Regrets. Go through life without any regrets. Pretty good goal, I thought.
So I started to work hard and play hard. I had a lot of fun. I was lucky to surround myself with people who subscribed to that same idea, and I was equally lucky to be around those people at work. Business trips became opportunities to follow a hard day’s work with some quality time letting off steam in a water ski boat in a bayou, or a late afternoon round of golf in the wet, wet, wet Florida heat, or a trip to the white sand beach for some volleyball and other ‘frivolity’.
One of those trips was in July 2003. After a highly stressful week-long trip that was ultimately unsuccessful, we all headed home. I always took the first flight out coming home. That strategy gave me more options for alternate flights should a weather delay throw the proverbial wrench in the best laid plans.
So there I was, at about 11 am, having just arrived at Los Angeles International, and looking forward to a quiet weekend at home. I turned by cell phone on, and I immediately knew something was wrong. A dozen ‘missed calls’ and about the same number of voicemails…Damn, I thought, people already heard about our inability to achieve our objectives for the trip. Here we go, again: trying to explain the what, where, why, and how questions that usually happen in those occasions.
It turned out to be worse than that: there were messages from Patty to ‘call home right away’, messages from my brother to ‘call home right away’, and so on. It turns out that my parents were in an auto accident, in Greece…they were in the hospital, and mom was doing better than dad. A couple more phone calls on the way home from the airport, a few more news along the same lines. Finally, another call from my brother came in as I was about half way up Kanan-Dune road from the Pacific Coast Highway heading inland.
“Are you home yet, or are you still driving?”, he asked.
“I’m still driving”
“Can you pull over?” he asked again, his voice sinking a little.
“Is he dead?” I asked…to which he replied “We lost him. He is gone”
My brother could not exactly finish the last sentence.
Damn, I thought. He’ll never see us all again, and we will never see him. Despite the extensive mental preparation for this eventuality, the reality of being so far away to do anything hit hard.
My brother and I traveled to Greece shortly thereafter. We arrived at midnight, drove to the hospital to see my mom, and in the next morning a hospital psychologist stopped by to break the news to her that her husband “had finished”. That was arguably the hardest thing I had experienced until then, only to be supplanted by the sadness of delivering a eulogy and burying my dad a couple of days later.
They say that time heals. That is partly true. I still get sad when I think that my dad did not have the chance to see his grand kids enjoy their visit to Greece in 2004 for the Summer Olympics, and he did not see any of their college graduations. He will also never see his grand daughters on their wedding day. He was so looking forward to all those milestones. He was so happy to see them every time he had a chance to either come over or have them visit.
And I still have regrets. I regret not visiting him and mom more. I regret not having talked to him more often. I regret not having him go to the golf course with me (even though he did not play) and talk about ‘stuff’ in general. I regret not telling him at least one more time that I appreciated all the things he did for me and my brother: picked me up and put me back on my bike after a fall; put his wants and desires aside to put me through college; taught me how to swim; and lastly, but most importantly, taught me how to be honest, work hard, and take care of the important things in life, like my family.
I look back and remember exactly how much fun I had with him. Going to the stadium to see his beloved Panathinaikos Greens, the Athens soccer team he followed with religion-like passion. Giddy when they won, in ‘mourning’ when they lost. I remember him purposely mispronouncing the very few English words he knew, only to be sternly corrected by mom; that always made him laugh. The deep, genuine laugh. I remember him taking us all to Athens on shopping trips, only to have us struggle to keep up with him as he walked and jumped and skipped through the traffic in the center of town. I remember complete strangers (to me) calling him by name, greeting him, and thanking him for busting them a long time ago and guiding them on the straight and narrow and productive path of life. I remember him driving my car on the Pacific Coast Highway and being awed by the beauty of the drive. And I remember him tearing up as he and my mom would say goodbye and head home after visiting us. Those visits, it turns out, were some of the happiest times ever.
I still cannot believe he is gone, and that it’s been ten years since the day he passed. I still miss him greatly, and wish he was still here, with us. So that I could hug him one more time and tell him that I love him.