On being ... appreciated

By Ingrid Sapona

The last of my father’s siblings died a couple weeks ago. Though the service for my uncle Orestis was in South Carolina, assuming I could get there in time for it, there was no question in my mind that I’d attend.

All my life, whenever I told anyone about him, I always referred to him as my favourite uncle. When anyone asked why he was my favourite, the only thing I could tell them was a story from the first time we met. To be honest, I don’t have a personal recollection of this happening, but given what I’ve always felt about him, it certainly feels true.

So, the story goes like this: when I was two or so my father’s army reserve unit was called up to active duty. While my father was away, my uncle came for a visit. Apparently, when I saw Orestis – who looked a lot like my dad and had the same lovely Greek accent – I thought he was my father. Seems I crawled onto his lap and wouldn’t leave. I’ve always attributed the start of our special relationship to that alleged incident.

While we were waiting for the memorial service to begin, I heard my cousin say that he and Jacob, his oldest son, would be speaking. Though I’d met Jacob on a few occasions, I didn’t know him too well. As he walked to the lectern with his cell phone and nothing else, I thought he’d probably been “volunteered” to speak. And, given no paper or other sign of prepared remarks, I thought he’d probably just share a few stories and memories before stepping aside for his father (my cousin) to speak. Well, I couldn’t have been more wrong. 

Jacob, a first year university student, delivered a superbly crafted eulogy – one that would make any speechwriter – hell, any writer – envious. Beyond his artful use of rhetorical devices, Jacob did what I had never been able to do: he described the qualities that made my uncle so special to me and to his own children and grandchildren.

Jacob spoke of the adversity my uncle faced on the road to achieving the American dream. Using stories and anecdotes, he told of Orestis’ strength, courage, selflessness, humour, kindness, and the unconditional love he had for his family. 

He reflected on various lessons he took from my uncle’s approach to life. For example, that no matter the obstacle, there’s always a way around it through hard work and determination. And, no matter how hard the struggle, or how daunting the task, you don’t make a big deal about it. As Jacob noted, Orestis probably wouldn’t have even cared about the memorial service, he would simply want everyone to “carry on with fortitude and resilience”. 

Jacob also learned valuable lessons about relationships from Orestis. As Jacob explained it, he learned to love few, but to love intensely and unconditionally. And, he learned that family is all we have in this big scary world.   

It was heartwarming to hear Jacob say that he knows that all the opportunities he has enjoyed are the direct result of Orestis’ hard work and self-sacrifice. I was especially moved by the fact that he didn’t take my uncle’s generosity for granted. 

And somehow, in one sentence, Jacob managed to sum up the way I’ve always felt about my uncle. Jacob said that if Orestis “was running the show, you just knew you were going to be ok”.  Indeed, from the time I crawled into his lap at age two until the day he took his last breath, that’s what uncle Orestis meant to me.

I’m certain my uncle knew how I felt about him and that I loved him – and that’s really what matters. But, I’m grateful to Jacob for putting into words what Orestis instilled in my heart.  Thank you Jacob, and thank you uncle Orestis for being all that you were.  

© 2018 Ingrid Sapona


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