Monday, 25 August 2014

He is a very old man now

- or it seems that way. Actually he is only 80 but he seems older than the Senior Cat who has more than another ten years on this man.
This man is my sister's father-in-law. There was a party to celebrate his 80th birthday yesterday. We were invited to the inevitable barbecue and, as always, far too much other food. (Yes, I confess I contributed to that excess but one cannot go to such a party empty handed.) It always amazes me how much food disappears at such an event. The Greek-Cypriot community knows how to celebrate in style. The men cook the barbecue and, in this case, they do it very well indeed. After all they have had a lot of experience.
Yiannis is a widower now. His wife died just before Christmas last year. His children are constantly in and out. One does his washing, another cleans the house. My sister's husband does all the paperwork and any maintenance. My sister is usually the one who takes him to medical appointments - and there are a good many of those. There is one more sibling who will help if asked. He is perhaps the only one who is not fully involved on an almost daily basis.
It hasn't stopped the depression Yiannis has felt but perhaps it has kept it somewhat under control. Yesterday was obviously difficult for him. Physically he is a mess. He has not, like many men of his background and generation, taken care of his health. He is overweight. He needs heart surgery. He walks very slowly with the aid of a stick. His English is still good but the occasional Greek word will be slipped in. He will often speak Greek to his children - and sometimes to my sister or even to me. In context we usually guess what he means - and answer him in English. I always greet him in Greek. The Senior Cat speaks no Greek. Yiannis does not expect that of him. He does expect it of me. I am, he tells me, another child of his - just by virtue of being the sister of his daughter-in-law. Even my brother - who lives in another state and barely knows him - is considered another son.
It is a different concept of "family" - one my family understands in the sense of "clan".
I have tried explaining this to other people but they cannot comprehend it. For them it appears there is "family" and "other relatives" and then "other people".
But yesterday, after we had sung "Happy Birthday" and he had managed to say a single sentence before being overcome, his eldest granddaughter hugged him and he reached out for my hand and held it tight as well. He wanted us close.
        "Family," he told us in Greek, "Family is everything."

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