My mother returned to her adopted homeland, the United States, from the reburial of her father, mother, and sister relieved and contented that she, the eldest daughter, had met her father's last hope, but she herself did not live long after that. She died on June 6, 2001, at her home, in her bed, in her sleep succumbing to the ravages of heart failure, diminished by the stomach cancer which slowly robbed her body of its strength, her lively mind ebbed by the medication. Her funeral was attended by family from Alaska, California, Canada, Illinois, and Virginia. Our eldest daughter, Daiva, read this eulogy in her own father's name:
I am Robert Worthington, the husband of Laima's daughter, Svaja. I am neither Lithuanian nor related to Laima by blood, but if I were either I would be very proud of the connection with this extraordinary woman.
We all have different memories of her. I can only write as I remember. She was small, but she had great energy and physical stamina; she was quiet and retiring, but not shy. She could sit in a corner but still fill the room with her personality. To me she was kind and gracious and there was always a subtle twinkle of good humor in her eyes. She was an absolutely modest person. Outside her immediate family she would never mention the great power and prestige of her family's past, and she was uncomfortable if anyone else did. She would say, "no one is interested in all that."
She was born into a charmed world which is now long gone and will never come again. And she lived through terrible times which we hope will never come again. As a small child she lived in the comfort and complete security of her father's beloved estate.
To her he must have seemed the most powerful man in the world. And indeed he was a very great man who would fit well in the company of the greatest ever. He was noble in the highest sense of the word. He lived absolutely to duty, honor, family, country. He had that quality which the best of the Roman patricians respected most and which they called gravitas.
Laima grew up in a home where important and beautiful things happened. It was a meeting place for statesmen, artists, poets, writers, musicians, singers, and scholars. This was a family with high and wide ranging ideals: tireless work for the independence and governance of the nation, serious scholarship, whole hearted support of the arts, and unfailing love of family.
So she grew up, married and started a family of her own in this wonderful place. And then the communists came, and then the nazis, and the communists again. Her parents and a sister were taken away forever to do slave labor in the Siberian camps, her other sisters scattered. She and her husband and their tiny children had to run and hide and run again and again for years through the worst war in human history.
The daily, never ending fear this young mother must have felt, not only for her children but for her parents and sisters, is unimaginable. To weaken, or become ill, or mentally depressed under such pressure would mean disaster. The fact that they survived means they remained strong and resourceful and carried the banner of FAMILY in their hearts.
After the immediate dangers of the war were past, there were still years of insecurity and uncertainty in the DP camps, altogether years and years of great stress before the family was safe in the United States. But Laima still couldn't rest easy. There were more years of anguish over her missing father, mother and sister, years of writing unanswered letters to the Soviets, and trying in every way she could think of to find out what had happened to them.
Laima didn't see her home again for over half a century. And all had been destroyed. Her mother and sister had died of abuse and neglect in the camps. But her father had lived through long years of slavery thinking that his life's work, his country, his home, and his family had all been destroyed. That he never gave up is one of the noblest things I have ever heard of. And Laima was in every way his daughter. While she always felt the pain of all the great losses in her life, she nevertheless made the best of what she had. She survived and she prevailed.
Finally, near the end of her own life, knowing of her father's written forlorn hope to be buried with her mother and sister in Ilguva near their home, Laima began to do everything in her power to honor her father's fervent wish. At first, she and her husband Mykolas encountered unexpected resistance to their efforts, but with much perseverance, on their second trip to Lietuva in 1999, when Laima was 87 and Mykolas 91, they accomplished what was for Laima one of the most cherished achievements of her life: not only were her father, mother and sister re-interred on the land where they had spent the happiest years of their lives, but it was done with the highest respect and honor the Lithuanian nation could provide.
The people of Lithuanian understood the importance of this reburial. Hundreds lined the route of the funeral cortege; there were masses and ceremonies, speeches by high ranking government officials, military honors, and deepest respect from a people who remember their past as they honor their heroes and in so doing, bring dignity and honor to the present.
So near to the end of her own life, Laima could feel content that she had done all she could for her father and her country. This was more than a funeral: it was a remembrance of a freedom once gained through great effort, a sadness for what might have been and for all the lost years and lost lives, and a continuing hope and resolve for the new freedom.
She lived long and well; she got to hold her grandbabies and their babies. Though petite, she was so physically strong that she was never really ill in her whole life, thus she had no experience or patience with being bedridden as she was toward the end. She wasn't afraid of death but was angry and frustrated because she couldn't get up and do things. Even though she lived far away from us, it was always comforting to know that she was there, busily taking care of her tiny estate, her plants and her flowers.
Her hands were strong and full of the busy-ness of life. They loved to do things for her family and to be taken for granted because they would always be there and they would always be busy. But their grip has weakened and one day life slipped away.
half a century Lietuva was the land of her dreams and her memories of her
youth and her joy. She always loved her home country and longed for it.
Now she can return forever to that soil which holds a thousand generations
of her people.
