December, normally a month full of baked goods, chocolates and treats at work, beautiful magical lights, Christmas markets, mulled wine, catching up with friends, streets buzzing with people shopping, having a laugh.
Not this December… The streets are empty, the cafes and restaurants are closed, there are no markets, no laughter, just some pretty lights and everyone in masks rushing to get home before curfew time.
I was going to name this post December at Corona times but it’s much more than that for me, it’s impossible for me to find a more appropriate name.
After three years I broke one of my traditions and didn’t do Blogmas. I just couldn’t find the time with my new job, looking for places to rent, getting used to living in Cyprus for now and still adapting to my new reality. Can you believe I haven’t sat down to play my guitar for weeks (minus a day I wanted to prepare something for my sister’s nameday)?
I guess adjusting takes time, even more so during a bloody pandemic and I just have to trust that all my irrational subconscious and conscious fears and worries will die off eventually.
On a happier note, after 12 years, I’m spending December in Cyprus which means, even during these bizarre and horrifying times we live in, that I decorated the Christmas tree with my sisters (we do it online every year) and we baked traditional Cypriot/Greek treats, kourampiedes (almond cookies covered in icing sugar) and my all time favourite melomakarona (honey syrup dipped cookies).
So I guess what life taught me once more it’s that it is never black and white, all good or all bad. It’s both all the time. And that of course it’s unpredictable. Who would have thought that I’d be back in Cyprus for the foreseeable future?
All I can do is enjoy whatever life brings me every day. I hope we all manage to have a homely, heart-warming Christmas with our loved ones, that’s what Christmas it’s all about after all.
This week’s vlog was a bit late due to our little Easter break, so here’s how I spent it. Not in Vienna or Budapest or Bratislava as I originally planned but it wasn’t as bad as I thought I’d be I guess.
Catch ups with friends, lots of chocolate, pancakes, Netflix, reading, blogging, so all in all it wasn’t too bad.
Thursday, the penultimate day of what felt like the longest January in the history of time.
I woke up in tears. I couldn’t stop thinking of the day my little sister called me to break the devastating news that my grandpa, pappou Costas had died and the day afterwards, the day of the funeral I did not attend, as I was stuck in Cambridge doing my CELTA course.
I remember it vividly, in details, colours and feelings, like it was yesterday. Little moments that I’d normally forget if it was any other day I can recall in excruciatingly painful detail, my little sister and mum messaging me first to say that ‘grandpa was ill’ (he had died but they didn’t know how to tell me), the dreaded phone call afterwards, wandering by the stairs on a quiet corner of the corridor, Shalala asking me if I was OK some time later when I could barely speak at our TP feedback session, crying my eyes out that evening whilst planning a lesson for the following day, the following morning Jonny asking me if I was OK and and his reaction when I burst into tears, sitting outside in the sunshine just before I were about to teach about Mongolian horse racing (the same time as the funeral was taking place in Cyprus) looking up in the sky wishing my grandpa farewell, then remembering that ‘teachers are really actors’ and thankfully making it through my lesson.
Naturally, I started thinking of uncle Spyro’s tragic death just two months later. Again I remember every single detail, visiting him at the hospital a week before he died, in excruciating pain not able to say more than a few words at a time but still in good spirits, getting ready to go see him again a week later but receiving the dreaded phone call to inform us that he had passed away, the eulogy I wrote and ended up reading because my sister couldn’t manage through the tears (not that I did much better), the funeral, the burial, the memorial service for both of them a week later.
I wrecked my brain desperately trying to figure out why. Why do I suddenly feel so overwhelmingly sad about it, 4 months later, 6 months later? Perhaps because I wasn’t there when it happened and I never got closure when grandpa died? But I was there when uncle Spyros died…
Jon and Chris described grief like a circle, the circle is everything about the loved one you lost. At the beginning, you are in the centre of the circle, you cannot see past the sadness and the chaos. As time goes by, you get out of the circle and it gets smaller, you can see beyond it, but it’s always there. You just learn how to live with it.
