There has been somewhat of a reason for my silence here. It's true that there is a lot going on making life busy with Steve presenting his thesis project in less than two weeks. But really, that's not the main reason. I haven't had many words because a week ago Wednesday, my last grandparent, my beloved Yia Yia, died. And every time I sat to write, I didn't really have much to say. I also wasn't ready to post about it on the world wide web. Now that a bit of time has passed and we've laid her to rest, I feel more ready. She had lived a long life. She had alzheimer's and had pretty much lost much of her memory a few years ago now.
But I still loved her, very, very much.
It was difficult for me to visit. Part of it was logistical due to distance, lots of kids and a busy husband. But a big part of it was because I could hardly bear to see her. When she was well she had such a vibrant personality. Yet when the disease really began to take over four-five years ago now, it was so hard to see her slip into a veil of confusion without her spark lighting up her eyes. I was no longer her little Nik. I was a stranger. I could hardly bear it.
All of us grandkids were asked to write some words about her. My brothers and cousins wrote beautiful eulogies to her. She was that special. Truthfully, I was really blessed with such special grandparents on both sides. All of them loved me so much and contributed to my life in many ways.
There was something about her being the last one though. And her death was somewhat sudden. These two things coupled together made it all rather difficult for me to bear. Since I hadn't been to see her since the summer, I had the opportunity to drive up and see her one last time before she was taken away to be prepared for her funeral. At first I wasn't sure if I should go or not. I obviously hadn't made it before she died since it was unexpected. Yet in the end I decided to do it. And I was so blessed I did.
My older brother and his wife were there too (along with my parents, my uncle and one of my cousins). But in the room when I got to see her, it was just my brother, his wife and me for some time. We cried together, told stories about her, honored her and looked at her as she lay there so beautiful. All the traces of the disease that had wracked her body and mind for so long, had passed away. She was at peace, in the arms of God.
So this is for my Yia Yia-a eulogy.
My Yia Yia was one of the best women I've ever known. She taught me so much about life through her stories about the old country (Greece) and World War 2, her experiences having immigrated to America, her heartaches and triumphs while making a life for her family here in the states, and her determination to laugh regardless of what came in her path. To me, she had perfected the balance of determination and joy, which is a balance much sought after but not easily attained. But she had it down and it flowed out of her into her life, infusing her family and friends with an abundance of love and her own dose of spunk. That spunk is what helped her to endure well the many curveballs thrown at her during her life. She believed in laughter and loyalty. And even more that that, she had faith that God was with her no matter what. To her it was that simple-laughter, loyalty, love and faith. These are the things she taught me from a very young age.
I have so many memories of her and so many things to be thankful that she showed me. Much of my early years were spent in her loving care. I can still picture her making my brother and me Spaghetti O's in the back kitchen at the liquor store she and my Pa Pou owned for many years. Many happy weekends were spent there with her making cardboard boxes come alive into trains and her training us to work the cash register like big boys and big girls. She always rewarded us with an Its It and a trip "shopping" around the store (as long as we asked Pa Pou first if it was okay). At night we lay snuggled up close against her back in bed while she told us stories of Greece, her family that she left behind, the earthquake they had barely survived and various Bible stories that were her own "special versions." I can hear her voice lulling me to sleep and even in my thirties, those memories bring such a warmth to my heart.
My Yia Yia was someone I was very proud of. Growing up, due to her living in a small village and because of the war, she didn't have the opportunity to have much of an education yet, when she moved to the US, she taught herself English and how to read and write. She worked hard to become a US citizen. And whatever work she was given, whether it was cleaning houses or ironing other peoples' clothes, she did it with pride. I can still hear her voice when I make a bed, "Spread the sheet, just like this Nikki..." or when I make a meal, "Now you take a little jar and mix the milk with the flour...". She was an incredibly hard worker. And even though her work was laborious for most of her life, she flourished because she had joy. She had learned the secret to joy-life is hard, but God is with us. What more did she need? What more do any of us need?
One thing my Yia Yia was an absolute expert at was people. She was a people magnet. Everywhere she went, she made friends. My Pa Pou was a good businessman, but she was the lifeblood of their store because her personality and friendliness brought costumers coming back from all over the east bay for years. Everyone knew her and loved her, and she was giving to everyone she came in contact with. I knew she was special to others. But I also knew she was mine. And her being my Yia Yia was something I will be proud of my whole life.