A few weeks back I had the incredible opportunity to attend SHE Summit in NYC. SHE stands for She Helps Empower and it was two days of women, from all walks of life, getting together to teach, learn, share support and encourage each other on our various paths to career and personal success and fulfillment, whatever that may look like for each of us as individuals.
I have a little self-diagnosed ADD. That means that while everyone sat and listened to the talks and speeches, I paced. While everyone sat and took notes, I fidgeted. Don’t get me wrong. The speakers were amazing, but unless something or someone engages ALL my senses in some way, I need to move.
And then Agapi Stassinopolous took the stage. I was sitting waaay in the back (for pacing purposes) but when she started talking, I was riveted. She got up there like a lightning bolt and spoke with such exuberance and humor and heart that I couldn’t look away and just tried to pay close enough attention that I could drink in every word.
She spoke about being yourself. Owning your voice. Asking for help when you need it. And embracing life in all it’s beauty and its pain. She wrote a book, Unbinding The Heart. I couldn’t wait to get my hands on it.
Lucky for me, I didn’t have to wait as there were passing out complimentary copies as she spoke. At the next break I stood on line for an hour to meet her. An hour.When I got to the front of the line she danced with me.
And then I told her about you, my readers, and Muchness and she generously invited me to contact her because she gets it. She gets The Muchness. I was jumping-out-of-my-platforms excited. 😀
I’ve read the book. It’s amazing. Agapi’s outlook on life is beautiful and contagiously positive. I want to sit down with her and eat olives and cheese and ask her everything she knows about life. (Full disclosure- I don’t even like olives or cheese, yet I’d be willing to devour them for that opportunity.)
In her book, Agapi shares 32 stories of her life, including when her mom and dad passed away, only 3 months apart from one another. Her outlook on these moments- these life events that have the power to shape and guide our future in amazing ways, is tremendously empowering.
About her father’s death she wrote “I’ve often reflected on the words I heard when my father’s life was coming to an end—It is done—and on the power of that concept. Whether it be the end of a relationship, the end of a job, or the end of a certain phase in our lives—and of course the biggest of all phases is our time of passing—these transitions can bring a tremendous peace if we are willing to surrender.”
Heartbreaking but also, ultimately, true.
Agapi was generous enough to send me an entire two chapters of her book to share with you, dear MuchnessSeekers. I’ve attached the first below. It is the moving story of her mother’s death.
DON’T MISS THE MOMENT
My mother died on August 24, 2000, exactly three and a half months after my father’s passing. Their bond was so tight that when my father died, she was bereft, a woman who had lost the man she had so loved even after all she had been through with him.
While he was still alive, her heart was already weakening. We didn’t know how serious it was until one night, nine months before she died, when she was sitting in our kitchen and began having intense pains in her limbs. We were terribly worried, but she didn’t want us to call a doctor. She just kept putting on homeopathic ointments and taking aspirin for the pain. I was getting ready to go out to do a performance at the Getty Center to promote my new book, and my mother had planned to come, but she couldn’t—the pain was too strong. Normally she wouldn’t miss anything that her daughters were a part of, so I knew she must really be suffering. Still, she was refusing to see a doctor; she wouldn’t admit there was something serious going on.
A few days later, my book tour took me to Washington, where I performed at the National Museum of Women in the Arts. That night, at 4 A.M., I got a call from my sister. “Mummy is in the hospital,” she said. “She has a staph infection that’s gone into her bloodstream. We don’t know if she’ll make it.”
I was terrified. I remember thinking, I can’t imagine a world without my mother. She had been such a big part of my life that a world without her loving, her nurturing, her eccentricity, her originality, seemed a world that would be bereft of joy.
I took the next flight back to L.A. When I arrived at the hospital, my mother was in surgery as they tried to treat the infection. Two weeks before, she had cut her elbow; it became infected, but she wouldn’t go on antibiotics. She kept trying to heal it in her own way. Now the infection had gotten into the blood and it was threatening her life. She stayed in the hospital for four weeks on heavy doses of antibiotics and sedatives. I never prayed so hard in my life. All our friends, all the people who loved her, were praying ceaselessly, too. It was so painful to watch her suffer, and I felt helpless to do anything about it.
During her stay in the hospital, while my father was still alive in Greece, he called her on the phone. They talked for an hour and a half. As she described it later, my father stepped in with his deep love for her and infused her with a sense of her own strength, conveying to her how she could overcome this, as she had so many other things in her life. That was a very significant call for her to receive, and it helped her get well enough to leave the hospital.
She came home, but she wasn’t the same. She was fighting depression, sleeping a lot, and waking up without her bearings. In the hospital she had been diagnosed with congestive heart failure. It’s so hard for the soul to reside in a body that is fighting a disease; it requires a tremendous amount of loving and care. We were fortunate and could have nurses for my mother around the clock so that she would take her medicines, eat her special foods, and be looked after with great care. But she didn’t like being dependent on anyone for anything, even while her body was trying to heal. She still wanted to do things her way.
Over the spring and summer, she did regain some of her old energy. We were able to do things she loved, like walking on the beach. But I had the sense that she was wrapping up her time here on earth. In August she began to weaken, and we begged her to see her doctor, but she wouldn’t go; she wanted him to come see her. “Come on your day off,” she told him. “I’ll cook for you.” But this was not Greece, where doctors made house calls and visited their patients for dinner!
Finally we got her to the doctor, and she was quickly admitted to the UCLA hospital. Early the next morning, she suffered a minor stroke and they put her in the ICU. When we saw her, she looked like she was in a coma. The specialists told us that her brain had been damaged and she might not wake up.