And they were right..
They were right. It’s always there and at any given time you are back in the middle of the circle again. It’s always there, like an old scar that sometimes bleeds and hurts as much as the first time. And this one isn’t even that old of a scar.
So, grief never really goes away.
I did not suppress it. I cried throughout the day (exhaustion did not help) and choked every time I tried to hum a farewell song written by one of my favourite Cypriot composers, Costas Kakoyiannis, beautiful lyrics by his partner Pambos Kouzalis, who had just lost his brother to cancer, sang by an incredible 14 year old, Georgia Neokleous, who had sadly lost her mum to cancer too. Life is cruel like that sometimes.
That’s grief. It never goes away, if from time to time the pain comes back and you should never suppress it. There is no specific amount of time that you need or have to ‘overcome grief’. You just learn to manage it, but some days it hurts like hell and that’s OK.
Today is one of those days. I miss grandpa’s laughter and silly little jokes, his smile when all his grandchildren were visiting, running around the house, uncle Spyro’s wit, advice and little remedies he always suggested, his endless kindness and patience. It hurts but it’s OK.
I was lucky enough to have them in my life and that’s worth all the pain of losing them.
This is for you. Mr Kakoyiannis song (I translated the lyrics as they were too beautiful not to share and the composer included them in the description of the video).
You left and I didn’t get even get the chance to bid farewell,
say my last goodbyes.
How could I live without you for so long?
I throw water on your path, so a plane tree can grow.
To protect you from all evil, always keep it away, keep you safe.
I started Thankmas with family and I’m ending it with family.
Today is dedicated to the 6th member of our family who has been making our life more fun, loving, hilarious and random for the last 10 years, our little baby, Oscar.
Though I’ve lived abroad pretty much since we got him, he remembers me every time I visit. When I was in Cyprus for a month, struggling to adjust and annoying everyone with my constant irritability, Oscar was the only one I wasn’t annoyed with, he was the only one who could comfort me at times.
He may sometimes sneakily steal our food but he can sense when we are ill or sad and comes and sits next to us, he is loving and sweet with everyone and ever so patient with children younger and older (e.g Anna!).
So thank you Oscar! You’ve been the whole family’s best friend and we all love you to bits.
It’s Chriiiistmaaaas. My favourite day of the year. I haven’t immersed in it as much this year due to work but I’m glad I decided to do Thankmas.
As I suspected from the start of this little series of blogs, 24 posts are not enough to thank all the amazing, incredible humans who encouraged me, comforted me, supported me, all my dear friends and family and all the things that inspired me and motivated me this last year.
So this post is for everyone. Everyone I love and I’m blessed to have in my life.
All of my friends in Southampton, especially Sofy and Sophie, Denise, Jo, Lorna (oh I miss having a laugh with the Quercus ladies!) and our awesome staff choir.
My brother Andi in London, who I spent my last day in the UK with. I miss you lots!
Dear Giovanni, my former CELTA student who’s been giving me tips and advice ever since I moved to Italy.
All my friends and family in Cyprus. Maria, Andri, Elena, Polia, my cousins, especially my beloved cousin and third sister Georgia, my aunties, my uncles.
And last but not least all of my lovely readers.
Thank you everyone. I’ll have a little break now to enjoy exploring my little island and spending time with friends and family but I’ll be back soon to talk about New Year wishes!
Less than a week later, one my of worst fears was realised. Pappou Costas, everyone’s favourite grandpa, the kindest, sweetest, funniest, loving, genuine man I had the blessing to have as a grandpa to look after me, take me cycling, take me down town on the bus at the big market in the old city on a Saturday, attend every birthday, name day, every single celebration, died a few days after his 83rd birthday.
