“When you suddenly grow sad,
Think of the songs and the people you love;
Think of pleasantries, joyous events,
And think of the friends you love.
Remember that the good have always been numerous,
And life has been protected through them…
When you suddenly grow sad…But why should you,
When there are so many things to remember?”
How do I begin to write about Murad—my husband, a father, a grandfather, a scientist, a lecturer, and an author.
As I look out of our kitchen window, a bright red cardinal perches on a branch of our crabapple tree near the rose bushes Murad had planted for me. I remember the day he smiled that irresistible smile of his and bemoaned good naturedly, “Oh, Knarik, I like roses too, but every time I mow the lawn I get pricked by them!”
I smiled back at my husband and took him by the hand to the largest of our rose bushes and said, “But look, Murad. Come closer. Smell this beautiful rose. Now touch its petals.”
“It smells so good and the petals are so soft,” he said with a smile.
“Now feel the leaves?”
“They feel good, so smooth,” he replied.
“And now touch the rest.”
“Oh, those thorns, those nasty thorns again!” he chuckled.
“But, Murad, isn’t this rose, just like life, so sweet and beautiful, but also painful at times?”
He looked at me and said thoughtfully, “I, the chemist, look at the rose one way, and you, the writer, another.” Then he wrapped his arm around my shoulders as we walked into the house.
After our “discovery” in the garden, Murad never again said, “Oh, those thorns!” Instead, from time to time, he would fill a vase with freshly cut roses from our garden and, whistling as he came into the house, place it on our kitchen table.
After meals, our kitchen table was a special place. It was where we each wrote, edited one another’s writings, read, and discussed a variety of topics. Since Murad was far better that I at sewing and mending, the kitchen table also became a tailor’s shop where expert and apprentice worked together. Whether at his place of employment or away from it, he tackled every one of his projects, no matter how large or small, with the same meticulousness. With soft classical or Armenian folk music playing, he worked with joy as he carefully measured, basted, then sewed. And when our children, now grown with families of their own, needed help with school assignments or science projects, it was the kitchen table where work was done. Later, it was the grandchildren who, occasionally, did their homework assignments at the very same table, often with their Babik’s (Grandpa) help. But for Aramik (Aram Dombalagian), as we called him, our grandson and son of our daughter Hasmik and son-in-law Vahe, it was the garage where he and his Babik would diligently, and for hours, work together making things out of wood. First, they would discuss, plan and design, then they would measure. Afterward, they would saw, drill, nail, hammer or pound with a mallet, file, glue, and clamp.
Not long ago, I asked Aramik, who was in a sad and pensive mood, “Aramik, balik (in Eastern Armenian, an affectionate term for a child), are you thinking about Babik?”
He nodded, then said, “Dadik (Grandma), I know why Babik had to go to heaven.”
“Because too many stupid people were dying and God said He was getting stupid, and brainwashed too, because of them. God needed a smart person to be with Him, so that’s why He took Babik to Heaven.”
A couple of days later, Aramik was in the garage busily sawing and hammering. He was quiet and subdued as he worked. When he finished, he announced, “This is for Babik!” He had made, all by himself, a wooden cross for Babik’s Resting Place, as we call his grave. Lately, I’ve noticed that every once in a while, Aramik whistles while working on something or when walking around the house or in the garden, just like his Babik used to do.
Sevana Dombalagian, our oldest granddaughter, told me not long ago, “Dadik, I have to tell you this story about Babik: A couple of years ago, when you were upstairs working on something and I was in the family room with Babik, I told him that I could do pushups, and he said, ‘Ok, Sevana, show me.’ I did just one—actually, I couldn’t go down all the way. Babik grinned, shook his head and waved his finger at me and said, ‘No, that’s not how to do pushups, Sevana. Let me show you.’ Babik did not do just one, but two, three, four, and stopped at ten, not because he was tired but to say, ‘Did you watch what I was doing? Now, try again.’ I tried, but still without success. Then with Babik’s help, I tried once again. Step by step, he showed me how to fix my form. Babik was such a good helper.”
Sevana’s younger sister, Taline, said, “I always liked the way Babik explained math homework problems whenever I couldn’t solve them on my own. It was so easy after he explained how to solve them. And, he always asked me what book I was reading. Also, I liked working in the garage with him. Babik let me work with his tools, just like he let Aram. Sometimes all three of us worked together. That was fun.”
