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Eulogy for Angela Maria Volan
Given by John George Volan
at Her Wake, Wednesday, June 28, 2006

I am Angela's eldest brother, John. A gulf of nine years separates us. It means that, of all her brothers, I am the only one who clearly remembers her as a baby. In fact, I remember her coming home from the hospital. Marvelling over her shrivelling umbilical cord, and her even more marvelously stinky diapers.

From day one she was always her daddy's little "kukla." I remember how big a guffaw she had for such a small baby, whenever Dad would play with her.

But for a kid, nine years difference is an eternity. When I started high school, she started kindergarten. When I went off to college she was only in fourth grade. For a few years, I was off in my own world. She was always in the background, always loved, but somehow never registering on my consciousness. Oh, there was the time when Mom had them cut Angela's hair so short that she was mistaken for a boy, and I lobbied vociferously against it on her behalf. But that was just me being a protective big-brother crusader (or maybe just a rebellious youth). It wasn't like I could actually relate to this little kid.

But over the next few years, something strange happened: This little girl I barely noticed blossomed into a young lady, then into a woman. I distinctly recall that, at some point during that time, I suddenly realized: My God, I have sister. And you know, she's pretty cool.

When Angela was a teeny-bopper and I was in graduate school, I remember that she was pretty volatile. Got into a lot of arguments with her parents, especially her mom. In later years, I believe they became good friends. But back then—boy, could Angela roar! I shrugged my shoulders and figured: typical teen. I remember there was this period where she and her girlfriends were infatuated with this bubble-gum rock band called [shudder] Depeche Mode. She desperately wanted to go with her girlfriends to a concert. Oh, how she must have caterwauled when she was initially told no. My parents did not want to take her themselves (who could blame them?); they certainly would not allow her to go by herself or just with her girlfriends ... unchaperoned. But—ah, that's where the solution lay! Somehow she negotiated a compromise with Mom and Dad: Get big brother John to be the chaperone. I was prevailed upon. The event is seared in my memory. Gawky juveniles as far as the eye could see, the girls brainlessly giggling and screaming, the boys standing around trying to look cool, pretending to their dates that they really wanted to be there, and not doing a very good job. But it made Angela happy. It made her feel like a rebel without actually disobeying or disrespecting her parents. I was happy to do it, and I was ... kind of proud of her.

Later in high school, she was in a couple of plays. In fact, [in] her [junior] year they did Godspell, which tickled me because [eight] years earlier I had been in a production of the same musical, at the same high school. But what tickled me even more was [in her senior year], when she had the [lead] role in—get this—[Once Upon a Mattress, Broadway's retelling of the fable of ] the Princess and the Pea. That's right. You should have seen how she hammed it up as the "delicate" princess oh-so-prettily sawing wood (actually, snorting like a horse) on top of a great big pile of mattresses. [The funniest part was that] her Prince Charming was a whole head shorter than her, and she played up the gag for all it was worth. I loved her sense of humor ... and I was so proud of her...

When she graduated from high school and went off to college, she started getting interesting. I began to realize that she had developed a mind. Of course, we would get into these long-winded arguments once we realized we were on opposite ends of the political spectrum. But for us Volans, arguing is something of a passtime.

Around the time Angela was graduating from college, I met my future wife Carolyn. Carolyn and Angela hit it off from the start. They discovered that they had a lot in common, both being feisty, intelligent women with a lot of attitude. (Plus they discovered that they were on the same side of the political spectrum) In fact, Carolyn asked Angela to be her maid of honor at our wedding.

11 years ago, Angela's Marfan's syndrome struck her down for the first time. But she was living in Manhattan at the time, and she had prepared. She had researched the best hospital there for her condition, and had found, in advance, the best doctors to treat her, and the best surgeon. When she felt that fateful tearing in her heart, she knew what to do, and acted fast. They did open-heart on her and saved her. Carolyn and I drove down from Massachusetts that first night, and in the morning when she woke up, I was there to squeeze her hand. Her mouth was full of tubes, so she couldn't speak, but she squeezed my hand back. And I knew she would be okay. She was a fighter. And I was so proud of her...

She bounced back. Boy, did she bounce back! She went to the University of Chicago to study Art History. Got a Fulbright Scholarship and an Onassis Grant. Went haring off to far-off lands and exotic climes, like some female Indiana Jones, climbing up and down mountains to research ancient icons in obscure old monasteries. We would get these wonderful post cards from Paris, Venice, Istanbul, Crete. I was proud to have such an adventurous and accomplished sister.

Two years ago, Marfan's struck again. They started seeing problems in the X-rays and echocardiograms. So she needed an even bigger surgery, but at least this time it was planned.

She bounced back from that too. She finished a nice piece of scholarship, wrote up a dissertation, and got that PhD. Became the second Dr. Volan in the family. I used to joke that now that she was an Art Doctor, she could start diagnosing our aesthetic maladies. She went on to a post-doctorate fellowship at Princeton, no small achievement itself. Then this spring she interviewed and landed an assistant professor appointment at the University of South Florida in Tampa, which she would have started this fall. Through it all, I was exceedingly proud of her.

But of course, her most prestigious title of all was: Theia. Carolyn and I have made sure to explain to our son, Isaac, that on Mommy's side of the family, he has aunts, but on Daddy's side, he has just one theia. Angela took it upon herself to teach her nephew Isaac some valuable, important lessons. She showed him how to eat an Oreo properly, from the inside out. She bought him a kid's book entitled: "Everybody Poops" [in which he learned, for instance, that a one-hump camel makes a one-hump poop, and a two-hump camel makes a two-hump poop. She taught him all her yoga moves; imagine, if you will, a lithe, graceful willow showing a little fireplug how to do the "triangle stance," or the "downward dog," or even the "crane." Angela once] grabbed a bed-sheet, [held it aloft,] and played parachute with him, and Isaac laughed and laughed and laughed. She promised him that she would take him to see far off lands and exotic climes, some day. She made sure that he knew that he had a theia who loved him, very, very much. She did me proud.

But somewhere along the line, in all those surgeries and procedures, something snuck into her system and infected her. [It may have been lurking there, hidden, for months, even years.] At the end of April, it suddenly manifested. By the time the doctors figured out what it was, it was probably too late. Carolyn and I have a couple friends who are physicians, and when we would describe Angela's condition to them, their reactions were invariably grim. We all had hope that she could bounce back even from this. She was so strong, she was such a fighter. But even the strongest of us cannot hold back the tide. Yet I am still proud of her, how hard she fought to live, how brave she was (though she thought that she wasn't).

Had things been different, Angela could well have died 11 years ago. If [we had lived in that unfortunate world], we all would have believed in her potential, but we would never have known what she could have accomplished. She would never have met her nephew, never have had a chance to be a theia. But she did live, she did become a Doctor Volan, she did become Theia Angela, and we are all the richer for it. For that, we have been blessed.

It is also possible, in some might-have-been world, that that infection might not have invaded her body, that she could have dodged this bullet, gone on to that position in Florida, and achieved who-knows-what even greater achievements. Could have fulfilled her promise to Isaac. Alas, we don't live in that world. So I guess, in this one, it will have to be up to Isaac's daddy, his Theio Stephen, and his Theio Gregory—we, the surviving, the boring siblings—to fulfil Theia Angela's promise to Isaac.

Some of you will want to visit her grave, to pray for her there, perhaps to try to speak to her there. That's fine. As for me ... I think I want to take a trip down to Florida some time. I'd like to see where she would have taught. Talk to some of her would-have-been colleagues. And maybe whisper, across time, to some might-have-been Angela who is out there, somewhere, and tell her ... sis, I am still proud of you.