By Nancy Kalajian, JoAnn Janjigian, and Lisa Stepanian Ortiz
Disabled but never limited, Haig Karakashian lived a good life—one filled with the joy of others, hope for tomorrow, and faith in God. Much of his joy came from church fellowship and the company of friends and relatives who knew him as “Haigie.” He took such interest in the lives of others asking, “When is our next Sunday School reunion? How’s New York, Lisa? Did you go to Times Square for New Years?” or commenting, “I miss my friends at the Armenian Nursing Home.” From one encounter to the next, Haig remembered you, your family, and your hometown; he was humble with an engaging manner and sense of humor. Haigie’s death on June 21, was a deep loss to the community.
Many former Sunday School students from St. James Armenian Church in Watertown, Mass., shared warm memories of their classmate. “Haigie was an active member of our Sunday School and always encouraged us to have a reunion. He loved Chinese food. We took him out to lunch at a Chinese restaurant for one reunion,” said Stefanie Madanian. “I remember Haigie visiting with his grandparents across the street from where I grew up on Dartmouth Street in Watertown. My mom quite often made Chinese food for Haigie and until his passing, he referred to her as ‘Mary Hung Dung.’”
Eddie Kalajian recalled Haigie’s warm personality and fantastic memory. “Whenever I saw him, he’d go through a litany of incidents that happened, people we knew. We’d always laugh about it. His enjoyment of life was deep. Long ago, we’d see him in Mamomet. Our cottage was at the Idelwild Hotel and we’d see him there. He never forgot people and enjoyed talking about them all the time.” Lena, Eddie’s wife, adds, “He had a good heart with will power. He focused on the positive.”
Fred Johnston, Haigie’s godson, recollects, “I remember sitting on the front porch of their Belmont Street home. The women were in the kitchen and the men on the porch. Haigie had this incredible memory. We’d ride the street cars together and he’d later always ask me about that.”
Cornelia Cassidy Koutoujian recalled that Haigie always connected to her Irish heritage. “He called me Aunty Connie. He always wanted Irish bread. He would point out his ring with a green stone.” Haigie was always proud of the accomplishments of his cousin, Sheriff Peter Koutoujian.
During the past four years, Haigie lived at a residence in Waltham and developed a special bond with his caretakers and fellow residents. Philip Millner, Director of Metro Residential Services, shared his admiration for Haigie and his strong advocacy skills. “He was on the self-advocacy committee (MRS Speaks Out) and was active and outspoken. He’d follow up. He cared about everyone. He grabs and holds your heart and doesn’t let go.” said Mr. Millner during a warm celebration of Haigie’s life that was held at his residence after the wake and funeral.
Proud of his family’s Armenian origins, Marash in particular, Haigie held sacred many special family heirlooms including a Kevork Samuelian family tree tracing the family’s roots to Marseille in the 1800’s. Indeed, during the Waltham gathering, many cousins and friends looked with great interest at these remembrances, which Haigie lovingly kept in perfect condition. Haigie was a true Marashtsee, raised by beloved parents, Hovsep and Lucy Karakashian. He and his brother, Armen, enjoyed a caring home, in which there were many Armenian delicacies of his Mom’s, particularly his favorite Khurabia. Haigie always relished news of the local Marashtsee community, as a way of keeping connected.
Reflecting on his sharp memory, local priests recall the days when Haigie lived at the Armenian Nursing & Rehabilitation Center in Jamaica Plain and actively participated in many special liturgical events. Whenever they would meet, Haigie made a strong impression on Fr. Arsen Barsamian, pastor at St. James Armenian Church in Watertown. During the Blessing of the Water, Haigie was the Godfather of the Cross year after year. “He knew about so many things. We were astonished by his interests and mental acuity,” said Father Antranig Baljian of St. Stephen’s Armenian Church in Watertown who participated at Haigie’s funeral at St. James Armenian Church with Fr. Arsen Barsamian and Fr. Arakel Aljalian, his spiritual brothers.
A true believer, Haigie worshiped at St. James Armenian Church and loved the Armenian community there. Fr. Arakel admired Haigie’s faith. “He was willing to attend church services as often as he could, with all his difficulties. He wanted to have a blessing from the clergy.” He participated in many field trips to Church events, eager to see his many friends.
JoAnn and Dick Janjigian and their family included Haig in many of their holiday celebrations, especially Thanksgiving dinners. “Whenever we had him for Thanksgiving, he would always ask if he could come for Christmas. He was always thinking ahead,” said Dick. At the Armenian Nursing and Rehabilitation Center, Haig and JoAnn would play dominos, at which he was very skilled.
Haig’s life was lived with joy and love for others, a heart without pretense or envy. No one speaks of his limitations or sufferings because he never mentioned them. His faith, gratitude and contentment leave an important legacy to all the communities that he touched. With a wave of his hand, Haigie would call friends over, share a kiss or handshake, leaving enduring memories.
His friends, Bob and Lisa Stepanian Ortiz from New York City, remembered Haigie in this Memorial to Haigie Karakashian (read during his funeral service):
“We were sad to hear of Haigie’s passing but more than that, we are so grateful to have had such meaningful visits with him. When infirmity befell him in March, we prayed for him and spoke to him about the Lord. It was clear that Haigie had a living faith. We hadn’t realized before that, in his broken body, was a vibrant love for God.
Bob and I had so much pleasure in subsequent visits, which included his longtime friend Adrienne. With time of prayer, worship songs, and encouragement from God’s Word we truly had ‘church’ going on! And believe me, they know the words to the sharagans and prayers…and they know when you mess up!
Our last visit earlier this month was very special. After a time of singing and praying, I felt encouraged to read from Matthew 25, about the 10 maidens awaiting the arrival of the Bridegroom (Jesus). Yes, the Lord is coming back, are we prepared? Are we ready to meet Him when we leave this world? We talked about heaven, salvation, and the promise of a receiving a new body for eternity. Another resident, wheelchair bound, inched his way in to join us. It was such a blessed time, we really sensed the Lord’s presence.
Haigie’s love for God was evident and a true testimony of living faith. In spite of longsuffering, he was ready to worship and expressed his love for Jesus Christ. Haigie was a true believer whose faith greatly encourages us.
It will be a joy to worship the Lord with Haigie one day in God’s Kingdom.”