Monday, January 18, 2010

Renee Salivaras Epitome of Grace & Courage

Renee Salivaras has been sidetracked. Inconvenienced. Not the type of interruption where the phone ringing in the middle of a great movie or your child tugging on you while your talking to your best friend. Renee has been sidetracked by cancer. It hasn't stopped her, it's barely slowed her down.

Nearly three years ago, Renee was diagnosed with breast cancer. She's had surgeries and chemo and a variety of other treatments. She's lost her hair not once but twice. 

She still looks after her family, is active in the community and goes to work everyday in Mykonos, the restaurant she owns with her husband Andreas.
She never complains and always has a huge smile as she greets her guests in the restaurant. Nothing has changed only now she does it sans hair.
Renee says she's not sick, she's just been sidetracked. I say she's remarkable.

Her daughter Sofia Zaronias is determined to see that a cure is found. She'll walk in the Susan Komen 3 day in honor of her mother's courage to fight and the grace and dignity with which she has done it.
Sofia has trained for the past year, with her team of 3 they call... The Miracle Milers. They will be cheered on by Renee herself, who will be there at the start of the race to see them off and meet them again at the finish. Sofia Zaronias says her mom is more than a mom, she's her best friend. Renee Salivaras says Sofia is more than a daughter, she is her strength and her courage. I say they are an inspiration.

I wrote that in October 2008. This morning, my incredibly brave friend Renee, "our angel" as Sofia calls her, left us.

Memories of our friendship flow today in a river of tears. I won't get to sit with her over coffee anymore but with every cup I ever drink, she will be here in my heart. While cancer took her life it never got the best of her. Chemo took her hair, but never her spirit.

Renee was beautiful, in every sense of beautiful. Her eyes were an intense, insightful blue. They were indeed mirrors to her soul.

It gives me enormous comfort to know what a faithful, spiritual person Renee was. We never passed a church without her respectfully doing the sign of the cross.
Her family was everything to her and she was devoted to them. We never had a conversation that didn't include her sharing their latest accomplishments.

I'll never forget our first meeting. I felt like I had always known her. Renee had that way about her. She made everyone feel as though they were part of her inner circle. I remember years later sitting around the table at dinner and everyone speaking Greek and I was of course clueless. They always forgot I wasn't Greek, to the Salivaras', to Renee, I was family.

Everyone who walked into her life whether through the restaurant door as a customer or a friend of twenty years was greeted with an enormous smile, a hug, a warm welcome. Renee was probably the most generous person I knew. She always gave to her church, to worthy causes, to her community, to friends and family. She had a heart of gold.

Renee didn't judge. She always forgave. I loved the way she always wanted my opinion. I can hear her now "So what do YOU think Sand". She really wanted to know. What I thought mattered to her.

There were no pretenses with Renee. She was as honest and genuine as they get.

We used to take "day trips" spending the day doing everything and nothing. We would talk for hours about anything. Nothing was off limits. We never had a cross word, well except when we would stop for lunch and fight over the bill.

I remember going the the Komen 3 Day with Renee to cheer on Sofia. She thanked every walker she saw. Cheered everyone on. She was filled with gratitude. She was amazing, a pillar of strength. I remember Sofia crossing the finish line and her and Renee embracing. I sobbed. It was a bond like no other.

Sofia is pregnant now and Renee will never get to meet her grandchild, but I know Renee will be there every moment of everyday of that babies life. Every time I hold Sofias baby I will think of Renee and the joy and love she brought to so many. And when the baby grows older, I will share my memories with him or her of my dear friend, their yaya.

Death leaves a heartache no one can heal, love leaves a memory no one can steal


RickGriffin said...

What an incredible tribute to such an inspiring person. Though I never knew Renee, I feel a sense of loss. I so wish I could have met her.

connie panagakos said...

Thank you for posting such beautiful words about my cousin Renee.
I haven't seen her since Sofias wedding, where she absolutely glowed.
She worked so hard with Andy at the restaurant and she really loved people.There is truly another angel in heaven!

Connie Panagakos

imjustagoyle said...

I'm so sorry for your loss. :( You did her great justice with the way you've written about her. She sounds like a wonderful woman & friend. Hugs to you in your time of healing.

Francine Pappadis Friedman said...