Three-year-old Alina Meneshian, our youngest granddaughter and daughter of our son Sevan and daughter-in-law Anna, recently asked her parents as she took a break from playing with her baby brother Aris (often, when playing with her brother, she liltingly calls his name—Aristakes, the name of Murad’s father), “When is Babik coming back from Heaven?” The two of them, Alina and Babik, enjoyed playing “Hide and Seek” as Baby Aris watched and cooed in his playpen.
Wherever Murad went, he took the time to chat with people, and he always listened attentively to what they had to say. When someone spoke, whether a family member, a friend, an acquaintance, or a stranger, no matter whether it was a child or an adult, he listened attentively and with interest to what the person had to say. Now, when I go to the various places we used to frequent together people ask, “Where is your husband?” and I must respond, “He has passed away.”
Each time, the comments that followed the news were similar:
“I can’t believe it, I’m shocked!”
“What a great loss! I will miss him.”
“He had such intellect and was able to discuss so many subjects. I enjoyed talking to him.”
“He was always polite and nice.”
“He was neat and well-groomed.”
Even at home he was so, and he was orderly. When he gave lectures, people listened closely, and when he gave historical presentations to the youth at our church, they would say, “Baron (Mr.) Murad’s lectures are always interesting and we learn so much from him.”
It is still difficult for me, our family, and all who knew him, to believe that he passed away. Murad and I were together in our family room discussing the political events of the day when he suddenly raised his hands to his head and called out, “Oh, Knarik, I have a headache,” which he never got, and that was it—he was gone.
The moment I realized what had happened to Murad on that dreadful evening, I quickly called the paramedics. As I waited for them I gently stroked him, all the while reassuring him that he would be fine. That is what I believed because over the years I would sometimes say to him during our evening walks and discussions about life, “Murad, when you are 112 and I am 100, and it’s our time, holding hands, we will go together.” How he would smile, squeeze my hand, and say, “That sounds so good!”
At the hospital, they could do nothing for Murad except to put him on life-support until our oldest son, Raffi, could fly in from the West Coast to be with us. I told all the doctors and nurses who took care of Murad, “You will treat my husband with Respect, Kindness, and the Greatest of Care!” The reason I said this was because years earlier we had visited an elderly person in the hospital and Murad said, “I hope we never see the day when we too are treated the way some of these elderly people are being treated, especially the way they are talked down to, as if they are children and don’t know anything. It pains me that they are treated in such a manner.”
“That day will never come because I will make sure that you are treated the way you deserve to be treated,” I whispered to him.
And he replied, “I know you will.”
The doctors and nurses at Glenbrook Hospital in Glenview, Illinois, were very good and treated Murad with great respect, kindness, and the best of care. They even welcomed our friends, doctors Gary Artinian and Kathy Papazian, who were not on staff, to stay with us and consult with them.
The Armenian doctors and the hospital doctors said there was not a glimmer of hope that Murad would recover, so on Oct. 11, 2016, with clergy, family, and friends at his side, special prayers were said by our pastor, Very Reverend Father Ghevont Pentezian (Armenian All Saints Apostolic Church, Glenview, Ill.), and by Reverend Father Hovhan Khoja-Eynatyan (St. James Armenian Church, Evanston, Ill.), before life-support was removed.
After Father Ghevont’s prayers and deep condolences, he left to officiate at the funeral of a community member. Present earlier at Murad’s bedside were retired priest, Reverend Zareh Sahagian (Armenian All Saints Apostolic Church), and Deacon Levon Kirakosyan (St. James Armenian Church).
After life-support was removed, family and friends returned to Murad’s room as Father Hovhan again said special prayers for him. Earlier, the doctors had explained that after the removal of life-support, Murad would briefly breathe on his own, but for how long there was no way of knowing. With all of us gathered around Murad, and Sevan holding his cell phone (which was softly playing Armenian music) next to his father’s ear, within a short while he was still. I turned to Father Hovhan and asked, “Murad’s soul is in Heaven now, isn’t it?” Somberly, the kind priest nodded. Each one of us said our final goodbye’s, all the while either kissing him, hugging him, or squeezing his hand. After everyone left the room, the hospital doctors and nurses came in one last time to examine Murad. As they gently performed their final examination, I said, “Doctors, nurses, I wish you could have known my husband.”
