‘Grandmama’s’ mystery identity: The quest goes on

Last of two parts

THE AUTHOR of ‘Grandmama’s’ mystery identity: The quest goes on, Caty Petersen, in Moscow’s Red Square with St. Basil’s Cathedral in the background. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

It’s December 2011. While my husband is busy preparing the dinner he promised us later at home, I’m  in Paloma Garcia’s place, a mere 15 minutes away, although the surreal experience I’m about to encounter will make me feel like I’m on a different planet altogether.


Sitting in front of me is this unsophisticated and soft-spoken young man.  I’ve never seen him before.

He’s a spiritual medium, who Paloma believes is genuinely gifted. This meeting is unplanned; he happens to be available today, and so I have come over to see if he can connect with the spirit of my Grandmama. Perhaps he’ll tell me why she has been appearing in my dreams, for weeks at a time.


A few feet away, in the adjacent dining room, are two people I trust completely, Paloma of course, and Emily [Abrera]. They are here to observe, and give me support.

The medium lights a small white candle and asks me to write my Grandmama’s name, birth date and day she passed away.  He also asks for my Grandmama’s photo.

He looks at everything, closes his eyes and appears to be praying.  Silently I say a prayer too.

All of a sudden, I sense heaviness all around me; even the air in the living room feels oppressive and still.  And I feel what I can only identify as extreme sadness and pain.

“There is a secret she has been keeping,” the medium’s voice, gentle yet urgent, startles me. He places one hand on his chest, “There’s also much pain.  Look at your grandmother’s picture, at her eyes.  They’re talking to you.”

At this precise moment, a hair-raising, disembodied sound coming from my friend’s cat right outside the door behind me punctuates the afternoon. Should I laugh or be irritated? I get goose bumps.

He continues, “Your grandmother died from an illness. But she is not at peace. She’s not from here … she needs you to bring her bones back to her home. She keeps telling me you need to bring her home. To her family.”


He closes his eyes for a few seconds as if listening to someone, and starts again, “Her family … there are six of them.”

At this point, I think, “Nope, this guy is wrong. They’re seven in the family.”

Except the medium interrupts my thoughts with, “Yes, there’s six of them waiting for her.” Okay, now he’s got it right. I move to the edge of the sofa.

He turns his head to the side and closes his eyes again, “Her family. They were killed…because of the father. The sins of the father. There’s some kind of curse on their family, passed on from previous generations through the father.”

I notice that I have begun shaking.

He continues his staccato reportage: “There are angry men.  There are many of them…very angry at the father. Killing them, killing the family.”

I cannot help it; tears start streaming down my cheeks.

“Ay. So much blood. There are other bodies thrown on top of the family. So much blood.” He shakes his head anxiously, and starts making these strange hand movements, as if brushing away something invisible and unwanted from his arms. He says to no one in particular that the spirits of the killers are touching him.

I suppose there is a sound to my sobbing, prompting my two friends to join us in the living room.

Emily, ever the cerebral one, asks the medium to try to describe exactly what he sees.

“This happened a long, long time ago,” the man says.

“How do you know that?” Emily asks.

“Because everything looks old and faded, like there’s no color,” he responds.

Emily asks what else he sees.

‘Little chapel’

“I’m in a big house; it’s not in this country. There are many rooms…the walls are spacious…they look different. I’m going through other rooms now. I see the family. They’re not from here. They’re dressed in elaborate outfits with long sleeves, made of thick material…it is cold in this place; I’ve never seen it before. This is not happening here.”

The medium now looks directly at me and repeats, “Your grandmother says you need to bring her bones back to her home. She needs to be with her family, in the little chapel. She is the key to many questions. It is your task to bring her home.”

There they are: two words that hit me like a brick. Little chapel.

Why didn’t he say cemetery? Is this just one more in a list of uncanny coincidences?

In Saint Petersburg, in a quiet corner of the main cathedral in the Peter and Paul Fortress is a little chapel called St. Catherine’s. This is where the last Tsar of Russia, Nicholas II, and his family are buried. A red rope bars public entry into the chapel but through the open doors, one can view the single grave marble marker and the family’s plaque memorials on the wall of the chapel inside. Anastasia Romanov’s plaque is one of them.

Not expecting him to answer, I ask, “How? How am I supposed to bring her home? I can’t just put her bones in a backpack and smuggle her back to Russia. And how in the world do I bring her into that little chapel?”

Set her free

He calmly replies, “She will help you. It will all happen. Faster than you think. But you have to start this right away…when the New Year comes in.”

I still can’t imagine how. “Is she really going to help me?”

He grimaces, saying, “Ay. Now she sounds like she’s screaming. Her voice is shrill…masakit sa tenga (ear-piercing). Is she really like that?”

I nod, remembering. “That’s how she sounded when she was upset. She shrieked.”

He continues, “Well, she says don’t ever ask that question again. She’s always helped, so you shouldn’t even ask her that question.”

He says my grandmother is fading into the darkness again. And he touches his neck. “It feels like there’s a chain around her neck…it’s heavy and it hurts.”

I cry out, “What do you mean?”

“I’m not sure,” he sadly replies. “I’m sorry. She’s gone. But now I see a dark-skinned man, a Filipino. He’s your grandfather? He says you need to set her free. Bring her home.”

