Funerals are so surreal…

On Wednesday, 31st of July, the first week of my CELTA course, I received that dreaded phone call, my little sister letting me know my grandpa had died. A few days later I had a chat with one of my tutors and he inevitably asked me how I felt. My least favourite question at the time. It was the first time I didn’t cry when I was asked that after grandpa’s death and I just said:

‘I hope my uncle doesn’t die too, if that happens, I’m out. I’m definitely quitting this course. I won’t be able to handle it’.

I immediately changed subject. I couldn’t even imagine it might happen anytime soon. He had just been diagnosed with cancer and was recovering from his operation before starting chemo.

Less than two months later, my sister, my mum and I went to see my uncle Spyros at the hospital. His operation was successful and he had his first chemo, which caused him unbearably painful sores, he couldn’t speak or eat much, but his mind and spirit were still strong. He was even joking. I genuinely thought at that moment that he would definitely recover. He would never give up.

Exactly a week later, his health deteriorated (he unfortunately caught an infection when his immune system was at its lowest) and he was asleep or unconscious most of the time. He could hear though… so my sister and I were to visit.

We didn’t make it. Just before we were to leave for the hospital, I received that dreaded phone call. Uncle Spyros died. Ι burst into tears, devastated. He didn’t want to die, that bloody cancer and chemo killed him.

The kindest, sweetest, funniest, most generous man, always smiling. We all loved him to bits. How is he now gone??

My mind couldn’t comprehend what had just happened. How is that possible? How did we lose both my grandpa and my uncle in less than two ? How can my aunt, who used to live with both, deal with this?

How is it possible that less than a year ago, at Christmas time, we all had a laugh at grandpa’s house and now they are both gone??

Death and funerals are awkward, sad, surreal, especially in the Greek Orthodox religion.

I was asked to write the eulogy a couple of hours before the funeral. Nobody had the strength to do it and I couldn’t not do it. His son Christos, with tears in his eyes shared some beautiful sentences and I did the rest.

I wept and wept writing it so I asked my sister, Stella, to read it, as she rarely cries in front of others but I was going to be right next to her the whole time, in case she breaks.

After a short, half an hour service, it was time for the eulogy.

Stella and I went up. She read the first sentence and then burst into tears. I looked around, his three beloved sons, my aunties, my mum, my cousin, everyone weeping. Flashbacks from the last time I had to read a eulogy, my aunt’s funeral 4 years ago kept coming to my mind.

I needed to do it for my uncle. With tears streaming down my face and with breaking voice I took over and managed to read it until the end.

‘Until we meet again. Rest in peace our beloved Spyro’

And then the priest said… ‘Δεύτε τελευταίον ασπασμόν’ (‘the last embrace/goodbye’) where for the last time we say goodbye. Probably the worst but also the most necessary part of the service. A final peek at the dead, to help the brain realise their spirit has left their body. (in theory anyway, he just looked he was peacefully asleep). Closure.

I’ve been grieving for my uncle for the last week but because I never said goodbye to my grandpa, I still feel he went somewhere else and he will soon be back. It’s crazy.

After the funeral, probably the most surreal part of a Greek Orthodox funeral took part, the burial. We followed the car carrying him to the cemetery. There the priest read a few prayers and then his sons, my aunt and other relatives said their very last goodbye. He was lowered into the grave and then bread and other random things including a plate the priest broke there and then were also put in the coffin, before we all threw a bit of soil and the graveyard people did the rest. Customs I don’t really know much about.

After the burial, my grandpa’s home where a week before we gathered for grandpa’s 40 day memorial, was bursting with people who came to pay their respects. Bittersweet moments, sharing stories of my uncle, grieving him whilst at the same time celebrating life. A cruel reminder life is too short and we should enjoy and appreciate every minute.

‘Why are all crying, uncle Spyros is just resting and we will all see him soon, when we die? My 7 year old nephew, Angelos, who uncle Spyros adored, asked me with his little eyes full of questions on what he just witnessed.

‘Because we’ll miss him, we don’t know when we’ll see him again.’ I said. It was hard to answer most of the questions he had, I didn’t know the answers either, this was the only one I had a genuine response for.

A lot more happened this week, I’ll tell you soon, but the biggest and saddest was uncle’s Spyros death.

We’ll miss you θειε μου. Until we meet again.



Lovely Ray

‘In my experience, Kevin, there’s no such thing as ‘a long time ago.’ There are only memories that mean something and memories that don’t.’

