Eternal Be Her Memory...

Penelope John Conomos

MARCH 25, 1910 - MARCH 11, 2018

By Alexa Conomos

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Obituary

March 13, 2018

Our cherished matriarch Penelope John Conomos, beloved mother, treasured wife, doting grandmother, adored great-grandmother, great-great-grandmother, and the eighth wonder of the world, passed away with loved ones by her side on March 11, 2018 just two weeks shy of her 108th birthday. To her family, she was simply revered as "Yiayia."

Yiayia was born across the seas in the village of Agia Anastasia on the island of Kythera in Greece on March 25th, 1910. The youngest child of proud peasants Stamati and Damiani Vernardou, her education came to an abrupt end at the age of 9 when her family could no longer afford shoes. So Yiayia spent the remainder of her childhood tending to the livestock and olive orchards.

In 1931, she married John Alex Conomos, a former Greek soldier who fought against the Axis in WWI. After welcoming their first child, the young family sailed for America in what would be a life changing journey. 

After emigrating, Yiayia's life became one of sacrifice, faith, and endurance. She worked diligently to adapt to American culture while still honoring the traditions of her homeland. After welcoming three more children, she instilled in them a deep appreciation for the value of education. She beamed when they earned their own advanced degrees. And after her children married, she celebrated the reaffirmation of life when new grandchildren were born. 

But her life was also one of great loss. Separated from her family in Greece and widowed at the age of 47, she remained eternally faithful to the memory of her husband for 70 years. And ultimately, she outlived three of her four children. Yet she met each tribulation with her usual grit and beautiful grace. She was fond of saying "such is the life" and believed that life was always to be celebrated despite its imperfections. Living on her own until the end, she never stopped tending to her garden, never ceased to laugh, and never met a "Whopper" she didn't like. In her unfailing wisdom, she knew that the simplest things in life yielded the greatest joy.

She is survived by her devoted daughter, Chrysanthy, and loving grandchildren Diana Prendergast, Penelope Condas, Penelope Benis, John Conomos, and Alexa Anderson, thirteen great-grandchildren, and three great-great-grandchildren.
Yiayia is now reunited in eternal peace with her beloved husband, John A. Conomos, and her cherished children Damiani Conomos, Anastasia Condas, and Tasso John Conomos.

MAY HER MEMORY BE ETERNAL

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You can also read about the life journey of Penelope Conomos at https://alexaconomos108.blogspot.com


Penelope’s Eulogy

Our dearest grandmother has finally been laid to rest. Writing her eulogy was one of the most challenging things I’ve had to prepare because after all she’s sacrificed for our family, I just wanted to do right by her. If you are so inclined to read it, here it is:

My Giagia never liked anyone making a fuss over her. She’d always say, “Who me? I’m nobody.” But to see so many of her friends here tonight demonstrates that Giagia was in fact extraordinary. To her family – she was the eighth wonder of the world. And her passing – so close to her 108th birthday – marks the end of a poignant era and an incredible journey.

Until her final days, she was quintessentially our ever wise, indelibly feisty Giagia. Still living at home. Still cleaning the gutters. Still eating Whoppers. Still laughing. But in truth ~ she’d come to view the longevity we always considered a blessing – as an inescapable curse. She once joked, “I don’t know why I’m still here. God doesn’t want me, but the devil doesn’t want me either.” Yet it wasn’t until recently that our priest bespoke a profoundly beautiful explanation. Penelope Conomos, he said, was a witness for God. From the moment she was born in that lonely stone cottage overlooking the sea in the village of Agia Anastasia in Greece, Giagia was destined to set a Christian example of endurance, sacrifice, and faith for future generations. So to her blessed great-grandchildren and great-great-grandchildren, listen well to this story of a village girl who ultimately rose to become God’s witness.