When I talked to him last Saturday I promised I’d go see him first thing when I’m back in Cyprus in just a few weeks time. After he lost himself in his own thoughts for a moment (dementia is a horrible, horrible disease) he told me ‘I’m not going to be here, I’ll leave this place’. I cried after we hang up. I hoped he meant he’d leave the nursing home he was temporarily at but deep down I feared he meant he’d leave us, for good.
On Wednesday afternoon whilst observing my classmates teach, I got a message from my little sister and my mum saying that grandpa was not feeling that well. As soon as I got out of the classroom, I called the little one. I knew what she’d tell me before she spilled the words out. Pappou Costas died that morning, on his own at a nursing home, after a stroke.
I couldn’t stop crying but I went to the loo, washed my face and went back into the classroom. I can’t even remember how I managed not to cry in front of everyone. As soon as I walked out of the classroom I burst into tears and cried until bedtime.
I thought of quitting the course and flying home for the funeral the following day. But that wouldn’t have helped in anything. Grandpa’s only wish was for his children and grandchildren who adored, to be happy. Quitting the CELTA course and not having the option to teach English after my Cyprus break would have been a terrible decision.
“Please don’t quit, you flying here just for the funeral won’t make anyone happier. Stay, finish the course” my mum, my sisters and my cousin said.
They were right. And if I want to travel in the next few years, I’d have to learn to deal with terrible situations like this. I have been through them before, but it never gets easier.
I had no idea how to manage it. I was to teach the following day and all I could think of is that I’ll never see my grandpa again. I’ll never see his wide smile, with the odd hair from his moustache always falling into his mouth. I’ll never hear his laughter, his jokes, the way he greeted me every time he saw me or spoke to me on the phone.
But I had to find a way. People go through this every day. I can do it. First I emailed the course leaders. They may well notice my puffy, red eyes and they might misinterpret it and worried I’m not happy with the course.
I then sat down for hours preparing my lesson plan. Honestly, I can’t remember much from Wednesday night. It’s all a blur. Only thing I remember is all the messages I got from my friends. I never missed my friends more than last week and I’ve never felt them closer. I never felt so loved but so lonely at the same time.
I hardly remember anything from Thursday.
“Remember, teachers are really actors“, my dear auntie Sophie said. That’s what I tried to do. I cried my eyes out on my way to the college but when I walked in I pretended I was someone else. It worked for most of the day. I only broke down a couple of times.
When I walked into the classroom, one of the tutors, Jonny, took me to another room.
–‘Please don’t ask me if I’m OK otherwise I’d start crying’, I said.
-‘I know. I’m just checking…’ he replied.
And that was it. I started crying. He welled up. He gave me a hug and offered me a tissue and a few days off if I wanted to. I didn’t want to though. It would have probably made everything worse, staying at home in a house full of strangers, with no friends around. I will always remember that hug, a human feeling empathy and crying with another human’s pain. So poignantly beautiful.
I did OK in the input sessions but just before 2pm, when the funeral was just about to start in Cyprus, I went outside for some fresh air before the class I were about to teach. I had a moment of silence to myself in honour of my grandpa whilst I felt the sunshine warming up my face. It was cloudy all day but at that very moment the sun came out.
‘My grandpa brought the sunshine out all the way from Cyprus to me, to tell me everything will be OK. I love you grandpa’ I heard the little voice inside my head say. I wiped my tears, took a deep breath and walked back in the classroom.
If anyone told me a week ago that in the next seven days I’d lose my grandpa, cry in front of both of my tutors and somehow manage to pretend I’m OK for days and actually deliver a great class, I’d have never believed them. Who? Me! I cry watching TV adverts and wear my heart on my sleeve, how on earth did I manage this?
Sadly I didn’t make it to Chris’s wedding and I feel terrible for that. For those who know me in person or have been reading my blogs, you know how much I love Chris, he’s one of my favourite people in the world and I’d have loved to be there and celebrate with him the happiest day of his life, but I just couldn’t. I was exhausted. Mentally and physically. Drained. I couldn’t feel any other emotion other than numbness and deep sadness.