On a late summer Wednesday eve in 2015, this tall, charming gentleman walked in the SingNow rehearsal room. I remember sitting next to him, chatting before we even started the session. He made me laugh from the first moment we met with his frankness.

His name was Ray.

As per Jack’s tradition, whenever someone new joins the group they introduce themselves and tell us something we wouldn’t know about them. He was 80 years old. We were all in shock, we would have never guessed.

His wife of sixty years, the love of his life, Bet had died recently and he missed her terribly. He hated being on his own and thought he’d give our choir a go.

Little did he know then how much he would love it, how much we would love him.

About a year and a half later I left SingNow and I’d only see Ray at SingNow gigs I now occasionally went as a fan or One Sound, our ever so growing choir collaboration show.

But for that year and a  half we had a chat and a laugh every week. He’d always make me feel good about myself, compliment me, remind me to live my life and not dwell on things. He was a reminder himself. In his 80s he was more active than most of us. He played tennis, had tea parties with his neighbours, he got out and about.

He didn’t miss a single performance. Always smartly dressed, he sang in the rain at Music in the City, Fareham, Guildhall Square.

Music in the City

Ray was one of a kind. Funny, witty, shockingly honest, charming, sweet and always a gentleman.  I used to refer to him as lovely Ray. Because he really was.

He’d chat to everyone, he’d be friends with everyone, he’d help anyone.

I’ll never forget a warm Sunday afternoon after a SingNow gig was cancelled at the last minute and Claire, Les, Alison and I went to Ray’s for a cuppa and cake. He lived in a beautiful bungalow, bursting with vintage furniture, floral wallpapers, character. It was so pretty Claire and I joked we’d move in with him. After giving us a little tour of the house, we went through the double doors out to the most beautiful garden I’ve ever seen in real life.

‘My wife used to take care of it. But now she’s gone I can’t keep up with it…’

He were to move to a retirement flat soon.

The last time I sang with Ray and SingNow was on an autumn Saturday afternoon, at Mountbatten Hospice. It was a special one for many of us. It brought up memories of my aunt I lost a year earlier to cancer, she was moved into hospice for a while before she did, others had relatives who spent their last days there. What an unsettling… serene place it is.

I last saw Ray at One Sound, two months ago.

We had just finished the show and on my way home, there he was, smiling. We had a quick chat, gave me a kiss and a hug and said goodnight.

Friday, 8th of June 2018.

I’m at Test Valley Crematorium. The chapel is packed. Of course it is. Ray was loved by everyone he met.

I wonder if I’d have so many people at my funeral. I doubt it…I’m no Ray. Nowhere near Ray.

Ray died peacefully… and unexpectedly three weeks ago. When I told Donna and Matt about it, they remembered lovely Ray, although they’ve never met him. That’s how wonderful he was. People liked him just from hearing about him.

Is it worse than he died unexpectedly? We were not prepared. As much as one can prepare for this. We didn’t have the chance to say goodbye. To tell him how much we loved him. To have a last giggle, to see his smile again.

This very thought terrifies me and I break out in a cold sweat. You’ll never know when is the last time… What if I die? What if a friend dies? Or family? Some of my friends I haven’t seen for months. There is so much I want to say to everyone… Oh my lord…

Is it better? He didn’t suffer for months, or years. He was not stuck in a hospital bed, depending on others to take care of him, slowly and painfully falling apart…

I don’t know what to expect. I’ve never been to a funeral in this country before so on our way there I ask Fraser to give me an idea of how it’d be like.

I feel a bit underdressed. The family requested no black (except the choir peeps who dressed in the SingNow black and orange colours) and I wore the only clean clothes I had that were no black.

I stand at the back with my old SingNow friends. I’m desperately trying not to cry.

Ray wouldn’t have liked that.

Out of the corner of my eye, I see something that shocks me. The date of his death on the funeral program. 21st of May, 2018.

But he died on a Saturday, He didn’t die on my birthday did he? Did he? What does that mean?

I see Pat welling up and tears are streaming down my face. I can somehow manage to control them. I sing along to the Hymn although I have no idea how the melody goes.

It was a beautiful service, a celebration of his amazing life. His family gave wonderful tributes to Ray. I cried and laughed with my old SingNow pals.

The ceremony ended with the Lord’s Prayer.

I didn’t realise until half way through that’s ‘Πάτερ Ημών’.  I pray along, but in ancient Greek. I haven’t said it out loud in years. I can’t even remember the last time.

