I vividly remember the last evening that I would ever see my Greek grandfather ten years ago. He had not been well for some time but he found the strength to have an evening down in his taverna which is in the middle of the village. My memory of this evening is so rich – the sweet smell of roasting pork on the spit, infused with the fresh jasmine flowers which are so pungent at night-time once the cool breeze floats in from the sea. There was laughter, chatter and merriment all around us. My grandfather (Papous) was so well loved and respected as a kind, honest and good soul that the whole village gathered close to spend time with him – so happy to see that he was up and about. It was the middle of the summer so the village was buzzing, warm and humid even at this late hour and I sat on his knee while he laughed and ran his beloved amber worry beads around his hand and over his wrist in a well-practiced routine, surrounded by the people whom he had loved and who had loved him for all his life. My grandmother did not leave his side, but watched tentatively and with such affection.
Who would have believed that those very same friends and family who were gathered around him, laughing and dancing, at our family taverna would, in just 24 hours, be crying desperately at home, around his coffin.
There is a tradition of mourning the dead in Greece together with the presence of the whole community at home, for a day and a night after the death. In so doing, the community is able to empathise, to show solidarity, to share the burden of loss in order to help the family heal more easily. As such, I remember our house packed with what seemed like the population of the entire island, parading through the sitting room offering hugs and kisses and sympathetic pinches on my cheek, while my grandmother sat, sobbing, at her beloved husband’s feet. I remember my Jack Russel, Goofy, running around in search of his master until eventually my dad picked him up to give him a chance to say goodbye too. My dad and I drove around the island on his motor bike gathering fresh flowers, lavender, thyme and rosemary which we took home and laid all around his body in the coffin. I remember thinking he looked like a fat snow white in a beautiful flower strewn bed. Finally, when the last visitors had left, and the sun of a new day began to rise, we laid his precious amber worry beads in his hands, gave him a final kiss on his head, closed the casket and paraded him up to the church for the funeral.
My grandfather did not lead a highly ambitious or remarkable life: orphaned by the age of 16 he travelled to Canada at 19 with the merchant navy, where he jumped ship to try to make his fortune on land - but he became terribly homesick and soon returned to his island of Paxos to marry his child hood sweetheart, my grandmother Hula. He established his business, had two children and one granddaughter (me), and died aged 69. It was a simple and sadly short life. But it was well-lived in that his positivity, kindness, generosity and humour had far reaching, resounding impacts on all who he met. Even now when his name comes up amongst those who knew him, they will say ‘there did not exist a more gentle and good soul’. And I always think, ‘what greater honour can we wish for in life, than to be remembered in this way?’
Here at Norwich School, I frequently find the decisions that I have to make about my future somewhat overwhelming. Subject choices, career paths, work experience, community service options, universities… I’m never sure that I’ve made the right decision. But what I tell myself, or, what I try to remember is that whichever decisions we make, whatever life we choose to lead, let us strive to be good and to consider the ways that we can have a positive impact on the lives of others. Admittedly this is not always possible, all of us have times when we are low or tired, but surly this is something we should reach for.
As my dear old Papou has shown me, a life led as a good person, brings riches in kind. I remember everyone saying that he had the death and funeral of a King – such was the respect and love that enveloped him, a direct result of the way he treated others and the simple virtue which emanated from him.