The prognosis was grim. I remember the precise moment when the truth of what was earlier known rudely pushed itself unto me. I was being dropped off at the hospital (a new tumour), irritability turned antagonistic as I fought to rejoin that blissful world of denial. Later tears met with accusations. Who greets tears with such animosity? Who harbours such disdain for “parading grief”? Strange how triggers work. That day we had our own grievances to address, and these shipwrecked any chance for ontic embrace. But that’s the point, isn’t it? Anguish, loss, death, comes to us all (the penultimate banality), but my grief is my own, viscerally experienced as if unique to me, resentful of dense propriety that arrogantly calls me to compose myself! But those moments, subtle as they were at the time, are like memories in a time capsule that ornately embellish the creative process of meaning-construct. For it is after all as I artfully engage life that the constituents of meaning find voice. Trepidation meets and enamours ruinous tranquility through life’s turnings.
Today Olymbia passed away. Three years into her grade 4 Glioblastoma brain cancer (GBM), outliving her prognosis by 2 years. It was Christmas 2014 when I noticed (we all did) Olymbia had changed – she seemed off, not herself. All of us gathered – a party of 40 – at Ket’s home in celebratory mode, Greek-style! Marc reconstructed the bird with his usual artistry. We girls busied ourselves with cooking, and serving, with chiding laughter accompanying us as we moved through the rooms. A row of generations set the table, finding Olymbia at the further end, tucked away in a corner, quiet. Quiet!? Well that was just not Olymbia! She was always centre-stage, dishing out orders, making sure that we girls, especially us, were on top of things! But not today, not ever again.
My hair follicles knew best of my mother’s discontent. Hair tightly pulled back into a ponytail bore the markings of slightly slanting eyes. A stop on the way to school at Olymbia’s – we all walked to school together – and that menacing ponytail was to become a swinging bush hanging long across my back. Thankful was I! It remained our secret, never shared with my mother. And as secrets do, endorsed a loving connection. Our families were one family. Our moms best friends, us kids roughly the same age, grew up as cousins, siblings really. Olymbia was the driving force behind this great, expansive family. She welcomed everyone, even if she did not always appear welcoming! 🙂 She was a mother to me.
Not versed in Stoic literature, Seneca, Rufus, Epictetus were no strangers to her. “Κόρη, that’s it”. Her meaning, however elliptical, is not far off from the words of Seneca: “Sometimes even to live is an act of courage.” “True happiness is to enjoy the present, without anxious dependence upon the future, not to amuse ourselves with either hopes or fears but to rest satisfied with what we have, which is sufficient, for he that is so wants nothing.” I can also hear these words echoing in my ear as she’d have occasion to frequent them: “᾽Αντε να γαμ… ο μαλάκας απο δω χάμω!” There’s something about the flamboyant Greek manner prone to such phraseologies that turn profanity endearing. In essence her meaning is reflected in Epictetus’ words repeatedly endorsed throughout the ages: “Other people’s views and troubles can be contagious. Don’t sabotage yourself by unwittingly adopting negative, unproductive attitudes through your associations with others.” And later in life, she’d realized, especially after becoming ill, what she perceived to be the narrowness of her youthful endeavours. I think this is nicely expressed by Rufus: “wealth is able to buy the pleasures of eating, drinking and other sensual pursuits – yet can never afford a cheerful spirit or freedom from sorrow.” She seemed eager that I see the foulness of such ways, that I’d invest in what truly matters: family. And so it is left to us, all the kids (Pits, Ket, Andro, Nico, me, Marc, Blaine, Meagan, Kristina, Nick, Mitchell, Mason, Thomas, Kalianna, Anthony, Kris and Kim)) no matter the distance that separates us, to keep the candle burning that shall always unite us as one family.
In our month together we’d sometimes burn the night oil. She’d become reflective, mellow, and her thoughts turned to her children. Of Andro, since I can remember remained constant was her wish that he find a “good woman” to care for him…like a Greek woman knows to! 😉 “Ketty…that one…she’s the sensitive one.” But she also endearingly spoke of her as “a little chatter-box” (πολυλογού), a quality that our lovely Kristina has inherited…perhaps upgraded! 😉 “Liza…well she is like me…if we don’t fight one day I think she doesn’t me love me.” She hardly spoke of her grandkids beyond the usual logistics. But what was there to say that her eyes did not. She adored those kids: they were her life! As the weekend rolled round she worried that my partner would feel neglected (Greek women are not to neglect their men! 😉 ) Άντε κόρη, που είναι ο καλαμαράς, ο μαλάκας; Πήγαινε τώρα να του φτιάξεις κανένα φαΐ! And we’d laugh, and laugh! But that’s how she was: caring, and brutally honest, but darkness would turn light, for sentimentalities were not to have the last say. Did I mention Marc and Blaine!? She’d say: “Those girls don’t deserve such men!” And again, we’d laugh and laugh. But she meant it too. Her son-in-laws were the absolute best men. But as I’m sure they’d agree, that’s a gesture of reciprocity that began with her. My bro! Well she had much to say about him too. “Kαλό παιδί ο Νίκος μας!” She wanted confirmation that he was loved and appreciated!
She is one of those people that affected many lives. So many people will have to seriously adjust to her passing. Resilient that woman was! But Stoic-like she appreciated and loved life, but was adamant not to bend to the tragedies that life had in store for her…though…she did suffer….as anyone who wants to live and has so much to lιve for does.
She would want us to be strong and live by example. For as Margaret Atwood said: “In the end, we’ll all become stories.”
I love you, Olymbia mou! Καλή αντάμωση!