Ti Tha Pei O Kosmos? What Will the People Say?


I spent the day with my mom today in a suburb of Athens where she’s visiting family, after two and a half months in Crete. I brought her to Greece in December to spend Christmas with her family.

It had been years since she spent the holidays in her native town, where she was born and with the people she created her early memories with as a kid, before leaving as a teen-aged newlywed to the USA with my dad in 1962.

I also brought her here for another reason. We were faced with some tough news last year from her doctors that my mom is suffering from a condition known as Primary Progressive Aphasia— a degenerative brain disease in the family of dementia. I wanted her to see her brother and sisters in Hania and spend some time with them because I, nor the doctors who are treating her, know how quickly her condition might worsen.

Primary progressive aphasia (PPA) is caused by degeneration in the parts of the brain that control speech and language. This type of aphasia begins gradually, with speech or language symptoms that will vary depending on the brain areas affected by the disease. For example, in one type of PPA, people may initially have trouble producing speech, or articulating, whereas in another variant, word-finding and comprehension problems are more pronounced.

My mom is currently experiencing the first type— she is slowly losing her ability to speak clearly and coherently. She still speaks, but with great difficulty. It’s a pronounced difference from the mother I grew up with— fast with her tongue and always with an opinion about what I was wearing, where I was going and what I was doing— usually not in agreement with me.

Today, she just sits idly in her chair and smiles. She smiles at everything I do and everything I say. It’s comforting that she still smiles, despite all she’s experiencing.

As Greeks, we are trained not to talk about these things. We keep family secrets inside the family. It’s our way of life— what will the people say? Ti tha pei o kosmos?

We did this with my father’s mental illness— severe depression. We didn’t want people to think he was “crazy” or was seeing psychologists. We kept him isolated and we didn’t share our stories— even with those closest around us. Years after his death, when I talked to people about our own sufferings with his illness, I learned one by one, that so many of my own friends experienced similar mental illnesses in their own families.

One person who taught me the most was Anthoula Katsimatides, who shared her own family’s stories about losing her own brother to suicide. He too suffered from mental illness and it was a story Anthoula shared with me a while back that gave me the courage to be open with my own stories.

Ever since I first went public with a post I wrote about my mom’s condition a few months ago, I’ve received calls and emails from dozens of people— friends offering their support, people whose family members had the same disease and just random strangers offering words of support.

I have to say that sharing this and talking about this has been a blessing, as was spending the holidays in Greece with my mom, creating new memories and recalling past ones.



  1. Anthoula Katsimatides on

    Love you Greg. It is definitely not worth our time to worry about what people will think and say. Just live and love.

  2. daphne valentina on

    i remember last year at a screening in orange county when you first mentioned there were some changes in your mom’s behavior while discussing my dad’s forgetfulness….all i can say is you did the right thing to write this in your blog and for bringing her to greece….. kali dinami going forward…o theos mazi mas

  3. Our parents give so much and I’ve always thought of it as such a privilege to allow that love to flow both ways especially as they now need us so much as we once did when we were young. That smile speaks of volumes of love, gratitude and pride, and is bigger than any words that could ever express her feelings:)

  4. Bill G Vlahos on

    Well said Greg. I lost my mom last year to Alzheimer’s. Bad Ass women our Mom’s, they don’t make them like that anymore. Spending two days a week sitting with my Mom while my sister and her amazing family took a break was gift. Thanks for speaking up.

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