the writing and photography of Neil Kramer

Vartan’s Passing

I only took a carry-on with me to LAX yesterday because going to BlogHer was a last minute decision.  The health of my father-in-law, Vartan, was still shaky.  He had just started with hospice.   I got my boarding pass from the Virgin America machine and went through security.  I was about to put my shoes back on, post security, when Sophia called me on the phone.  She was crying.  Vartan had passed away.   Sophia, who had dropped me off at the airport no longer than ten minutes ago, returned to pick me up. We drove to her parents’ home.   The hospice nurse came to pronounce Vartan dead.   The nurse was a very caring Filipino who hugged everyone he met.   Soon after, the same sober-looking, deep-voiced guy from the funeral home who came to pick up Sophia’s mother just a month and a half ago, now came for Vartan.

The caregiver, who only knew him a short time, was in tears.

Vartan was an uber-impressive man.  A cancer surgeon in Russia, a chess player, a cook, a cabinet maker; a devoted and patient husband to Fanya.  I bonded with Vartan in ways I didn’t with Fanya — we both had to deal with “dramatic women,” as wives, and we frequently gave each other knowing glances.

The last seven months have been a slow and painful decline for Vartan.  He and Fanya aged 20 years each in less than a year.  It was so very sad to watch.  I’ve seen and done things I would not have expected to encounter just a year ago.  In some ways, I think it is better now that Vartan is in a happier place, with his beloved Fanya.   Today is the funeral.  Vartan and Fanya will be buried in the same plot of land.

Sophia has now lost both parents in a short amount of time. The hospice MD sent Sophia this SMS: Tried to call you.  I’m sorry and my condolences.  God’s peace & comfort w u.  You are truly a wonderful person and one of the most caring I ever met.”

This has been one hard year for Sophia.  If you want her address or email, contact me at neilochka at yahoo dot com or @neilochka on Twitter.


  1. Audrey at Barking Mad

    Neil I am so very sorry for your and Sophia’s loss. It sounds like you had a wonderful relationship with this remarkable man. Please know you’ll be in my thoughts and prayers. May time bring peace and comfort.

  2. deezee


    I am so very sorry for you and Sophia.

  3. Kerry

    Oh no. I’m so sorry, for both of you. Two in six weeks…that’s too much.

  4. Chris

    I hope that Fanya and Vartan are dancing somewhere, even if she’s leading. My deepest condolences to Sophia and you. Blessings.

  5. Danny

    So, so sorry, the double loss in so short a period of time is unfathomable. Much love to Sophia. I like the image of the two of them dancing together somewhere.

  6. Ninotchka

    So, so sorry for you both. I can’t imagine losing both parents within a year much less a month. My prayers are with you both as well as the rest of the family.

  7. Di

    I am sorry, that’s too much. Look after her, and yourself. I lost my mum and that was difficult enough. Love to both of you. Di

  8. Gurukarm (@karma_musings)

    So so sorry, Neil. What a lovely picture of Sophia with her dad, though. Deepest condolences to you both.

  9. Alison

    My condolences to you and Sophia, Neil. May Vartan and Fanya be dancing somewhere.

  10. Rhea

    Sorry to hear about this. These last few years have been rough for both of you.

  11. Finn

    While I know it is profoundly hard for Sophia right now, I can only imagine it is something of relief after such a long, stressful, painful fight.

    I am so sorry. xo

  12. headbang8

    Even the most fulsome and heartfelt condolences can’t begin to make a dent in the sadness you must both feel. What a huge burden of grief! No matter how well one prepares oneself, the sheer shock of this experience will overpower you. Let it. As I sometimes have said, grief is shock and shock is physical. Both your bodies and your spirits will need rest. Give yourself a reprieve from the stresses of daily life for a while. And remember that there are those (as you may recall from an earlier post) who can only imagine what it’s like, and feel for you.

  13. Bon

    those pictures. his face.

    his timing. 🙂 shaking my head at life, at the strangeness we reap, at the love that connects and abides even in unexpected circumstances.

    i am so very sorry for your loss. to Sophia, more than i can say.

    i send you both love, and wish you strength weathering the next part of this journey.

  14. Heather

    There aren’t appropriate words. Please tell Sophia that you all are being hugged and loved and prayed for.

  15. karengreeners

    I’m so, so sorry for both of you.

    My maternal grandparents passed away 5 weeks apart while I was pregnant with my first baby. It was incredibly hard for my mother, and hard to help her get through it while dealing with my own grief. Peace and strength, Neil. I’m afraid you’ll need it.

  16. Nancy [Fear and Parenting in Las Vegas]

    Neil –

    My condolences to you and Sophia. Like you, I hope that he’s found his way to Fanya and they’re already having a great time wherever they are.

  17. thordora

    I am so very sorry. I cannot imagine the grief she must be feeling.

  18. Otir

    Hearfelt condolences to Sophia and you.

    What a terrible time of going through those repeated losses, may you find comfort and soon consolation and be strong. Thoughts and love.

  19. Loukia

    I’m so sorry. Please give my condolences to your wife. He sounded like a wonderful man.

