hope that she knows how significant this is to me. xoxox

      • lrconsiderer says:

        She knows, my friend. She knows.

        Because you told her, even if you couldn’t find the words you thought would be better. She was nearly 90 and she was speaking to her Katia, who she helped to raise, nearly enough as her own.

        She knows.

      • Katia says:


        You’ve made my day.


  7. Robbie says:

    I am truly sorry for your loss. This is a beautiful post.

  8. A wonderful tribute to an amazing woman.

  9. Roshni says:

    Beautifully written. So very sorry for your loss, Katia!

  10. Kristi Campbell - findingninee says:

    My beautiful friend with the gorgeous soul, I am so so very sorry for your loss. I know how much she meant to you (she was in Our Land after all al well) and this is just incredible. I love it and you and through you, her. She loves this. I know that with all that I am and I wish you were able to deliver it in person. Hugs my sweets. And wrapping all of the comforts of her presence and the rest of ours around you now. xxoo

    • Katia says:

      I am just now going over the comments again and realizing that I haven’t responded to some of the ones that gave me most comfort. “She loves this” was precisely what needed to be said and heard that day. Thank you so much, my wonderful friend.

  11. זכרונה לברכה
    May your beautiful memories of your beloved great-aunt be for a blessing, dear Katia. And what memories they are!
    “Dramaturge” – fabulous word.
    Thinking of you. Sending love. And strength. xxx

  12. Oh Katia, I’m so sorry for your loss. She sounds like an amazing woman and your tribute to her is simply beautiful. I send you love and prayers!

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