5 days later and I’m doing better. I’m still sad and I cried my eyes out writing this, but I can control my grief just enough to get me going for now. It will hit me as soon as I’m done with this insanely intense course. For now, a day at a time.
This post is dedicated to my grandpa and I couldn’t not write a few words.
“A society grows great when old men plant trees the shade of which they know they will never sit in”. Good people do things for other people. That’s it. The end. Anne said to Tony on Ricky Gervais ever so relevant After Life. That’s what our grandpa did all his life. Good things for other people without expecting anything in return.
This is the last time I saw him, last Christmas, watching his grandchildren and grand grandchildren laughing and playing.
I asked the family to share some of their photos. Always surrounded by his loved ones, always laughing. That’s how we’ll all remember him.
I love you pappou mou. Our lives will never be the same without you. I promise I’ll always try to follow your example. Do good things for people. Make this a better world for everyone.
I came across a post yesterday on ‘Things that help with anxiety’ (or depression). I can’t remember exactly what it said -and I spent hours looking for it to no avail- other than one of the suggestions:
‘Every day write down how you feel…’
I suddenly had a light bulb moment. That’s what I need to do. I don’t really feel like writing or doing anything for that matter but maybe it will help, since my usual coping techniques haven’t been as effective lately.
I haven’t been feeling that well the last few days. Tired, drained, sad, numb, but also angry, easily irritated (I never felt so angry about the shitty weather, people being loud and other trivial, little things), anxious. A wonderfully disastrous cocktail of emotions. Hormones may have played a part (that week of the month, yes I’m talking about my period) but there’s more to that.
I didn’t do much at the weekend. I was so tired and drained I felt I couldn’t leave the house. And I didn’t. I felt horrible I didn’t go to see Kathy but I had no energy, I wouldn’t have been able to take her out for a walk.
I spent most of my time doing laundry (lots of laundry), watching TV, reading, a bit of singing on my guitar, some yoga. I felt better but my brain still worked overtime. I felt paralysed, as if the sofa and I were firmly bolted together, (though I managed to clean and make dinner) and at the same time the guilt of not doing much and obsessing on meaningless things for hours e.g. who was the actress in that film?Who DID we fight at World War I? was unbearable.
I put the first episode of After Life, Ricky Gervais’s new Netflix series on, about a man whose wife dies and he is in so much pain he decides to punish the world, and I was hooked instantly.
It was funny, sad, depressing, raw, unfiltered, saying out loud some of the horrible thoughts we all sometimes have but not dare say (I’ve read on the Guardian that some may be put off by the first episode because of Tony’s, the main character, apparent rudeness but I thought quite the opposite, that’s what makes it relatable, that’s what happens when you are in pain, it’s not nice but it happens) , and so very real. Anyone who has lost someone or who’s been depressed would relate. Also, great soundtrack.
I won’t reveal any spoilers but one of the messages coming out of the show was something I often torture my brain with. What is the point of living? Why do we try? Why live if we can’t think of a reason to stay alive?
Happiness is amazing. It’s so amazing it doesn’t matter if it’s yours or not. There’s that lovely thing: “A society grows great when old men plant trees the shade of which they know they will never sit in”. Good people do things for other people. That’s it. The end. Anne told Tony. Maybe that’s all there is. Live to make this world a better place. Do it for others if you can’t do it for yourself. Maybe.
It’s only 6 episodes and it’s meant to be a comedy, so it doesn’t go too deep but it’s definitely worth a watch.
Whilst talking to the little sis earlier today, I realised I go through a similar phase around this time of the year. A bout of sadness and numbness I can’t easily get out of, even with my best remedies in place. I normally go back to Cyprus for a week to restart, soak in the sunshine and the warmth, sit by the sea watching the waves…
… but this year it’s different. Ι don’t know when I’m going home yet but the little sister is visiting in three days. I can’t wait though I’m sad the other sis can’t join us. We planned an awesome week and it’s exactly what I need right now.