In June 2004, when Mykolas was 96 and ½, he said he wanted to return to Lietuva ( Lithuania) “until the end.” His Laima had died 3 years ago and he was lonely, but he did not want to move to Alaska or California to live with his many grand-children where he was always welcome. He wanted to remain at home, in Lyons, Illinois. In October 2004 he traveled to Vilnius and eventually resided at the Gerontology and Rehabilitation there. He was visited by younger friends who took him on excursions to the bank or candy store or kept company with him talking about current events and events of the past. According to Kate, wife of grandson Aras, and granddaughter Gaja who visited him in January 2005, he was positively jolly, in good health, and had even gained weight. He did not seem lonely there.
On May 19, 2005, getting out of bed in the morning, he became entangled in the bedclothes, fell, and broke his hip. He survived the surgery and the night, but he died the following morning just 24 hours after the accident. His death brought grief to all his progeny who mourned the loss of their standard bearer. He wanted to live to be a hundred, and had it not been for the fall, he probably would have. He lies buried with Laima at Ilguva near the family home, Misiunai, in the same grave with Stasys Silingas, and Silingas’ father, wife, and two daughters. These are words of his family about him—Dedukas, Grandfather and Tevelis, Father.They were read at the funeral in Ilguva in the Worthington family’s name by family friend Danielius Sadauskas who spent more time with Mykolas in Vilnius than anyone else and who said “We grew to love this dear old man”—Tevelis Mykolas, as he called him.
From Daiva, first grand-daughter: “We can all take comfort in knowing that he lived his own life, did what he wanted to do, and was able to make and execute his own decisions until the end. He was strong and always able to find happiness, no matter how bleak the circumstances, and we can all learn from his example and aspire to be like him in so many ways. And I’m so glad that Stefan spent time with him at an age that he was old enough to remember him.”
From Stefan, great-grandson, son of Daiva: “He was cool.”
From Gajus, grandson: “A bright light has gone out. But his radiance kindled many other beacons, including my own, I wish he could have met my unborn son, who will know of his great grandfather and what an inspiration he has always been for me. I hear his gentle admonishment often—‘Gajus, you live in a golden time, and so you are a golden child. Do not waste it, and remember others before you who were not so fortunate. Honor them by accomplishing things they could not attempt.’ Goodbye, dear Dedukas.”
From Jami, Gajus’ wife: “I’m happy for him that he got to spend his last days in his homeland that I know he missed so much. I will always remember his happiness and unwavering spirit, and I hope his wonderful traits will pass on to our son. I know he and Baba will watch over us always.”
From Aras (grandson) with Cheers and Love: “We all mourn the loss of Dedukas but are thankful that we knew him well and that while we knew him, his health, morale, and mind were excellent….In telling Kate of his wishes Dedukas joked in his usual cheerful way that he was so popular he had to divide himself up into thirds…he apparently found great humor in this!”
From Kate (wife of Aras): “Emilija, (4 year old great-granddaughter) when I told her that we now could not play on the lawn with Dedukas in Lithuania, fired back “’Well, he’s in Heaven!’”
From Monty Mykolas (grandson): “I am blessed in having my memories of him at his best with his smiling eyes and quirky wit always ready to engage the world. It is wonderful and a testament to his strength and conviction that he was able to bring himself full circle in returning to his homeland where it seems he was cheerful and content through the last of his days. Though his physical being passed on, the spirit that he brought into the world lives on in someway through everyone he knew, and I know for myself at least, that the spirit of Mykolas that lives through me has made me and my world the better for it. Though we will never see him breathing again in this life, he will live on in our memories, dreams, and through each of us who has been lucky enough to have known him. For my part I am proud to carry on his legacy in spirit and in name.”
From Nora (granddaughter) with Love: “I know you [mom] would have liked to have been with him, but he was in his home country, where he wanted to be.”
From Gaja (youngest granddaughter): “He was happier than I’d seen him in years last January in Lithuania. It feels like the end of an era. I loved his laughter.”
From Aidas (youngest grandson): “Dedukas was a man from a different land, different generation…that old one that doesn’t get much of a voice these days…honest, consistent, good humored, no regret. We are all so lucky to have known that fine man. Thank you Dedukas.”
From Montana(great-granddaughter, daughter of Aras and Kate): “This is a very sad time for me. He was a very good man. I only wish that I could have seen the smile on his face one last time before time ran out.”
From Svaja, daughter: “He was a quiet Didvyris—a Hero--who never shirked whatever painful duty was thrust on him. Now I see him with A+A Mamyte Laima. I see them in the lovely fields of Misiunai among the lilacs--young, beautiful, happy, reclaiming the life they loved so much.”
From Bob, (husband of Svaja): “From childhood he knew unrelenting hardship; he had no opportunities except those he forced out of life through his own effort. And yet he educated himself well and made a good life for his young family before the war shattered all. Then all of his ingenuity, integrity, and courage were put to the most extreme test for years until he finally brought his family and others through the storms to a calm and safe shore. He was unable to return to the land of his fathers for over half a century, but now he is back and he will remain there forever.”
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