Your beautiful tribute has captured the heart and soul of my dear cousin, Renee. I was fortunate to have been able to travel from Chicago to Tarpon Springs six weeks ago to visit her. It was a bittersweet visit, indeed. Renee was on oxygen 24 hours a day, she couldn't walk, she had lost all of her hair--which only made her piercing blue eyes all the more intense. But she never let any of these
"sidetracks" stop her. We laughed our way through boxes of old pictures, reminisced about our youth, recalled so many childhood and adult memories. Renee truly was a glass-half-full kind of gal. Her indomitable spirit, even in the face of her devastating illness, was humbling. She said, and meant, "I'm so lucky . . . look at all the blessings I have." And she was right . . . they were all around her in Tarpon Springs: her husband, Andy; her children, Jimmy, Carla and Sofia; her son-in-law, Tony; her grandchildren,Irene and Nicole. And how thrilled she was about her soon-to-be new grandchild, one whom she may never physically hold, but one who she'll envelop with her spiritual love. When you add to her immediate family her two older brothers, her nieces and nephews, her many cousins, and the hundreds of people who were fortunate to be called her friends, there was a cast of thousands. When I think of my cousin Renee and the kind of life she led, I'm reminded of a quote which goes something like this: "When you enter the world as a newborn, you're crying and everyone around you is smiling. Live your life in such a way that when you leave this world, you're the one who's smiling and everyone around you is crying." I expect that when I'm at Renee's funeral this week, there'll be enough tears to fill an ocean.

~Francine Pappadis Friedman

BUILD18 said...

perfectly said ...
About 20 years ago my wife Yve and I walked into Mykonos for lunch one hot Fla. summer afternoon and met an incredible warm and loving couple and family. Jimmy and Andy in the open kitchen and Renee, Carla and Sofia as the "hostesses". Although we just met we felt like we knew each other for years. From that day on lunch or dinner was an almost daily ritual. If Renee didn't see us for a day she would call and ask if everyone was OK. Andy would call with the daily menu of keftedes "made special for you". The genuine warmth and love was real. (and the food was exceptional)
From daily observations sitting at the table we could see the feeling and behaviour was not just for us but for anyone who walked in. The hearfelt smile and "how are you guys" was a Renee trademark.
We moved from Fla. to NJ and we kept in touch.
We met the family, uncles, nieces, brothers, cousins.
We were treated as an extended family,(we are not Greek), invited to weddings, parties and get togethers.
On one of their trips to visit family in NJ, Renee "smuggled" a box of fresh keftedes for my wife. She said everyone could smell the garlic thru-out plane. Such was Renee.
We were heartbroken at the sad news but we feel extremely fortunate to have had her in our life and to have called her a friend. We will all miss her very very much.

Suzi said...

Pushing strollers down Magic Kingdom's Main Street were my father and my Uncle Andy. Walking hand in hand behind them, were my mother and my Aunt Renee. Giggling in the strollers, were my dearest cousin Sofia and me. These are my very first memories of my Aunt Renee.

When we were going to travel with the Salivaras', we knew we were in for an amazing time. Laughter from my Aunt Renee's and my mother's bellies filled any room. These two women would laugh so hard that one was always reaching for a tissue, while the other was holding her stomach! At a very early age, the connection I witnessed between my Aunt Renee and my mom, was something I knew was special. They were more than cousins ~ they were best friends. In many ways, they lived parallel lives and often they shared their ups and downs with hour long phone conversations since they lived miles and miles away from one another. These miles didn't interfer with the strong bond they carefully loved throughout the years.

I was fortunate enough to develop that same bond with my cousin Sofia. We are just as close and our lives are intertwined in amazing ways. When she hurts, I hurt. When she smiles, I feel amazing joy. The way Sofia fought every step of the way with her mother throughout the last few years, was remarkable. Even though I am the 'older' cousin, Sofia has proven to me time and time again, that I have a lot to learn from the way she lives life. When I ask how strong and courageous Sofia can be, the answer is simple ~ she learned from the very best ~ my Aunt Renee.

It pains me to think that my son will learn about his Aunt Renee through shared memories. It pains me to think that a little piece of my mother left with Aunt Renee. But I know what Sofia would tell me, "Aunt Renee wouldn't want you crying over her ~ she would want you to be loving life and loving George, a gift from God, as Aunt Renee called him."

I haven't shed my last tear about the loss of my dearest aunt. But I also have a lot of smiles to share with my son and my mother and my dear dear cousin as we remember the most beautiful woman that loved with every fiber of her being.

I love you Aunt Renee and I promise to continue to love your daughter with all of my heart and soul. I will also make sure to take care of Mary :)

Sharon Thomas-Knighton said...

What an incredible article to read. I had no idea of Renee's passing and just found out yesterday. She took me into her home when I was 20 years old. I worked for her and Andy at Rockefellers and lived with them on Davis Island. I learned so much from them while with them. Being part of that family, I took my own to visit them a few years before her passing. I wanted her to see how blessed in life I was. I just learned of her passing and when I shared my experience so long ago with a mutual friend, the tears in his eyes showed me that her life and her love lives on in all of us, today and everyday. I am sure her family and friends miss her most. I could not have written such a beautiful article better. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.