Sunday, May 15, 2011

Papa Greek

My father-in-law is dying. 

Over the last few weeks, watching him fade away, I so desperately wanted to say goodbye.  But I was too chicken.  No one else seemed to be acknowledging that he was leaving, and, well, I just didn’t have it in me.  I would hover outside his bedroom door, afraid to be alone with him.  I’m not proud to admit this, but it’s true.


Last Sunday morning, we got a call that he’d fallen in the night, trying to go to the bathroom.  We went to see him, and he told Tony he wanted to go into the hospital.  Actually, that’s not what he said.  Mama Greek had been driving us a little bit crazy with her frantic, ceaseless worrying and trying to feed him soup and leaping around whenever he had visitors.  Papa Greek’s words were, “Get me to the hospital and away from her.”


When Tony told Mama Greek that Papa Greek wanted to go to the hospital, I believe her words were along the lines of, “No way in hell.”

“We get him diapers,” she told me, as we sat at the kitchen table.  She and Tony had been yelling at each other for the past hour, and now Tony was off clandestinely meeting his uncle, to develop a strategy to negotiate between his dying father and his hysterical mother. 

“Some women take care of their husbands for years," she added.  "It’s okay!  I get gloves.” 

She talked about the gloves a lot. I just sat there and listened and didn’t say much.  I have not been able to muster a lot of compassion towards Mama Greek in the last few days.  What makes it harder is the moments when I see Tony yelling, fussing and fixating obsessively in the exact same way as she does.  If there is a Jesus, I hope he forgives me for this.  I’m learning that sometimes, you really don’t feel the things you’re supposed to feel. 


It was decided that Papa Greek would go into the hospital on Monday.  On Sunday night, I finally found a way in.  I started with a joke.  I said,

“I can’t believe you’re leaving me alone with these two.”

He smiled and said, “You’ll be okay.  No one is around forever.”

He stuck out his arms, which are so thin and fragile now it breaks your heart, and pulled me to him.  And he said, “I love you so much.” 

And through my blubbering, I was able to say what I wanted to say, which was, “I’m really going to miss you.” 

“I don’t have the strength to stay,” he said.

And I said, “It’s okay.  You can go.” 

Then Tony came in and got onto the bed next to him, and we all held hands and cried for a while.


I wish it had ended like that.  I think Papa Greek does, too.  The day he left to the hospital was torturous.  We had to wait 3 hours for the ambulance, since it wasn’t an emergency.  He was agitated and very upset.  Mama Greek was, understandably, beside herself.  She was down on her hands and knees,  rummaging through cardboard boxes in the closet in his room for his slippers, which she insisted go to the hospital with him.  She sent me out to buy him a new pair, which didn’t fit, so she sent me back to exchange them. 

Papa Greek hasn’t walked in days.


They play CNN in the “Family Room” in palliative care.  This makes so much sense to me.  Watching the world end and Americans justify kicking imams off planes, anyone would want to get out of this place as quickly as possible.


Yesterday, I went with a very close friend of Tony’s family for a meeting at the funeral home.  The woman we met with wore a massive jewel around her neck.  It’s horrible, but I stared at it the whole time, wondering if she stole it from a dead person.  I can’t help it.  Maybe funeral home owners should think twice before sporting that kind of bling.

She asked if we were Greek, and I, accidentally, said, “Yes.”  When I corrected myself, the family friend, who I think of as the sister-in-law I never had, said, “If you aren’t yet, you will be soon.”  The woman’s eyes lit up, and we immediately had to talk her down from a funeral package that costs twice as much as your average wedding. 

“He’s a simple man,” my sister-in-law explained, of Papa Greek.

The bling lady told us about one of the more modest packages, but made sure to mention some of the add-ons you can get, like something called a Serenity Table.

“You display the deceased person’s personal belongings,” she said, to which we both turned grey.
“It’s very touching,” she added, quickly.  “I can’t tell you more, though, because I’ve only seen it once.”
The Serenity Table costs $450.


My mother-in-law has said she wants to get a $5000 casket for Papa Greek.  Tony told her that if she does, Papa Greek is going to come back from the dead and haunt her. 


I’ve realized the most peace I feel these days is when I’m sitting with Papa Greek, holding his hand or massaging his feet.  It seems weird to say, but it feels kind of like being with a newborn baby.  When people get to that stage, I think, they become pure again.  They don’t have the slings and arrows of normal humanity anymore.  They just exist.  I feel protective of him.  It’s so weird that he is the same person who replaced the metal grate in my garage, who gave a speech at my wedding, who danced at Tony’s aunt’s and uncle’s 50th wedding anniversary party less than a year ago.  Now, he’s just a being.

Soon, he will just be light.

I’ll say it again: I’m really, really going to miss him.


  1. as always, your writing is beautiful. I shared the emotions while reading you. I couldn't help but cry. Thank you (and thank Tony's family) for sharing this difficult part of your life.

  2. i was crying too - knowing at the moment how it must feel so sorry!

  3. I just wanted to let you know that this weblog is being featured on Five Star Friday -

  4. How is it that death is always *right there* staring at us, and we still have our hearts broken.

    Thank you for writing this. It is truly beautiful.

  5. I hadn't seen this post and it broke my heart in so many ways. The loveliness of your words with such a hard subject. "They don’t have the slings and arrows of normal humanity anymore." So poetic. So true. I've felt that (too) many times watching people I love dying in hospitals.

  6. I really liked the article, and the very cool blog

  7. Thanks for sharing this Nat, I'm in tears right now, seriously, thank you