When Giagia was born times were tough in Greece. So like other villagers, her father left when she was just a baby to work in Australia. She had to quit school when she was 9 because her mother could no longer afford shoes. So Giagia spent those tender years tending the olive orchards, dreaming of when she would finally meet her father. When that day came, she eagerly awaited his ship, only to learn he’d suddenly died on board mere hours before it docked. It was the first of many losses for Giagia. But through her faith in God and her strength of character, she learned in that moment to adapt and to endure.

After she married your Papou, she bravely left her mother and her homeland behind to set sail on a life changing journey. She emigrated to America to prepare a better place for her family.. so that future generations would never taste the bitter hardship that had been her constant companion in Greece. But ultimately, it would be 18 long years before she would see her mother again.

All the while, she valiantly struggled to learn a new language and to adapt to a foreign culture. And she suffered more losses along the way. Her 2nd child died as a baby. And when Giagia was 47 years old, Papou died of a heart attack in her very arms. And though she was still young and beautiful, she remained faithfully devoted to his memory for 60 long years. Finally, in the twilight of Giagia’s life, her beloved children Anastasia and Tasso tested the very limits of her steadfast endurance by preceding her to Heaven. And yet somehow she would still look heavenward and say “such is the life” as she once again relied upon her great faith to adapt and to endure.

Yes, despite so much loss, she still greeted each day with a humble heart and a grateful spirit. And with a wit no one could match. She gave joyfully, with that very joy being her only reward. She ensured her children received the very education she herself never achieved. She celebrated their every success and the reaffirmation of life whenever a grandchild was born. And every week, she danced. Be it Greek folklore or ballroom, Giagia believed that to dance was to truly celebrate life, and that life was always to be celebrated, despite its imperfections. Giagia’s very life demonstrated that out of great suffering have emerged the strongest of souls. And that Giagia’s very soul was most certainly molded to serve as a witness for God. For she ultimately exemplified that one’s life is determined not so much by what life brings, but by the attitude one brings to life; by the faith one holds dear.

As part of her Orthodox faith, Giagia also taught us that when a loved one dies, we say “memory be eternal.” But I say to you, enable the memory of our beloved Giagia to remain eternal. Cherish the story of that lonely village girl who never surpassed a 3rd grade education, who survived loss after loss, but who ultimately rose to become God’s witness. Follow her example of greatness, so that you may pass it down to future generations. And that one day, you will tell your children that their beloved ancestor Penelope Conomos was a witness for God. And then, truly, her memory will be eternal.

As I reflect on Giagia’s life, I feel both joy and sorrow, something I regret were her constant companions through life. She knew all too well that when you examine the sadness that lies within your heart, therein you will find that you are simply weeping for that which has been your greatest joy. And Giagia was my greatest joy. So when I remember our beautiful matriarch, I will endeavor to balance the two - the joy and the sorrow - just as Giagia did all the years of her life. But above all, I will celebrate her legacy. And I will say this with total certainty:

Grandchildren – Just like your Giagia, one day you too may travel across the seas in search of a more prolific life. And you also will encounter many different people. But in all of your journeys, you will never meet anyone as fine, as selfless, as incredible as your one-of-a-kind Giagia. There will never be anyone like her. Many years ago, she bravely journeyed across the seas to prepare a better place for us. Her endless sacrifices laid the very foundation upon which we have built our lives today. Now, once again, she journeys ahead of us to prepare a new home where one day we will realize our Heavenly rest by her side.

But until that time comes, I imagine that beautiful peasant girl who never knew a moment when she wasn’t separated from someone she dearly loved. I envision her now finally, eternally, and rightfully reunited with the voices of her past that have been silent for far too long. Her father. Her mother. Our Papou. Baby Damiani. Thea Anne. And my beloved father. I watch as they finally join hands in the beautiful synchronicity of the folklore dances Giagia so revered. And I find comfort in these words:

“For what is it to finally cease breathing but to free the breath from its restless tides, that it may rise and seek God unencumbered? Only when you drink from the river of silence shall you indeed sing. And when the earth claims your limbs, only then shall you truly dance.”

Rest now, Giagia, and finally reap your heavenly reward. And in the words you have always said to me - may God’s blessings go with you.


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