Resilience and selflessness

Column by Allison Borthwick, Opinion Editor

You may not know me. You may not know anything about me. But you’re reading this column anyway, and at the end of it, you’ll know about two people who made me who I am. For me, right now, that is all that matters.

My name is Allison Marie Borthwick. My grandma’s name was Velia Marie Taneff, my aunt’s name was Lana Rae Taneff and I am in mourning.

This may seem like a eulogy in lieu of an opinion column, but this is my opinion: Velia and Lana Taneff were incredible women and everyone needs to know why. Their stories need to be told, and this short amount of space will do for now.

The details don’t matter at the moment – all I care to share is that these two people, who made me who I am, were taken from me and my family too soon. My grandma was 86 and my aunt was 63, and I don’t think their ages matter at the moment either – Jan. 17, 2016 would have always been too soon.

All that matters is that this world has lost significant, undeniable forces of resilience and selflessness.

When my grandma was giving birth to her daughter, Lana, the doctor had to use forceps to “assist” with the delivery – all that doctor did was harm my aunt for life. Initially and quite frankly, my grandma was told to leave her daughter in the hospital to die due to the complications of her birth.

If you didn’t know my grandma, imagine a petite Spaniard giving a doctor a death stare that would haunt him for the rest of his life, then storming out of that hospital with her daughter in her arms.

My grandma had my aunt get on the phone with that doctor years later so he could hear the voice of the girl he never thought would live long enough to speak.

My aunt was given another incorrect death sentence about 50 years later, when a doctor misdiagnosed the severity of her breast cancer. She survived that, too – with the help of my grandma and my mom.

They survived a lot together, because my grandma and aunt were a team in every sense of the word. They helped each other live, love and laugh and they did it all, together, under the same roof for 63 years.

To some, that may be odd – a daughter living with her mother her whole life. To my family, it just made sense.

My grandma was born in America shortly after her parents migrated here from Spain. She taught herself English, which mostly just ended up meaning she could be feisty and outspoken in two languages.

I started towering over my grandma in middle school – she shrunk as I grew. However, every single time I saw her, she would wrap her arms around me, squeeze me and then pull away so she could look me in the eyes to tell me, “I may be short, but I can still knock you down.”

I would laugh, and then my aunt would come around the corner, hug me and ask me if I needed anything.

Resilience and selflessness.

My grandma recorded a brief autobiography a few years ago. She was asked, “What’s the secret?”

In her raspy, beautiful voice, she answered instantly and with conviction:

“Not looking at age, not looking in the mirror … you are who you are. You have to believe in your own concept. Don’t change to follow and become a sheep – you have to be the sheep herder.”

You may not know me. You may not know anything about me. But you read this column anyway, and now you know about two people who made me who I am.

For me, right now, that is all that matters.