'Life Gave Me Many Lessons' Describes Author's Losses
The generation called "baby boomers" long since ceased to think of themselves as babies. Boomers now constitute a "sandwich" generation. Their parents are in the later decades of their lives and their children are graduating from high school and college and reaching adulthood. The older and the younger generations have problems unique to their particular life stages that oftentimes require assistance and the boomers are caught in the middle.
One such member of the sandwich generation is Maria Papougenis, Her pleasantly average life with parents, a husband, twin daughters and five grandchildren was shattered when her mother had a fatal accident. Her father was lost in his pain and heartache, and Papougenis, as many daughters of widowed parents have done, set aside her own feelings and made him her main concern. Then her husband came out of an eight-year remission from cancer and after a three-year struggle, with Papougenis lovingly caring for him the while, died as well. Her father and her motherin law, both in their 90s, were the next to pass on.
Those she has lost remain alive in Papougenis' mind and heart, though. "Even though my life is content, I have never forgotten my loved ones or stopped mentioning their names with my children and the people around me," Papougenis declares in the preface to Life Gave Me Many Lessons, essays and poems inspired by her memories, her experiences with love and loss and her response to them.
The themes of Life Gave Me Many Lessons will be familiar to anyone who has lost a loved one. Papougenis expresses universal truths which will be familiar to anyone even cursorily acquainted with self-help books and grief therapy. Her work speaks most clearly to those who know her, although widows of either sex will relate to the essay, "Loneliness And What It Means To Each One Of Us". The poem on the page facing it, "The Forgotten Mrs." speaks to widowed women, and in it Papougenis describes the isolation of widowhood and offers some solutions.
"The forgotten mrs./That's what we are./Friends we have many, yet a few.
So what are we to do?
Even though we are lonely,/we try not to cry./when happiness and laughter come our way/We pretend to leave our loneliness go by.
People call us to see how we are,/But rarely do they come because we seem so far.
So what are we to do?
Relax, enjoy, laugh, sing.../Because we don't know what the future will bring."
Papougenis obviously thinks life is too important to be spent in continual mourning. Her poems "My Two Sons' [sic] In Law" and "My Daughters' Mothers' [sic] In Law And Me" are testament to a happy and contented family life despite the losses the reader knows came before the poems were written. And in the last verse of "My Daughters' Mothers' In Law", Papougenis lets us know that she and her opposite numbers may be loving grandmothers, but they're no pushovers, either: "Together we enjoy our grandchildren and we love them dearly,/when it's time for them to go home. We say It's time to go! very clearly."
Some of Papougenis' poems are written in Greek and she gives no indication whether a translation is provided on the opposite page. Her punctuation and use of underlining and alphabetical and number lists and bullets can be confusing to a reader unacquainted with her particular and idiosyncratic style. Orkos Books, which published Life Gave Me Many Lessons, apparently sometimes tends to give authors freer rein than truly benefits their works, and Life Gave Me Many Lessons is one example.
Papougenis has provided a glimpse into her inmost thoughts. The reader who wishes to learn more about those thoughts will find Life Gave Me Many Lessons available at Seaburn Books, 33-18 Broadway, Astoria; 718-2677929.