They responded, “Watching you, your family, the clergy, and all the people that have been at his side day and night from the moment he was brought to the hospital, and never leaving him alone, we know he was a great man.”
Each of them—kind and caring doctors and nurses—with somber faces, gently stroked Murad’s face and chest as they said their goodbyes. The room was now silent. It was just the two of us, and it was 4 o’clock—our tea time. I stroked and kissed my husband and whispered, “Murad, let’s have one last cup of tea, and walnuts, figs, and dates before it’s time to go.” Weeping as I uttered the words, I wondered, how does one say “goodbye” to one’s everything?
I hugged my husband, then gently opened his eyes to look at them one last time. I caressed and kissed his face and hands and feet, and then I bowed to him and said, “Thank you, my love! Thank you for sharing your life with me, our family, our community, and all who knew you!” It was not only in death that I thanked him, but throughout our years of marriage. How can one not thank such a person? He was 32 and I was 20 when we married, and we had a fairy-tale marriage of 48 years. If I had a thousand years with Murad, it would not be enough.
Still caressing Murad’s arm and then his hand as I sat down, I noticed that the warmth and brightness of the sun had filled the room. I began reminiscing about our last trip to Armenia just a few months earlier. It was a lovely June evening in Yerevan. We were strolling down Nalbandyan Street to the Opera House and, as usual, talking about all the things we were yet going to do. Some of the things being that on our next trip to Armenia, we were going to once again visit Artsakh, where Murad was going to participate in the excavation of a cave; Meghri; Gyumri; and Javakhk, Georgia.
We were also going to spend a longer time in Oshakan, a fascinating village in the Aragatsotn Province of Armenia, and the nearby Didikond Hill, where excavations have “uncovered a fort and five palaces built around the 7th and 5th centuries B.C.”
Murad was keenly interested in the archaeological excavations in Armenia and Artsakh, and the Armenian DNA project—subjects he planned to write about. As someone whose relatives had come from Sepastia, he donated a sample of his blood to the project. Reflecting on those splendid days—two full months—in Armenia, I suddenly remembered the day he came home from the public library and joyously announced, “Look, I have an Armenian library card! Now I can begin my research on my favorite topics.”
As I thought about that memorable day and all the other ones in Armenia, I whispered to him, “Do you remember that walk to the Opera House and what I said to you? I said, ‘Murad, do you know that ours was an arranged marriage?’ and you chuckled and replied, ‘Oh, really, how is that?’ And I said, ‘God arranged it.’”
During Murad’s stay in the Intensive Care Unit of the hospital, a special room reserved for grieving family members (this time it had our name on it), was transformed into a beautiful dining room with carefully ironed tablecloths on two tables filled with a variety of sandwiches, cookies, snacks, and hot and cold drinks. Dr. Papazian, an ER physician in the Chicagoland area for twenty-five years, said, “In all my years of practice, I have never seen such a lovely and thoughtful thing.”
At the wake, which was held at our church (the Armenian All Saints Apostolic Church), a gathering followed in the church hall. Father Ghevont, Raffi (our son), Vahe (our son-in-law), Artin Dermenjian, and Greg Bedian (member of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF)—of which Murad was a life-long member—Central Committee), and I spoke about Murad—the quiet, gentle, soft-spoken, humble gentleman, who said little but did much—and about his accomplishments. Father Ghevont’s stirring eulogy, spoken from the depths of his heart, was beautiful. “In the short time that I have served this community, I not only got to know Murad, but I saw what a remarkable person he was…,” the clergyman said.
Many people, both Armenians and non-Armenians, were in attendance at the wake. They came from near and far, and from the various Armenian churches in our area to pay their respects. A co-worker of Murad’s and fellow scientist said, “He was the best analytical chemist at Bell Labs/Lucent Technologies (now Nokia), and because of his expertise and thoroughness only he was assigned certain projects.” Some of the friends our children grew up with, who now have families of their own, said, “We can’t believe that Bab (years ago, when they learned that in Armenian Bab means Dad, they too called him that) is gone. He was so nice and when we came over to your house both you and Bab always invited us to, ‘Eat, eat!’ and he always had a smile for us. In Murad’s coffin, I had placed a copy of the book he authored—Raffi: The Prophet from Payajuk, a Narekatsi prayer card in his hands, and the 100th Anniversary of the Armenian Genocide Forget-Me-Not pin on his lapel.
