Tuesday, January 12, 2010


The phone would ring. Randomly. Evenings, weekends, but always after noon. He would never call before noon, unless it was an emergency. Calling before noon was presumptious, implied too much familiarity perhaps. The greeting was always the same, after the first hello there was that pause on the receiving end and then the heavy, syrupy thick Greek accent. "Hello. This is Kosmas, your neighbor across the street." And Robert and I would laugh about it later saying, "Oh, yes, THAT Kosmas, as opposed to the many other Kosmases who call us day in and day out..."

Robert answered the phone to hear that same greeting for nineteen years, as long as he's lived in this house. Helen and Kosmas, our Greek-neighbors-across-the-street (say it quickly and with a lilt), moved here long before we did. They are establishment here. They know the territory.

Our families have shared the proverbial cups of sugar for nearly two decades.

Helen brought us baklava on our wedding day, calling it our "Happy, Happy!" We bought them espresso cups in Disney World. Kosmas and Helen presented us with the first fruits of their tomatoes each season. We bought Helen aqua net at Kroger when they could no longer drive. Helen and Kosmas blessed each of our children by sprinkling them with flour so that they might "live to have white hair." We called the EMS for Helen the night Kosmas had a stroke. We watch one another's houses. We collect one another's mail when the others aren't home. We turn the light on and guard the spare key.

The calls from Kosmas diminished in this past year. His dementia had decreased to the point that he was often bed-bound, bed-bound in dress pants and a wool cardigan sweater, but bed-bound nonetheless. Instead Helen would call, and in her faltering English she would explain what they needed--help with medications, help with an international call, help getting the carpet cleaned. She would apologize with each call, instead of being reminded of who they were, our neighbors-across-the-street, she knew that we knew. We had surpassed the narrow role of "neighbor" and had become "just-like-my-granddaughter-and-grandson."

On December 18 Kosmas entered the Hospice program and he and Helen moved into our inpatient facility and quickly endeared themselves to the staff. Hospice Home became their own little Greek village, and we were blessed.

This morning as I watched Helen draped over the body of her dead husband, sobbing and kissing his lips, his eyelids and reminding him of her love I felt as if I were intruding on the most intimate of acts. As I listened to their son, Alex, whisper softly in Greek words that were so tender and soft, I was reminded again of the sanctity and holiness of relationship. I stood, witness to the suffering, as chaplain, as neighbor, and as friend.

And then Alex turned to me, gracious and gentle Alex, who said, "Christen, in our culture, in the Eastern Orthodox tradition a family member stays with the family until the funeral director comes." I nodded, content with whatever would make them the most comfortable. "But," Alex said, "I'm going to take my mother home now. Will you stay, as family, until the funeral director arrives? Because you are our family."

I hadn't cried before.

I did then.

As Helen and Alex left the room Helen turned and said, "Make sure you tell the funeral man that Kosmas was loved."

I did. And he was.

Rest in peace, Kosmas, our Greek neighbor-across-the-street.


甜心 said...


Anonymous said...


I am sitting here in tears, grieving the death of Kosmas, your dear, dear friend and neighbor across the street. He and Helen were so gracious and hospitable to us when we were visiting, plying us with their delictable Greek delicacies.

The world is too short of men such as Kosmas and women such as Helen. Their old world ways, their goodness, their care for fellow human beings, their transparency and child likeness. Whis will be so missed with the demise of Cosmos. And although I have seen hime only a few times through the years, I mourn his absence from our world amd feel a profound sense of loss. My condolences to all of you, but especially to dear Helen. I hurt with you all. My love to you, Lois

And to Contemplative Chaplain, how beautifully and poignantly have you given the account of of Kosmas' death and life! Your muse has returned.
Thank you and thank God for you,

Anonymous said...

Please overlook the two misspellings (or typos) above. The hour was late and the wine plentiful.


Anonymous said...

What a blessing to have neighbors viewed as family. I can only imagine what a better world this would be with more people like Kosmas, Helen and Christen. Please keep the faith and maybe we will see you again soon. Thom

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Anonymous said...


I happened upon your blog as I was looking through Jim Miller's contemplative photographer blog. (And I would never utter the words "happened upon," but they seem appropriate in writing!) I am a hospital chaplain dabbling in the idea of moving into hospice chaplaincy. Thank you for sharing Kosmas and Helen with your blog readers. Your words remind me of the importance of presence. I struggle with "loving" my "job" and I am thankful to find inspiration in the loving narratives others take the time and the love to share.

Beth Seder
Cheyenne, WY

Contemplative Chaplain said...

Blessings to you, Beth! And thank you for posting.