Monday, September 14, 2009

In Good Times and Bad

When you move to a new country, much of what you base your decision to stay on is centred around happy times and successes. Greeks can be overbearing in their emotions but the pleasant side effect of this is that they celebrate your joys with all their hearts.
They are obsessed with their families which means someone is always nearby when you need them. They adore their friends to the point of inviting them on your holidays, without asking you, but this adoration means that when life becomes unbearable, the friends appear at your side to adore you right back, to lift you from the ground where you have fallen in your sorrow.
I have had the good fortune of experiencing many of the great milestones of Greek life - births, marriages, baptisms. Last week, I had the misfortune of going to my first Greek funeral and in its own strange way, nothing has made me more determined to live in Greece.
I can count on one hand the funerals I've been to in my life, and I have never been to a funeral on my own, without being an extension of my family. I am a coward, and I tend to run from funerals. Last week, I had to draw on a strength I knew deep inside me I didn't have and escort one of my dearest friends to the funeral of her husband, one of Mr Zeus's childhood friends.
In some ways the reality of that day has still not sunk in - the rain falling on us, the grief, the coffin, the feeling that this had to be a joke and any minute now he'd pop out from somewhere, my friend screaming and shaking in my arms, my arms that I had offered to remain by her side as a replacement for her family that had not arrived, who I cannot forgive for not being there.
Like me, she is a foreigner, and that same affinity I felt for her when we first met - two women who left it all behind to be with our men - is what kept me at her side, despite the feeling that I was not strong enough, that I couldn't do this, that Mr Zeus better turn up sometime now because I can't do this.
But I did it. We all did, and we all did it together. We all walked our friend to his final journey, smothering him in flowers, though I didn't have the heart to look. We wept together, and we even joked together. Later, the mourners were offered coffee and cognac and I shook hands with mourners on behalf of my dear friend's absent family as they wished us in Greek "Life to us, life to you."
That night we threw an impromptu heavy metal party where we drank some more, laughed some more and cried some more. "The next time I see him," I said "I'm going to force him to watch Bollywood movies because I never drink coffee and I never listen to heavy metal and I did both for him today!"
In Greece, when you tell them your bad news, they don't look away and mumble an apology. They don't shrink away from your sadness like it's a bad smell, like your misfortune might rub off onto them. They embrace you, look you in the eye and tell you that life is such and we must go on living it. When you start to cry, they don't pat you on the shoulder and tell you to pull yourself together. They stroke your hair, tell you to cry and let it all out. 
48 hours later I found myself back in London for a week. I haven't had the luxury to cry as much as I need to clean my soul, to try and get to grips in my head the image of our friend's coffin, the feeling of my friend writhing on the ground in her misery. I had to be strong, but now I want to rest my head on someone's shoulder and let them let me cry to my heart's content.
But I'm in the wrong country, and when the tears began to fall last night, they made those around my uncomfortable. Their discomfort was so tangible I began to cry even more. I was told to pull it together, don't be sad.
This week, I don't want to be in London. I don't want to even be in my family home. I feel alone, miserable and tired. I just want to cry once, one good cry without anyone trying to stop me, and then things will feel better.
This is why they have therapists in Western Europe. We don't need them in Greece.
Life to us.

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toomanytribbles said...

oh, bollybutton -- life to us all.

deviousdiva said...

Tears are falling. For you. For your friend. For all of us. Hurry back.

smaro said...

Life to us all and may all the tears you need to cry be shed for everything to feel better. It is true, Greeks don't need therapy. They embrace that in life there is a time to mourn and for tears just as there is a time to laugh and for smiles.
Hope you get home to Greece soon.

Sesi said...

Zoi se logou sas. My heartfelt sympathies, dear Bollybutton. And in any case, heavy metal isn't that bad, especially when it is played for a reason.

Flubberwinkle said...

Na zisete na ton thimosaste. Live and remember him.

Having recently lost my best friend I finally understood why graves are important... so I can go and talk to her. My heart is too full of love for her not to keep talking about her with others, to keep having imaginary conversations with her. It might seem crazy but it's what keeps me sane.

Sofia K. said...

Life to us...ζωή σε μας. The "suck it up, hide your sorrow" attitude always infuriated me, the only thing it does iσ to create emotionally crippled people and a general disassociation from a society that is more interested in keeping up appearances than the actual well-being of its members. My sweet mommy always said, "everything's on the schedule", meaning that along with happy moments, sad moments will come too, so we should be ready to deal with them, cry when we need to, grieve, and heal when the time is right. Hope you will be back home to Greece soon...and take your time dealing with this profoundly sad event. Να'σαι καλά...

AL said...

I am glad you were there for her, we can all only hope you have someone as warm as you on our side.
I am still learning the greek ways and hope to master it, life to us all is so simply said and read, but its not that easy to live. are you back yet?!

Anonymous said...

Dear Bollybutton- see I almost wrote Bollywood-
Zoi se sas- and belated " na zeisetai-
My mother also said, sorrow and laughter can come hand in hand-
It is true what you say about greece- we arrived on July 25-we are stateside- we wnt to Vamvakou, the ancesral village in the Lakonian Parnon mountains, lit the kandilia at the church of Elijah, and un benown to us, my mother was in hospital on that same day- she died on Aug 7th- we were able to have her 3 day said in Kalas Sparti, and her 9 day chanted in Vamvakou on the Feast of the Virgin, which is also the main church there- so in many ways wea are blessed to share the death with so many- as soon as we confirmed the death, my Bulgarian neighbor,said, "go and put on black immediately, so people will know and ask," and sure enough everyone asks. Within 2 weeks , my husband took ill, so we have been dealing again with the greek hiospital system- he was in a coma in Tripolis Arcadia- the personell were awful, but the patients' families really helped me for 5 sleepless nights, including a bulgarian group- so in the midst of despair, you feel supported by strangers-
may you come home safely- reards to your UK family and Mr Zeus-
i will be here until the end of January- so hope to get some research in-

Anonymous said...

Sorry last comment was from me, Maria Yorgakopoulou-
remember, i told you some time ago how precious the memories of your wedding will be- when the sorrow gets too much- relax into that lovely beach weeding