Teraji: Dear Doris, you’re missed on Earth

Teraji: Dear Doris, you're missed on Earth

Discovering she was diagnosed with terminal cancer with only two
months to live and fearing she would be a financial burden to her
family, Doris Kallas tried to commit suicide. She overdosed on
painkillers, but fortunately, her husband John rushed her to the
hospital in the nick of time.
Discovering she was diagnosed with terminal cancer with only two months to live and fearing she would be a financial burden to her family, Doris Kallas tried to commit suicide. She overdosed on painkillers, but fortunately, her husband John rushed her to the hospital in the nick of time.

“The doctor said to me, ‘Doris, you did it accidentally.’ And I said, ‘No, I did it because I wanted to save my family.’ ‘You did it accidentally though,’ he insisted.”

“No, I knew what I was doing.”

“Finally, my daughter pinched me and she said, ‘Mother, you did it accidentally.’ Before then, I hadn’t realized that it was against the law to commit suicide.”

” ‘It was accidental,’ I finally said.”

” ‘I’m glad you told me that, Mrs. Kallas,’ the doctor answered, ‘Because I would have had to turn you in.’ ”

It’s been five years since we lost Doris Kallas, an unconventional woman and one of Gilroy’s longest residents (78 years), who died Aug. 8, 2006, at the age of 91.

She may be gone, but by no means is she forgotten. I am still regularly reminded of her when I am stopped by people around town who want to talk about their memories of Doris and how much she meant to them.

I really got to know Doris when she called me over to her house a year before she died and asked me to write her obituary. As I interviewed her for her “obituary,” she told me the story of her life.

She described surviving cancer, a suicide attempt, and lupus to live to be 91 years old.

“She’s been ‘dying’ for 45 years,” her daughter said with a laugh during Doris’ big surprise 90th birthday party.

“The pain of getting your stomach pumped will cure you of committing suicide, let me tell you that,” Doris quipped.

Doris’ grandparents came from Genoa, Italy, and Barcelona, Spain; her father was from Colombia and her mother was born in Panama. Her widowed father brought his five children here in the 1930s to find work in the prune orchards that once filled our valley.

When Doris was 20 years old, she fell in love with a gentle and kind young man who was half-Mexican and half-Greek, John Milton Kallas. They were together for 68 years and raised three daughters.

Nothing stopped Doris from doing what she wanted; she worked beginning at age 14 in the Gilroy canneries, a former employee of this newspaper, and a local volunteer all her life.

Her grandchildren carry on her volunteer legacy in Gilroy by feeding the homeless and helping migrant families.

She remained active in the community, even past 90.

“I was fat. I weighed 250 pounds; I walked all over,” Doris said. “Do you think that I can do it now? I’m down to 170, but I shuffle around like a duck that’s been shot in the hiney,” she said with her characteristic humor.

“I felt so good bein’ fat – it didn’t bother me one stinkin’ bit. I really enjoyed it. I had a good time. I did what I wanted. I just went out and enjoyed myself.”

“One of the people in charge at the Senior Center came over and told me I should quit. ‘You’re limping, and you might fall, and you’ll sue us,’ they said. I said, ‘I feel fine. My leg is sore, and I’m limping but I feel fine otherwise.’ ”

Doris called someone higher up in the program in San Jose and explained, and they told her to go ahead and continue with her volunteer work. Doris was not about to be told that she had to quit volunteering at the Senior Center just because she was 90!

To the end, she was crocheting baby blankets, donating tins of coffee to her church, bagging up lunches at the Senior Center and handing out cookies to the neighborhood kids. She was always looking for ways to be generous toward others.

On my last visit to her, she told me how she had been giving away her belongings. She gave me a couple of figurines, and as she did, she raised one eyebrow and said, “If only you had come to visit me sooner, you’d have gotten better stuff!”

Today I am reminded by the anniversary of her loss of how much I will always be inspired by one short, fat (her word, not mine!), unconventional, hard working, caring, generous, zestful and hilarious woman. She made me realize how I’d like to live my life in such a way that I can look back on it someday in just the way she did.

“I know how much I enjoyed myself. I really had a wonderful time. I mean, God was with me all the way.

“Naturally, nothing in this life is honey and dew. There’s always a little something here, there, and everywhere you know, but by golly, by far and large, the good superseded the bad. It’s been a very interesting life. God’s been good to me.

“I have a wonderful family. I’ve been very happy. I can’t complain. I’ve enjoyed every minute of my life.”

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