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.