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A few days ago, my Yiayia (grandmother) was moved to hospice care after suffering from the effects of dementia since losing her husband, my Pappou, in early 2017.
She’s lived a long, incredible life, but that fact doesn’t take away the sting when someone you’ve known and loved your whole life, the bedrock of your family, starts forgetting you, begins reliving long-buried nightmares of a hard life, and slowly succumbs to pain and fear, not knowing where she is, who is around her, and what they want from her.
But Yiayia was an incredible woman. I love telling the story of her threatening my now-wife Andrea’s life the first time she ever met her (only if, of course, she ever hurt me). Or when she, in the same visit, told Drea—in her still-thick accent—“I like you. You look like a Greek, but you don’t dress like a slut like they do.”
But her life was much more than her wicked sense of humor, her protectiveness over her family, or even that strange, powerful book of hers that only exists in the whispers of family lore.
Simply put: she was Yiayia. Something—someone—that holds far more meaning than those two syllables could possibly carry. She would do (and did) anything for her children and especially all her grandchildren.
Some of my fondest memories of her were simple ones: being forcefed grapes and Lucky Charms on TV trays, her watching over all of us cousins as we played, launching each other across the living room, climbing the support poles like wild monkeys, and narrowly escaping burning the house down once or twice with smoke bombs and far too many matches.
Through it all was her laugh, her cooking, her nurturing, and underneath even that, the sacrifice of a woman who came to a country she never knew to live with a father she rarely saw in a language she never spoke - as a teenager no less, the victim of a brutal fratricidal war that tore her world apart and stole her beloved mother from her.
Yiayia, I hope you’re as comfortable as you can be, and I know when you do make that transition, you’ll get to be reunited with those who went before you: your wonderful sisters, your courageous parents, and your loving, ever-kind (and, let’s be honest, ever-patient) husband.
They’ll be there for you, and something tells me you’ll still be there for us. You may not meet her in this world, but the great-grandchild you always wanted will always know you and feel your presence as if you were living in our own little apartment with us.
Σ’αγαπώ πολύ, γιαγιά μου.
Update: Not long after writing this, Yiayia made that transition. On the morning of her funeral, Drea and I felt the first real kicks of our daughter. Like most Greeks, we weren’t planning on giving her a middle name, but decided then and there that she would also bear her great grandmother’s name.