I never met my grandfather. He passed away two years before I was born. I know him only from pictures and the descriptions of my Mom and her siblings. When I do think of him, I imagine him as a gentle, loving person devoted to my Grandmama.

I am exhausted; my eyes are swollen; and my head now hurts. I can’t believe what has just happened.

Crown ring

The person who was responsible for that session I fondly call Palomsky. My former high school teacher who referred me to Palomsky described her as the genuine thing, the best feng shui master/astrologer in town but also warned me about her impersonal, straight-to-the-point manner with everyone when it came to reading charts.

Palomsky can be understandably intimidating, as are most people who are not shy about expressing themselves. In her case, having a special gift that lets her see through people, Palomsky is very selective about who she surrounds herself with, and may be a bit curt with those who don’t pass the test.

But I adore her. She and I have a special bond that seems otherworldly, which we both like to believe extends far back into our previous lives.

In October 2010, when I met with her for my second reading, she looked at the silver and onyx crown ring I wear above my wedding ring and exclaimed, “I love that ring!”

In the last 10 years, for some unknown reason, I’d steadily been collecting crown-themed items, in addition to the assortment in what I call my growing Russian-inspired caboodle:  heavily embroidered clothing, thick Russian linens, Russian Orthodox-Byzantine crosses and even fur hats.

Royalty in birth chart

Peering at my astrological chart, she turned serious.

“Who’s the foreigner in your family?” she demanded to know.

“My Grandmama,” I answered. She looked again at my chart then looked back at me, this time with some astonishment.” You have royalty in your birth chart,” she blurted out.

Had I ever thought that? In truth, until my recent trip to Russia with my husband and son-never. But the series of events that had occurred since that trip had led me to ask many questions.

Sensing my nervousness and discomfort, Palomsky explained that a person’s astrological chart is based on fixed data: one’s birth date and exact time of birth. She said that any good astrologer who did my chart would come up with the same reading. Trusting my intuition implicitly, I told her everything that had been happening for the past three years…there was a lot.

In some ways, I felt I was getting to understand my Grandmama better, but in other ways, some of the possible interpretations made her story, and mine, so preposterous that even I had to laugh at times. More and more, however, I felt I needed to tell it.

Palomsky then suggested introducing me to someone she thought could help me. She wouldn’t tell me who, just that she was a sort of public figure, highly esteemed, and most important, that she was someone with scruples, who couldn’t be bought. Soon after we parted, Palomsky called me back to confirm a lunch date the following week to meet her friend. I couldn’t wait.

Something in common

When I finally met Emily Abrera, advertising industry leader (who wrote the introduction to yesterday’s story), I immediately liked her.

As it turned out, the three of us had something in common: Catherine.

I’m Catherine; Emily’s second name is Catherine. And Palomsky went to a convent school named after St. Catherine. Over lunch, I shared with Emily everything I’d been discovering about my Grandmama, and asked her if she would consider writing her story. She seemed interested, and instructed me to start gathering and documenting all the data I had available, and to organize the material.

For the most part, Emily just listened to all I had to say, every now and then backtracking to see if I was recalling details accurately. If I got emotional in the telling, she would firmly and coolly bring me back to the present, reminding me to stay on track, and stay faithful to my purpose.

Some time after our second meeting, I received a text message from her asking if we could meet before my travel schedule took me away again.  We set it for the next day’s breakfast.

As soon as the coffee was poured, she asked, “What was your Grandmother’s last name again?”

I replied, “We always thought it was Kazzuhina, and we spelled it that way. But we probably never got it exactly right. Grandmama always complained that no one could pronounce it properly.”

Emily pulled out from a folder a page she had printed out from Wikipedia, on the Grand Duchess Anastasia Romanov. Odd that it hadn’t caught our attention before, but the first line said:

Grand Duchess Anastasia Nikolaevna Romanov of Russia (Russian: Velikaya Knyazhna Anastasiya Nikolayevna Romanova).

Emily said, “I don’t speak Russian, but the spelling of that word looks suspiciously similar to Kazzuhina, don’t you think?”

Story is far from over

Steve and I stared at the name Knyazhna, and yes, it looked and sounded very similar to the last name my Grandmama used as her surname, Kazzuhina. The same one that the genealogist in Moscow had told me bluntly was not a Russian surname.

The genealogist was right. Kazzuhina isn’t a name, and neither is its twin, Knyazhna. It’s a title. And it means Duchess.

This was just one more link to a possible Russian heritage I do not dare to claim for my Grandmama. But there are too many parallelisms and coincidences.

That morning’s discovery also triggered a chilling insight: could all the sinister and mystifying surveillance and computer hacking I had been experiencing for several years while in the US, and to some extent here in Manila, have something to do with my efforts to solve my Grandmama’s identity mystery?

Had I been asking too many questions? Was it making anyone uncomfortable?

Too many questions remain unanswered, so my quest will continue, as I seek to discover: Who was she really, my grandmother Tasia, before she landed in the Philippines all those years ago? And will I eventually be able to help bring peace to her and her family?

This story is far from fully told, but at least I have begun, as my Grandmama wished. With each day that passes, I am getting to know her, and me, a little more. Implicitly, we have made a promise to each other. She will keep finding ways to guide me, and I will see our story told, to the last page.

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TAGS: Saint Petersburg, Tsar Nicholas II of Russia, Tsar of Russia
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