  20. always home and uncool

    Condolences to you and Sophia. Be there for each other.

  21. Dawn Cole

    My heart goes out to you, and especially Sophia. So much loss so fast, I can’t even wrap my mind around it. Sending love to you both.

  22. Amy B.

    Thinking of you and Sophia…

  23. gorillabuns

    so very sorry for all of the losses this year. please email me her info. thanks.

  24. Lisa

    This makes me so sad. Peace to your both!

  25. Jack

    Baruch Dayan Emet. Very sorry to hear about Vartan.

  26. Nedra

    Neil, I’m so sorry for your and Sophia’s loss. Keep the happy memories foremost in your mind.

  27. Chantel

    oh my dear Sophia & Neil – my love to you both.

  28. shiny

    I’m so sorry. They both sound like they were remarkable people. And they (and we) are fortunate that they have had some wonderful people surrounding them recently.

    I wish you both much comfort during these tough times…

  29. Rima

    My deepest condolences to you and Sophia, Neil. I love the picture you posted – it says a lot.

  30. Eileen

    My deepest condolences to the both of you. I wish stickers could help at a time like this.

  31. claire

    Oh, Neil.

    How difficult to lose both parents in such a short time. My condolences to Sophia and to you.

  32. Mo

    That’s just too much for anyone to bear in such a short period of time. My condolences to you both.

  33. Michael

    Deepest sympathy to you both.

  34. Sheryl

    Oh, I’m so sorry for you and Sophia. I can’t imagine my parents dying, though I’m sure since they’re both 80, it’s just around the corner. I wish you both peace and comfort.

  35. Deer Baby

    Really feel for Sophia and you at this news. He sounds like a remarkable man. So very sorry.

  36. lizardek

    So sorry to hear of your loss. My condolences to you both, and an extra hug for Sophia.

  37. Juli Ryan

    My heart goes out to Sophia. Be good to yourselves.

  38. Shelli

    I’m so sorry for you and for Sophia. God bless.

  39. Blaiser

    Wishing you and Sophia grace during these difficult times. Two in such a short period of time must be incredibly hard and stressful — hang tough, brother man.

  40. sas

    so sorry for you and Sophia’s loss.
    look after each other.

  41. sizzle

    That is so much loss and so compounded. It breaks my heart. I’ll email you for Sophia’s info.

    Love to you, friend.

  42. Erin

    He sounds like a wonderful man. Hoping that you and Sophia find comfort in the shared memories of his life.

  43. Karl

    Very sorry to hear this. Condolences to Sophia and you.

  44. sarah

    I am so very sorry, Neil. Your posts about both Fanya and Vartan have truly touched me and I feel lucky to have gotten to know them, on some tiny little scale, through your writing. They seem to have been amazing people. As are you and Sophia. My thoughts are with you both during such a sad time.

  45. erykah

    my sincerest condolences to you & Sophia.Wishing you comfort and peace during this diffucult time. hugs & prayers.

  46. Stacey

    My condolences to you and Sophia. I hope that knowing Vartan and Fanya are together again brings Sophia some comfort. You’re in my thoughts.

  47. Haley-O (Cheaty)

    So sorry for your loss. Big hugs to both of you….

  48. Megan Howard

    I’m so sorry for your loss – for both you and Sophia. I would have given you my condolences at BlogHer if I was not behind in my feed reader. So sorry.

  49. Headless Mom

    Oh Neil. I just now saw this. I’m so so so sorry. Love to you and Sophia.

  50. Elizabeth @ Table for Five

    I was so sorry to hear about this when I saw you on Sunday. Please give my condolences to Sophia.

  51. jen

    I am so very sorry for your loss Neil.

  52. Mrs. G.

    What a kind tribute.

  53. Hippo Brigade

    Vartan sounded like a pretty awesome guy. What a nice memory you honored him with.

  54. Marinka

    Heartbreaking. My love to you and Sophia.

  55. mamie

    i am so sorry for her loss and your loss. he sounds like an amazing accomplished man who lived a full vibrant life. and i am glad that his passing was supported and fostered by people that saw that in him, even in the end. my heart goes out to sophia and she has my thoughts and prayers. a

  56. TwoBusy

    A warm, heartfelt and terribly sad tribute. My condolences to Sophia and you. What an awful few months you’ve had.

  57. jody

    My thoughts and prayers are with you both.

  58. lindsey

    i am so so sorry for your losses. it’s been such a heartbreaking year. my thoughts and prayers are with you and sophia.


  59. subWOW

    I am very sorry for your loss. Please give my best regards to Sophia. This is a wonderful tribute (and even more wonderful is what you said about how thousands would have attended his funeral if this were a different locale, amongst them people he has saved…)

  60. René

    I am so sorry, Neil.

  61. Susanne

    My thoughts are with Sophia and you at this sad time. What an amazing couple, so sad that they passed within such a short time and yet it seems as if they needed to be together again.

  62. nonlineargirl

    I am so sorry for your loss, and also that I did not tell you this in person. I wasn’t sure how to say (as a stranger to you) that I was sad that your in-laws had died, without sounding flip or wrong. I realize I should have just said it anyway.

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