For the funeral service, I requested that Reverend Father Hovhan Khoja-Eynatian of St. James Armenian Church in Evanston, Illinois, Reverend Father Tavit Boyajian of Sts. Joachim and Anna Church in Palos Heights, Ill., and Reverend Jeremy Tovmassian of the Armenian Evangelical Church in Mt. Prospect, Ill., also join in the church service. Murad and I believed in supporting our various Armenian church communities. Father Ghevont graciously arranged the special request. Also, present at the service was the Armenian Catholic nun and Superior at the Our Lady of Armenia Convent and Orphanage in Gyumri, Armenia, Sister Arousiag Sajonian, who was recently elected Mother Superior of the Order of the Armenian Catholic Sisters of the Immaculate Conception (founded in 1847 in Istanbul, Turkey). She had been visiting her family in the U.S. when she heard the news of Murad’s sudden death. With her, she brought a Khatchkar (Armenian cross stone) to be worked into his headstone. Upon her return to Armenia, she and the other Sisters arranged a special prayer service in memory of Murad, and they and the orphans prayed for him.
After the poignant church service and before our journey to the cemetery, the funeral procession proceeded first to our neighborhood. Car after car briefly paused in front of our house, with the rose bushes Murad had planted still in full bloom, for a final farewell and glimpse at the house he described as “Home, Sweet Home.” From our street, the procession traveled to Chicago’s Irving Park Cemetery. When Father Ghevont finished the gravesite service and prayers, the Armenian flag—red, blue, and orange—was draped over Murad’s coffin.
Standing at one side of the coffin, I placed my hands on the draped flag, with the left on the ARF Emblem, as his fellow ARF members sang their song. Afterward, still standing next to his coffin (at Murad’s right side), I bowed, then moving to the foot of the coffin, bowed again, then making my way to the left side, bowed once again, and finally, stepping to the head of the coffin, I stood for a moment in silent prayer, made the sign of the cross on his coffin, then slowly raised my arms to heaven and whispered, “Murad, my love, I send you my heart so that you won’t be lonely,” and bowed one more time in reverence to my husband.
Soon after, a cemetery staff member approached me and asked, “May we now distribute the flowers to everyone to place on your husband’s coffin?”
“Yes, but first the red, blue, and orange flowers, and then the rest.”
It has been a few months now since Murad passed away, and it is still very hard, almost impossible, to accept the fact that never again will we see, hear, or touch him—this person who lit up a room with his sweet and tender smile and walked with a bounce in his step; who put others before himself, and who was kind, caring, and generous.
He was a person devoted to his family, the Armenian People and Nation, and his adopted country of the United States of America. As a husband, he was affectionate, thoughtful, helpful, and encouraging. Now, when I look around at our home and library filled with Armenian and English language books, newspapers, and periodicals we collected over the years; when I touch the things he made, among them the bookcases, the piano bench for our old upright, the quilt hanger, footstools, wood carvings, and picture frames; his handwritten notes of articles and another book he was preparing to write; the books he lovingly repaired and bound, and all the books and dust-jackets on books he covered with archival Mylar; the articles and his book, Raffi: The Prophet of Payajuk, and the book he was reading, Ur of the Chaldees, before he passed away, I feel his presence, especially when I look at his photos or run my hand over his favorite chair in the kitchen and the one in the family room.
His guitar is still where he left it, and so too his ukulele and harmonica. Sometimes in the evenings, he and I used to play our ukuleles. He would sing or whistle the melodies as we played our instruments. He had a wonderful singing voice and had always wanted to join a choir, but family and community obligations never permitted him such a luxury. Murad was the Building Committee Chairman of the Armenian All Saints Apostolic Church. For several years, he worked diligently, quietly, and without fanfare until the enormous and laborious task of building a church was completed. Finally, after years of renting facilities, our church community had a place of its own.