We spent hours at her bedside, trying to figure out if there was anything more we could do. Arianna would hold our mother’s hand and tell her that she loved her. My nieces’ caretaker, Maricela, who had looked after the girls since they were born and had become part of our family, came and massaged her feet and hands. She put a lemon in her hand, because my mother always loved lemons; she would boil them to make the house smell fresh, and she put them in everything she cooked. Then Maricela bent down close to my mother and said, “Miss Elli, if you wake up, I will take you to Ross: Dress for Less.” My mother loved to go to Ross, the discount store, and stock up on presents so she’d have something to give whenever the opportunity arose. It gave her tremendous happiness to give unexpected presents to people. Would you believe it, at that she cracked a tiny smile. To the relief of all of us around her, a little ray of hope came in.
What happened next was nothing short of a miracle. She woke up as Lazarus had done in the Bible, as if she were raised from the dead, bright and filled with light, and we took her home. The day she came home, she sat on the patio in her little hospital gown, eating blueberries and offering them to all the people who came to see her. We felt as if the heavens had given us the gift of our mother back. It was a gift that would last only one week.
When my mother finally walked into her bedroom that first day, she looked around and said, “This is so strange. Where am I?” She was between two worlds—the physical world that was fading and the spiritual world that was opening. She had already been in that world, it was obvious. Looking after her that last week felt sacred, because I knew she could go at any moment. I massaged her, I held her, but I didn’t want to say goodbye. I think when we love someone so much, we don’t ever want to say goodbye. We don’t want to be the ones to initiate that ending, so we wait until life thrusts it upon us and says, “It is done.”
One morning near the end of the week, my mother said to me, “I want to go to the international food market in Santa Monica.” That was like Disneyland for her; she’d leave with baskets full of food, fruit, and goodies for everyone. So I took her there. My mother in her fragile little body, still filled with a zest for life, bought salamis and cheese, olives, halvah, Viennese chocolate and Greek chocolate, and nuts, and by the end, we had bags and bags of food to bring back home. It was surreal taking her out into the world; there she was, like an apparition, buying food, and there I was, trying to hold the two realities together. I wanted to say to the checkout clerk, “You don’t seem to understand what is happening here. This is my mother! And she’s going! Can you please take care of her? Can you please take care of me?” But instead, I kept pretending that it was just like any other day. Deep down, I knew that we were shopping for the last supper, but I was holding it together so I wouldn’t fall apart.
We went home, and my mother spread out the most amazing lunch in the kitchen, saying to me and our housekeeper and Arianna’s office staff and whoever was in the house, “Sit now and let us enjoy our food!” It was a feast. I couldn’t help thinking, Look at her appetite for food and love and sharing! This is not a woman who is going to die!
Early that evening, I came into her room and found her sitting at a little table, shelling shrimp and eating them. “Sit and eat some shrimp!” she said to me. She had her hair in little pigtails and she was playing beautiful Greek music. She was like a happy child. Now I know why she was so happy—because her spirit was calling her back and she was ready. There was no struggle, there was no suffering, there was simply grace.
Later on, I went out for a while, and Arianna and the girls stayed with her. When I got home, Arianna met me at the door. She said to me, “Mummy has just fallen. She’s in the bathroom. She doesn’t want us to call the paramedics. Should we call them anyway?”
I ran into the bathroom—really a large dressing room between the bath and the bedroom—and saw my mother on the floor, putting lavender oil on her feet. She said in a strong voice, “Do not call the paramedics. I’m fine.” I felt so torn. One voice said, She doesn’t want you to call them, and the other said, If you don’t call them she will certainly die, back and forth, back and forth, reaching for the phone with one hand and putting it down with the other. So, instead of the ambulance, I called my mother’s nurse, and she came right away. We all sat in the dressing room with my mother, her young granddaughters riding their scooters up and down the hallway, making happy noises, unaware of what was happening, because my mother was trying to keep everything and everyone calm. The nurse kept taking her pulse, but her pulse was fine. And even though I kept urging her to get up, she wouldn’t. Instead, she asked me to open a bottle of red wine and pour glasses for everyone.
We all sat there, chatting and telling stories, for an hour or more, waiting for her to get up. There she was on the floor with a beautiful turquoise sarong wrapped around her, making sure we were all having a good time. It sounds surreal now, and it was surreal even then. I had the sense that something larger was moving all of us, keeping us from taking any action, so that my mother would have the chance to pass the way she wanted to pass. When I look back, it’s as if Spirit was saying, Relax—there’s nothing you need to do. We’ve got her now. Then suddenly her head fell forward and she was gone.
Later, I found out my mother had confided to the housekeeper that she knew she had suffered a stroke and her time had come. She asked her not to tell us, and the housekeeper, who had known and loved my mother for years, understood why and honored her wishes. My mother knew that we would insist on getting her to the hospital, and she didn’t want to die in the hospital. She wanted to be at home, with her daughters and her precious granddaughters around her, in the warmth of those she loved and who loved her. She didn’t want to miss the moment.
We scattered my mother’s ashes in the sea with rose petals, as she had asked. And we gave her the most beautiful memorial, with music, friends, poetry, gardenias, and lots of food: a memorial that truly honored her life and her spirit. Everyone felt her presence there, taking part, looking down on us and shining her light on us. In our garden, we planted a lemon tree in her honor that has been producing juicy lemons ever since. And we installed a bench engraved with one of her favorite sayings that embodied the philosophy of her life: Don’t Miss the Moment.
Read Another FREE chapter from AGAPI’s book HERE.