Since I’ve never been to a funeral in the UK, I didn’t know that I wouldn’t get to see Ray again.

The last and most painful but cathartic part of a Greek Orthodox funeral is saying goodbye to the deceased one last time. (None of the words used to describe death ever feels right).

It didn’t happen but attending his funeral still helped with closure.

I wish my parents let me go at my giagia Stella’s funeral 23 years ago. It’s already excruciatingly painful when a loved one dies, the brain struggles to cope, to understand that you’ll never see, hear, touch that person ever again and being there, at the funeral, saying goodbye, seeing them with your own eyes lie there, in the coffin, which weirdly seems comfortable, looking so peaceful, almost grinning, that’s what you need to help you make sense of it (as much as possible). Of  death. Of mortality.  The surrealism of it all.

Chris gives me a lift back to Southampton. We talked about loved ones we lost, we get emotional, we laugh. She is amazing. I hope she knows that. I wish I told her.

Ray was buried in his favourite black and orange SingNow clothes. That’s how he’d have wanted to. That’s how much he loved it.

Lovely Ray

I still can’t believe I’ll never see him again. I’m sad but so happy I had the great pleasure of knowing the lovely Ray Dyball.

I bet he is having a glass of gin and giggles with Bet right now.

You may rest in peace Mr Dyball.








4 months ago… part 3… the funeral and the week after

18th of October, 2015… Sunday…

It was a miserable day for the whole family. I felt numb. I couldn’t comprehend what happened the night before. I kept my emotions in for so long, I was about to burst, but I held them in. I knew I had to be strong for the rest of the family.

We all spent the whole day at home, making arrangements for the funeral which was the next day. We didn’t talk much, we barely ate, we barely slept.

19th of October 2015, Monday

On Monday morning my cousin called me. She wanted me to read a few words she wrote at the funeral, a eulogy for her mum. We talked about it months ago and I agreed to do it because she knew she wouldn’t be able to do it herself. Living away helped me be calmer and more composed and I had to remain calm and composed once more.

She sent me the text (it’s in Greek but if anyone wants a translation, I’d be happy to do it ΕΠΙΚΗΔΕΙΟΣ (2)) and I’ve read it aloud a couple of times, to prepare myself. I managed to hold my tears during most of it but I always broke down towards the end of it. I knew I had to try my best at the funeral.

It was a warm, sunny day although it was the middle of October. We went to church at 3pm.

She arrived… she looked like an angel heavily asleep, so beautiful and peaceful. I broke down a couple of times. But every time I did, I managed to recover fast, I had to. I needed to make it through the day…

The church was full of people who loved her… Everyone she knew came to pay their respect to this beautiful person. It was very moving to see all of these people there.  It was an emotional ceremony run by 12 priests…

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The worst part was kissing her goodbye. It was a tragic moment for all of us but especially for my grandpa, her dad…

And then it was time for me to read the Eulogy. I stood in front of everyone, next to the coffin. My voice trembled, my mouth was dry. For the first time in my life my legs went numb and I felt I would faint at any minute. But I kept looking at her picture throughout the ceremony and in my head I imagined her saying to me ‘You can do it, do it for me, I know you can’.

And I did. I managed to read all of it until the end. I broke down briefly when I caught with the corner of my eye her son breaking down. But I kept going. And I made it. When I was done I ran into my cousin’s arms and let my tears out. It was one of the most difficult things I’ve done in my life… and I’m proud of myself that I managed to do it.

After that, the cemetery. What bizarre places cemeteries are. Haunting but peaceful…

There was a lot of crying and sobbing and shouting… And after that we all gathered at my grandpa’s house (I am not even going to talk about how my grandpa was on that day, I can’t even imagine how it feels to lose your child). And we all shared lovely stories, kids were running around, we caught up with relatives who hadn’t seen for years and we all had a laugh, celebrating her life.

LESSON 9 That moment I realised once again that life goes on no matter what.

Deep inside I knew all this left a big scar and I needed time to heal. I feel I still haven’t had the time to do that (more on that later). Kubler Ross five stages of grief  (they apply to different situations, not just death but also breakups, divorces etc) keep popping into my head since then. Denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance… I am not sure on which stage I am, but I have not reached acceptance yet…

My family and I spent most of the rest of the week at home. Everyone started going back to work, trying to move on the best they could. And things between me and my ex whilst I was away were deteriorating so I knew it was time for me to pick up my pieces, go back home and sort my life out.

Rest in Peace my lovely aunt Anna… you’ll always be in my heart…

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