Her cousin has disappeared into the war in Ukraine

The first thing you notice are her eyes, and then her laugh and finally the large artificial sunflower clipped to her wavy gray hair. The flower is the national flower of Ukraine where Lydia Weaver of Fort Walton Beach still has family.

Her first cousin, a doctor, is there. So, likely, are her cousin’s husband, children and grandchildren. The two women never met but have always known of each other – first cousins trying to connect across continents. They exchanged letters, some censored on her sister’s end, photos and correspondence dating back to their parents’ generation.

Now, there is only silence.

“I pray every morning, I pray every day and I pray at night that they’ll do something. This war has got to stop,” Lydia says. “The people who get hurt the most are the innocent people that are just trying to live.”

In her tidy home in Fort Walton Beach, there is little else she can do for her cousin. But Lydia, who just turned 70, gives each of her days purpose by doing for others. She is a smile to many, a kind act, a baked loaf of sweet bread at Christmas, a bag of jellybeans at Easter. She helps at a local food pantry, she cleans up trash on the beach, she teaches an aquacise class at the Bernie Lefebvre Aquatic Center.

She learned how to live from her late husband, whom she met nearly 40 years ago on a vacation visit to the Emerald Coast. They parted when her two weeks was up, but it wasn’t over. He made sure of that.

“The next thing I know he calls, sends flowers,” she says. “Then he came driving up to Massachusetts. Gave me tickets to come up for Christmas.”

She cautioned him. She was 31. He was 39. She’d already had three back surgeries. He might not want to marry her, she told him. He most definitely did. They were married for 36 years when he died Nov. 30, 2020.

“He taught me more about living then he ever did about dying,” she says. “I have to live my best life every day. I only have so much time to live. I’ve got to really live it up now.

“He was the type of person that always gets up and gets dressed, has some kind of plan. He’s trying to put his whole life into this little time. It’s almost like I’m honoring him by living my best life.”

She will wear a sunflower hair clip for the rest of her life, quietly reminding others of the pain and violence and strife others endure, reminding them of Ukraine.

“Forever and ever, I’m not going to stop. It will always be with me. I don’t want people to forget.”

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