Yesterday morning my mother called me from Athens with the news that her father had passed away peacefully in his sleep during the night. He was a dog's hair away from living to 100, well taken care of and had a full life, spanning two wars, a civil conflict in Greece, exile - and even lived to see three great great grand children.
For the family, this has been a testing time, what with my beloved (and way younger) aunt also passing away just a few days after my wedding. This hurts so much that I can't really write about it still. It was a wake up call in the middle of bliss for me (being on our honeymoon when I heard the news).
Bad news that were even harder to digest when the person in question is a strong, sturdy, active woman, full of energy and determination. With everything happening so suddenly, there was no time to say goodbye.
The essence is that death, a vital component in the circle of life, has banged hard and loud on our family's door twice over the past few months. Which makes me think even harder about the power of giving life that will soon manifest itself in front of that same door.
As my mother said yesterday, "Others come and others go".
A reality harsh, unstoppable and unrelenting. With the baby on the way offering perhaps only some comfort after saying final goodbyes to beloved relatives who have been stable rocks of your life since its very beginnings.
My grandfather, as well as my paternal grandmother, who also lived to nearly a full century, were strong-willed people with a clear determination to live. They were always, even in their old age, interested in the lives of others. They wanted to know about you and what you were up to, and what the neighbour was up to as well. This genuine interest was what kept them going, as well as the constant recounting of memories of the past. Stories of war, of growing up amid wealth or poverty, of old family scandals and wasted fortunes, of political coups that shook Greece - they were all bound to come up in conversation, provided you had the patience and time to listen.
Sometimes I wish I had more time and patience to listen, and maybe even perhaps a tape recorder on me. You seldom realize at the time that when they go, they take with them all memories of past times and a sense of continuity that has influenced who you are as well.
They did have a strong sense of self, both my almost centuagenarian ancestors. Perhaps this is what lay behind their own commitment to daily routines and things they liked to do, no matter how frail or vulnerable they were getting to be. My grandfather insisted on shaving even when he was falling asleep in front of the mirror (and dropping his razor on him, at his danger), while one of my fondest memories of my paternal grandmother is eating her mid-day salty snack (olives, feta cheese, tomato) or fruit, in her own individual style (leaving out the hard bits that she couldn't digest).
My grandfather had his fair share of ouzo every day, and there was no way you could talk him out of it. It was his way of celebrating life, I guess.
They were tough cookies, not always easy to be around for others, but they were both innately experts at fending off for themselves in the face of time and adversity. How many of us will be able to claim the same? Only time will tell.
For my mother, these have been a challenging few months. Going from a wedding to a funeral and from another funeral to the birth of her first grandchild has a sense of inevitability ingrained in it that I can only begin to grasp.
Yet, there will be reasons to rejoice in this family soon, while also remembering those who will not be here with us to rejoice. The circle of life triumphant once more.
In a way, there is much consolation in the creation of life, I am thinking as I feel the baby's movements inside of me, as I sense his eagerness to get out in the world. At least enough to keep you going.