So how do I feel today? I feel better, though still sad, tired and incredibly anxious. I wish I was in the warmth and the sunshine by the sea but I’m also excited for the week ahead, dinner with friends, the little sister’s arrival, Linda’s leaving lunch, New Forest, London, Wicked, Brussels, Bruges. It’s gonna be a great one!
There won’t be a post this week but I’ll be back in a couple of weeks recharged and refreshed with plenty of stories and pictures.
Happy Monday and happy Green Monday to everyone celebrating Green Monday. Some of my most precious memories are sitting at the back of my uncle’s truck with my cousins, spending the day in the field trying to fly a kite, loving the strictly ‘lenten’ food, no meat or dairy but starving by the afternoon and my mum caving and let us eat whatever we fancied.
Anyway, time to finish work, go home and prepare for making more great memories later on this week.
PS if you are not at your best, try writing down how you feel. It works wonders.
People who fall ill with cancer often say ‘The one thing I’ve learned from my experience with cancer is to enjoy and appreciate every single moment, live in the now, don’t wait for things to happen, and for that I will always be grateful’…
We all forget about it, I do. I get so anxious and worried (for many things but often about getting cancer. I can imagine myself going through therapy, immense pain, losing my hair and eventually dying here on my own, away from my family, my heartbeat raised as I’m typing this) and I waste my time of being alive.
So here’s to those little moments that make life worthwhile:
The first sip of my first cup of coffee in the morning, especially if I happen to be home in Cyprus and I’m having my first one at a cafe in the sunshine…
A moment of pure blissfulness after a hot shower, when I smell clean and fresh and I feel so relaxed I can almost fall asleep…
Precious time and plenty of laughter with loved ones, friends, family …
Food, lots of food…
Sea and sunshine… if I were a season I’d be summer…
Little snaps of happiness that make life what worth living.
I hope and pray cancer will soon become an illness that no one or at least very few die of, and medicine is getting there, and also, I hope it doesn’t take having cancer to realise how fragile but beautiful life can be.
PS This post is dedicated to Lilian and Meredith, who know the real meaning of life and enjoy every moment, despite everything life throws at them.
-‘I’m starting a campaign, will you help me?’ the little sis messaged me.
-‘Yeah, of course. What is it?‘
And she sent me this:
I translated it and we came up with a hashtag to use for spreading the message.
Love for all!
This year, Valentine’s Day is not just for those in love. And it won’t last just a day but two weeks. To take part in the Love for All campaign you just need to do these two simple things:
1. Stop running around for a minute.
2. Tell all the people around you that you love them.
That’s it! You are done and have now contributed to our campaign to spread love everywhere!
So, I’ll go first. As many others, weirdly, I struggle to say I love you to my friends and family, though I try to every now and then. Except my immediate family, who I tell them every time we chat.
It’s amazing how we find it so easy to moan but when it comes to expressing our love we somehow hesitate.
But I love these five more than anything else in the world and living thousands of miles away, I’m always terrified that I never know when will be the last time I see them (I know, that’s how my brain works) so I feel I should remind them how much I love them every chance I get.
And I love you all, my wonderful relatives, friends and colleagues, everyone who inspires and touches me and all the kind amazing humans out there.
If you want to take part, you can follow the two simple steps and feel free to use the image below and use #loveforall to share and help spread the love! (Greek and English version below) .
I can’t remember the last time I had such a bad cold. But I’m at home so I can’t let it affect me much.
Yesterday was family time. Lunch with the sisters and afternoon with my cousin and her children, including my Little Prince, my godson.
In the evening it was Christmas films time and co-incidentally Home Alone was on TV, just perfect. We snuggled on the sofas and enjoyed a ridiculous amount of chocolate and melomakarona (Greek Christmas soft honey biscuits).
That’s what Christmas is all about. Family, laughter and lots of treats.