At times, people who knew Murad, would say, “I still can’t believe he is gone…,” or “Why Murad…? Ah, life is meaningless…!” These words, spoken with pained expressions, make me think even more about the meaning of life, and I realize that, for me, the meaning lies in both simple and special moments—moments such as our first encounter at an Armenian function in Chicago, where Murad had asked a friend of his to walk across the hall to ask me if I would dance with him (Murad), and my reply to his friend was, “I can’t give him an answer,” then pointing to my father talking to some friends, continued, “he will have to ask my father.”
After a few minutes, Murad walked over, shyly introduced himself to me and said, “Your father gave me permission to dance with you.” After the dance was over, he asked, “Would you like to go to the museum with me tomorrow afternoon? It’s supposed to be a nice day.”
“You’ll have to ask my father.”
And again, my father gave his consent.
As I reflect on that evening years ago, which seems like yesterday, a myriad of memories come to mind and I recall the times Hayrik (meaning “father” in Armenian, who was my dear father-in-law, Aristakes Meneshian) stood at this very window in our kitchen, where I now stand. Hayrik, who lived with us, would occasionally stand at the window and look out in deep thought, sometimes sighing softly. During such moments, I would wonder what it was he was thinking, remembering?
He, just like Murad, was a quiet man with a sweet disposition. Aristakes and Anush, his wife, were both Armenian Genocide Survivors and forced to leave their beloved Sepastia, in Turkish-occupied Armenia. Suffering great losses and countless adversities, they eventually made a new life and home in Baghdad, Iraq. Aristakes Meneshian, who had been a teacher in his village of Govdoon, later became a Fedayee (freedom fighter) and fought, with fellow Armenians, for his people and homeland. At the age of nine, Murad’s mother passed away, leaving behind her husband, daughter, and three sons—Haygouhi, Zohrab, Gaytsag, and Murad, who was the youngest. Always a good and serious student, at the age of 20, Murad’s father sent him to America to further his education. In America, Murad was well prepared for higher education studies because of the rigorous curriculum offered both in English and Arabic by the Fathers at the Jesuit school he attended in Baghdad. Eventually, Murad’s entire family emigrated to the United States of America, where they became U.S. citizens.
Years later, when Hayrik passed away, and Murad’s sister Haygouhi (Haygoush for short), moved to a warmer climate, for she too lived with us, Murad would once in a while stand in front of the kitchen window and look out in deep thought. “You’re thinking of your father, aren’t you, Murad?” and he would nod. Now, it is I who stand at the window and look out, my heart heavy with grief and tears streaming down my face. I think, Like father like son—two great Armenian men, who were able to accept, with grace and dignity, all that life offered them—at times inordinate adversities coupled with loss and sorrow; at times hardships tempered with joys and accomplishments. They, in turn, offered love, kindness, wisdom, and knowledge.
As I continue looking out of our kitchen window, I realize that before too long the trees that Murad planted will begin to bud and the grass he mowed with such care will turn green once again. The pine shrubs he planted a few years ago, are already tall and full. The shingled, wooden shed he built many years ago, still looks mighty fine. Before he built the shed, in that same spot stood a colorful, wooden sandbox, which he had made and painted for our children when they were young. He also made two wooden birdhouses for the largest of our crabapple trees. Soon, the crocuses, daffodils, hyacinths, tulips, and lilies of the valley, followed by the peonies, will bring sweetness to the air and color to the drabness that now prevails. As I have every year, I will cut a handful of flowers, place them in a vase, and put them on the kitchen table and say, “For you, Murad!” It was my special ritual to collect the first spring flowers for him. I look forward to the awakening from winter’s deep slumber the rose bushes Murad planted, for they and their heady, sweet, fragrance will be filled with memories of him.
As I glance at every corner of the garden we both nurtured over the years, where our children and their friends played, where we had celebrations complete with Armenian dance music, I realize even more the importance of observing traditions and customs, and honoring our Armenian heritage. Not only do they help us to become the people we are, but they also teach, inspire, guide, and give us strength. In addition, during times of extreme difficulty, as when one loses a loved one, our heritage and faith are a great source of comfort. Both the Armenian Church and the Armenian Community are sources of comfort, inspiration, and strength—comfort emanating from ancient church rituals and prayers, inspiration from the words spoken by caring and compassionate clergymen, and strength from those who have walked the arduous and painful path of loss.
