Four of my favorite people died in 2023

Mary Shiraef
5 min readJan 1, 2024

They say the end of the year is for reflection and gratitude. But in 2023, four people who mean a great deal to me passed away — three of them unexpectedly. They were not distant friends or mere relatives. They were people who created whole worlds for me as I have become who I am today. First, there was Caroline Seebohm, my writing mentor and friend who shared her world of being in India as a foreigner with me. She told me in March she was sick. She thought she had two more years, but instead, it was just three months later when she went. I knew I would be sad, but I didn’t realize I’d be physically heartbroken by the loss.

Soon after, Yiannis Logothetis, the musician who welcomed me to his world of Agistri island passed — leaving his voice, beckoning people to dance, forever echoing in my head.

Yiannis Logothetis and me, Agistri

Then, on December 4, my crucial stepping stone in my professional field of political science, Dr. Bill Shapiro, passed — much earlier than I would have liked. Bill created a world of pursuing knowledge as a career for me. He would hate to hear me phrase it like that because he saw himself more as a door opener rather than a creator of opportunities, but it’s true regardless of the phrasing. Bill’s work as a teacher and mentor is fundamentally critical to who I am now and the path I chose to get here. I have only begun to process Bill’s death. I delivered a tribute to his teaching for his retirement party, which I would like to share, but I have lost it somehow. The tributes on his obituary speak for themselves for now.

Bill Shapiro, Allison Belfield, and me at an Emory graduation event in 2013

And now, just a few days before 2023 ended, Angeliki (Kiki) Karydi, wife of my grandma’s first cousin, Vangelis, passed away. Each of these deaths is painful in its own way, but Kiki’s contributions to who I am span the longest, and it hurts the most. Kiki created a foundation of personal connection to Greece for me — by mailing her daughters’ letters to me (from “Mary” and “Penny”) from a young age. When I studied in Greece in 2011, she invited me to her home any time with welcome arms. She has hosted me and my sister numerous times since then. Kiki lovingly prepared meals for me, invited my friends over, and even filled specific dish requests for my birthday meal. She has driven to meet me for lunch when I’ve been in other parts of Greece for various conferences.

On the left, my grandparents with Kiki in Tripoli in the 1980s in the center and on the right, my sister Ellen and me with Kiki and Vagngelis in Tripoli in 2015

Kiki cried with me when I spread my grandma’s ashes in her mother’s village. Indeed, when my grandma passed in 2020, also in December, I determined to keep her memory alive by taking Kiki up on her kind offer to come and study Greek immersively by staying with her in Tripoli. With Kiki’s professional experience as a teacher, she believed this approach would have me fluent in no time. She would teach me how to make more Greek dishes in the meantime and embroider by hand in the evenings as she did — creating the most beautiful household decor and gifts for the people she loved. I genuinely had planned to take her up on this kind offer “very soon” — you know how it goes. Not soon enough, unfortunately.

The view from Kiki’s house, Tripoli

My grandma’s last letter to me expressed her desire to stay close to Kiki’s family, so the loss feels doubly sad.

Kiki took delight in my adventures, watching my stories on FB and expressing to me her desire to visit Albania — either with me or even with her girlfriends “if I was too busy.” She meant it: she really wished to travel and see the places I’d been herself one day. Indeed, it is rare — I realized when she passed — to have someone like Kiki in your life. She truly delighted in me each and every time she saw me; an I in her. She painstakingly (and kindly) corrected my written Greek via FB messenger. She welcomed my friends from all over the world into her home. When I visited her in the hospital, she encouraged me to take a trip to Agistri instead of coming to her in the evenings “so she could live vicariously through me.” I complimented her purse, and she promptly emptied it out and gifted it to me (against my will). Kiki was an absolute treasure of a soul.

The purple purse Kiki gifted me, pictured on a daytrip in Athens with her girlfriends

I learned about Kiki’s illness in July. I happened to be visiting when she learned herself. But she was much too young, positive, and vibrant to go — I told myself. She thought she would recover. I was hopeful too. Her children are my age, after all. We were wrong.

Hotel Milos, Agistri, where I’d hoped to travel with Kiki one day

I searched her FB page the day after she died, as a grieving brain does, hoping to catch one last excerpt of her alive. To my great surprise, her last post reads, “Χρόνια πολλά (Happy Birthday), Mary.” There are many (many) Marys in Greece, so at first I just wondered who that was for, but then I noticed it was posted on my birthday. It was for me.

I have few words of gratitude or coherence for 2023. I am sad.

Until they come, I will rely instead on the words sent to me by Bill Shapiro almost exactly 10 years ago in his holiday letter:

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Mary Shiraef

Everyday Researcher, Occasional Teacher. I write here about the people, experiences, and businesses that bring me joy and occasionally, the politics that don't.