“Ζωή σε μας.” Life to us.
I knew that I’d be returning to Greece for my father’s funeral but I didn’t realize that it would be so soon. Only a single weekend and four overnight shifts went by before I had to gather my things and fly over the Atlantic once again. This time it would only be for two nights. This time I had to pack clothing appropriate for a service to honor his memory and his life. And this time it would be for sadness and crying and melancholy only.
Or would it?
My father’s funeral was the first one I have attended in Greece since moving away 40 years ago. I should not have been surprised that certain traditions have been long upheld. Traditions that have been carried down for generations.
Take, for example, the post-service refreshments. Strong Greek coffee is offered to steel your nerves (think thick espresso complete with the grinds; your choice of black or a tiny bit of sugar only, no milk) and shots of cognac serve to round out the edges. Each table had a large glass flask full of the strong caramel-colored liquid, and everyone took part.
The usual Greek refrain for toasts is “Στην υγειά μας,” or “To our health.” This is a no-no during funerals. Acceptable toasts are “Αιωνία του η μνήμη” (may his memory be eternal), “Καλό παράδεισο” (good paradise), and one particular one said most often that really caught my interest. “Ζωή σε μας.” Life to us. I was initially taken aback. “Well that’s odd and a tiny bit selfish!” Then I thought about it a bit more. I realized how much sense this made to ease the minds and hearts of those who are left behind. While funerals honor the life and memory of the deceased, in reality they’re really about us who are still living, aren’t they? They bring loved ones back together. I honestly didn’t think it was possible to laugh so heartily after such a solemn event. But this is how we keep the memories and traditions of our lost loved ones going strong. This is how we maintain and recharge the life-giving human connections between family members that may have been neglected due to time and space. And it’s how we remember why we’re all on this earth in the first place.
“Life to us.”
What a poignant reminder that we are here to live life to its fullest. My father, with his love of the sea, soccer, and family, certainly did that. My wish is that I, and you, do the same.