Thursday, February 09, 2017

Eulogy for my Mother, Tatiana Efthyvoulou, 1931-2017

When my mother was first diagnosed with leukemia she was told she had two weeks to live. Almost two years later we have walked a troubled path, death hiding behind every rock and tree, challenging our time together. Many of you have heard about the struggles of supporting my mom in the last couple of years, but here I want to focus on the positive.

As you can see from the photos in this slide show, my mother had a beautiful smile and was generous with her laughter. When I was a young child she was my Goddess—a strong, striking, independent, and hard-working woman, who was quiet and mysterious. She was a scuba diver, a sport that struck terror in me, but that I admired. I will always see my mother emerging from the sea, sun glinting off her wet skin, or sitting on the shore in a floppy sunhat, her gaze on the distant horizon. My mother was a romantic and a dreamer.

While my childhood was not always easy, I attribute so much of who I am today to my mom. Seeds of naturalism she planted continue to grow in me—a connection to the countryside, to lawns gone wild, to creek stomping and hill climbing and sunset views, and my great love of the vast sea. My mother was committed to feeding the birds, and loved to watch them from her Crozet window, competing with the squirrels.

 These two photos are of me, in Cyprus

A popular travel consultant, my mother engendered in me a passion for travel. She took me to Jamaica, St. Martin, the Bahamas, Mexico, England, Spain, Italy, Malta, Tunisia, Egypt, and Greece. These trips were sometimes difficult for a child—there were destitute beggars in the slums of Cairo pulling at us, gypsies with hungry babies in Madrid calling to us, andmy mother’s whereabouts unknown to meI was left with a babysitter that didn’t speak my language in Tunis. But through this exposure I learned about compassion and diversity and resilience. I will never forget the time we went on diving tour of the Caribbean Islands. My mother and the rest of the group were deep in dark, turbulent water, and I was on the deck of the swaying yacht with the cook, both of us queasy. At some point I asked her why our skins were different color. She replied in a thick accent, “Because child, God cooked me longer than you.” We are all the same inside, regardless of color, and we deserve equal respect and opportunities. Living in a very white small town, I might not have learned this lesson so early on if my mother hadn’t taken me on these trips.

With my mother & her stepmother, Marcell, in Egypt

Another great gift my mother gave me was my birthplace: Cyprus. And while it set me apart from my peers when she moved me to a small rural Pennsylvania town when I was four, the lonely life I shared with my mother fostered imagination, resourcefulness, independence, and a broad world view.

My Papou and I in Cyprus

My mother had a big heart. Love lead her down many roads, and sometimes the turns she took, did not lead her or I or my brothers to bright shores. While she suffered from several failed relationships, her children were most important to her, becoming more and more so as she aged. She made many sacrifices for us in her later life, wanting to make up for ways she thought she fell short when we were younger.  There is not a shadow of a doubt that my mother loved my brothers and I deeply.  

Tatiana Efthyvoulou, born in 1931 in Nicosia, Cyprus, was an ardent supporter of peace and women’s rights, picketing and protesting on many occasions. Much to the other tenants’ dismay, she regularly fed a homeless woman who slept in the entry foyer of her apartment building in Buffalo. In her last year of life, conversation was almost always dominated by her great worry that Donald Trump would become president. I often minimized her concerns, refusing to believe it was possible. The day Trump was inaugurated my mother stopped eating and getting out of bed. I was traveling to DC for the Women’s March, something she urged me to attend. I wore a sash, at the time not even realizing that the phrase I had etched across it—Love Your Mother—was driven by a very personal significance. 

 At the Women's March in DC 

My mother made amazing food: Baklava, Mousaka, Pastitsio, Youvralakia, Souvlaki, and brownies my brother James would eat an entire tray of. She adored picnics and cook-outs.  She was also an astonishing knitter, making amazing garments for her children, her in-laws, her grandchildren. A detailed double sided shawl was her last great work. She took flight, and gave me wings in the process. 

While my mother and I had a troubled relationship at times, we shared so much, just the two of us, on the road, or quietly sitting in her warm apartments, attending to our individual pursuits. We had a relationship of little words, and when there were words, they were often argumentative ones. We are built of the same stubborn blood, after all, and both carried a great deal of unresolved pain. But in the end, when her anxieties quieted and she lay in her hospice bed awaiting the angel of death, the only thing left between us was pure love. In my sadness is an unconditional love that I know will heal all the hurts.
 Light reflecting on the wall above her bed in hospice 

I am relieved she is free of her suffering, reunited with her own beloved parents and siblings, looking down upon us as she promised to do. Without the pain, or the fear, her stunning smile is stretching across the heavens, and embracing us in her generous, undying, maternal love. 

Above: Me, my brother James, and my brother Howard
Below: My mother and I with my Papou looking on 

Below are a few shots from my mother's wake, funeral, and makaria for far away family who could not attend. 
Memorial gifts can be made to Hospice of the Piedmont and St. Nicholas Orthodox Church.


Memory Eternal