Sunday, 1 May 2016

"John died this morning,"

Middle Cat informed us bluntly. She was referring to her father-in-law. 
We had been expecting it. He was not well. Middle Cat had voiced her concerns to me the day before. He had a chest infection, probably bordering on pneumonia. With all his other problems it was just too much. 
I am glad for him. He was not comfortable - or happy. 
He was ten years younger than the Senior Cat and, in many ways, their lives could not have been more different. 
John was a Greek Cypriot peasant by birth. He was born in a house without electricity or running water. He was the eldest of eleven children. 
At the age of sixteen he migrated to Australia - alone. The war had only been over a few years. John was heading for a better life in a different country.
And it was a better life. The food was better. The housing was better - yes, there was electricity and running water. 
And John worked incredibly hard. He brought out all his siblings and their families one by one. He "sponsored" each one of them. And, when they had all arrived, he brought out his parents for the last years of their lives. 
The old couple was still alive when Middle Cat married. I remember them well. They were small in stature. Both of them had had rickets as children. John avoided that - but only just - because his father managed to get and then keep goats and the children were given the milk.
John worked for others at first and then bought a green grocery business when he married. He built that up, sold it at a profit and then bought a fish and chip shop. It was so popular there would, quite literally, be a queue around the corner into the next street in the evenings. He knew his fish. He had no time for bags of semi-cooked frozen chips. 
He worked into his 70's. 
And therein lay the problem. He worked. He worked and he worked. He never developed any other interests. His working hours were odd. He usually did not get home until midnight. (The shop would close at 10pm but then they had to clean and scrub to the standard of cleanliness he demanded.) 
When he took time off it was to visit or be visited by family - or watch the soccer on television. Once in a while he would go fishing with his brothers.
He saw his children grow up and go on to tertiary education - something he could never have thought possible as a child. He provided  a  solid home for his wife with all the modern conveniences - and the same for his parents. He saw to it that his siblings had help when they needed it.
But he never developed any interests of his own. He was depressed when he retired. It was made worse by  the death of his wife. He sat there staring into space.  He had medical problems. There was major heart surgery last year.
And so it went on.He was old before he should have been. He should have been treated for depression but, like so many others for whom English is a second language, it wasn't recognised by his family.
The last time I saw him he didn't respond to a greeting in English. I tried Greek instead. I got a faint smile and "Caterina". He always called me that, made me use my few words of Greek. He held on to me tightly when I hugged him. I could feel his uneven breathing - and it wasn't just his heart condition. 
RIP John. You deserve it. 


Miriam Drori said...

He reminds me of my late father. When he felt he was no longer able to help others, he didn't see much reason to live.

Philip C James said...

That is so sad - my condolences for your loss. But so beautifully and poignantly do you remember him. Life is such a struggle, but he left the world a better place than when he came in; he may not have had other interests but those of his family, close and extended were clearly very important to him. He wouldn't have made the national news, but perhaps it's the news media who have their values and reporting criteria all wrong?

catdownunder said...

That's interesting Miriam - I have come across other people like that too.
Thank you Philip. The media insists good news doesn't sell but I am not so sure about that myself.