The Most Reverend Mikael Mouradian, Bishop of the Armenian Catholic Eparchy of the United States and Canada, and His Eminence Archbishop Khajag Barsamian, Primate of the Armenian Eastern Diocese of the Armenian Church in America, offered their deep condolences when learning of Murad’s death—the former by phone, and the latter personally (when His Eminence was in Chicago for an event), followed by a touching letter. His Eminence Archbishop Oshagan Choloian, Prelate of the Armenian Apostolic Church of the Eastern United States, offered his deep condolences through our clergyman Father Ghevont, and by a letter. It is from church clerics, as well as from members of the various Armenian communities, that we learn much, particularly when we get to know and understand one another. It is because of this—the getting to know one another—that our lives were greatly enriched.
Not long ago, Professor Richard G. Hovannisian presented a lecture at the Armenian General Benevolent Union (AGBU) Center in Chicago, dedicating it to Murad.
During these trying days, weeks, and months, as I sit and reflect from time to time, I find solace in the words the clergymen said to me. Father Hovhan, who was with us all three days we spent at the hospital with Murad, prayed with us, sat with us, and talked to us. Shortly after his final prayer for Murad, I asked, “Der Hayr (meaning a married priest), What do I do now? Murad and I were always together; we did everything together.”
Solemnly, he answered, “Narekatseen garta (read Narekatsi [Prayer Book by St. Gregory of Narek—b. circa 950, d. 1003]).” It was the Narekatsi book cover (from the book we brought back from Armenia when we were there in 1975) that I had made into prayer cards for Murad’s funeral.
Bishop Mouradian said, “Remember that Murad is always with you…” and added that he would be having a special prayer service in memory of him.
Father Tavit explained, “It will take a year before you begin to feel better because during this first year everything will be a first time without Murad…”
Father Ghevont said, “Take care of yourself and make sure you eat well…” At times, when I am very sad, Father Ghevont reminds me of the happy moments Murad and I shared with him. The other day, he said, “Deegeen (Mrs.) Knarik, remember the day when the three of us sat right here, in your house, and we had such a wonderful time…?”
His Eminence Archbishop Barsamian said with gentleness and empathy, “You mentioned that Murad was your treasure—that is what marriage is all about… The tears you shed are tears of love,” and he said a prayer for him.
As I reflect on what these clergymen from the various churches and of various ranks said, and the caring, compassionate, and comforting manner in which they expressed them, I cannot help but feel that they are indeed Shepherds of our Nation, and my family and I are thankful.
Thankful too are we to the Glenview Paramedics, the staff at Glenbrook Hospital, the efforts of the Armenian All Saints Apostolic Church Ladies Guild, the many meals provided and delivered every two days by friends and acquaintances over the span of three weeks, the numerous flowers, cards, phone calls, words of comfort and acts of kindness offered by so many people, including the Hairenik Association, and the thoughtful and generous In-Lieu-Of-Flowers donations to the Armenian DNA Project in Armenia, the ANCA (Armenian National Committee of America) Endowment Fund, and the Armenian All Saints Apostolic Church in Glenview, Illinois.
Now that fall is behind us, and winter too, the signs of spring are everywhere—in the chirping of the birds, the budding trees, the emerging plants, and longer days and brighter skies. I think back to all the New Year’s Eve “celebrations” Murad and I spent together at home, and our special ritual. I would prepare a table for two with bread, cheese, aboukht (a dried, spiced meat), and olives; walnuts, raisins, figs, and dates; chocolates and homemade cake; Armenian wine and brandy, followed by toasts to each other, our family, our nation, and wishes of happiness, good health, and long life to all. I am reminded of the times over the years I told my husband, including on New Year’s Eve, “Murad, you make my heart leap with joy when I look at you!” and he would respond by reaching for my hand, holding it tenderly, and then bringing it close to his heart as he smiled that beguiling smile of his. What greater joy and fortune can there be?
“…Light, three in one, indivisible light,
We who are of earth, along with those
In your heavens, glorify you.”
Catholicos of Armenia—1166 to 1173