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.
Sunday, January 10, 2010
Tell the truth, friends.
Who sent the mass summons out that I might receive FOUR messages from friends in the past week that they miss the contemplative chaplain's musings? Who masterminded the plot? Who decided to try to lure me out of my safe cave of writer's block by leaving a trail of baked doritos and dangling a bottle of chardonay?
However it occurred, whether through community organizing or the random hand of God using Her messengers to send a pointed sign, it's allowed me to emerge from the cocoon of parental ennui enough to pen a few sentences.
So, thank you, thank you. It feels good to be missed.
In the time that it took to write this entry, however, I frustratingly must note that I have been interrupted no fewer than eight times from a wee chocolate-faced interloper who pleads, "Mommy, mommy, mommy (long whiney noise) I just need my Caillou [his favorite PBS show...which was already on]." And then, "Mommy, mommy, mommy, (uses toddler headbutt for emphatic punctuation squarely into parent's solar plexus) I just need some apple juice." And not long after, "Mommy, mommy, mommy (throws self on floor for maximum dramatic effort) Where is my Mo-Mo [the cat]?"
Bloggage will come. You have been fairly warned. But it will have to come after the offspring's bedtime. Toddlers simply don't understand the creative muse.