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Five weeks ago Z's mum was in hospital where the diagnosis of 'chronic bronchitis' became 'suspected malignancy in the right lung'. The fact that it was lung cancer did not surpirse anyone considering a) how much the woman smoked and b) that she had worked in the chemical industry all her adult life. It also wasn't surpising since since the bombing in 1999, (when coincidentally the chemical industry was bombed and its poisons dumped into the river and in the air) the number of cancer deaths in Pancevo had increased significantly and even evolved some nifty little varities of their own such as the 'galloping leukemia' that kills within a week of diagnosis.

At the time of the diagnosis Z's sister had flown out to be in Belgrade but Z was in the UK and about to submit his application for a British passport with the intention of going over to Yugoslavia in mid-September. On the phone his sister has told us to 'prepare ourselves for the worst' and we came to terms with the idea that she was going to die but thought we had a couple of months at least. As it happens, we were wrong.

Four weeks ago, at 12:55 pm, Z's mother passed away, reinforcing all I'd had cause to learn about the suddeness of loss. She was 59 years old.

Thankfully her death was a relatively peaceful one. Due to the low oxygen in the blood she fell asleep and then into a coma, and then she died. We had been preparing ourselves for the end, but not the suddeness of it. Post-mortem revealed that the suspected early stage malignancy was in fact a very late one, and that likely she had had it for years.

When she died the shock of it was so tangible that it occupied the room with us, had its own seat at the table. Z and I walked out of work a couple of minutes after we'd heard and walked into a special, relentless kind of living hell that only administration can create and only walked out of it when we left the airport in Belgrade, only to encounter subtler kinds of drawn-out hellishness that bore into us like a dentist's drill.

The first hell was the oft-tasted limbo of the Home Office in which we learned that Z's passport application might be approved in 24 hours on compassionate grounds, and everyone got involved in a madcap race to find right documents and translate them and fax them over. All the usual things went wrong - the needed people were not to be found, documents were mislaid or filled out erroneously, and we all counted the cadence of our heartbeats and our breaths as the only thing in the current world which could be relied upon.

My head was just a series of echoes, while in Z's head history was repeating itself. He was thinking of his father who had died of cancer ten years before at a time when Z's immigration status was Unsorted and going back to visit his father or attend the funarel meant never coming back to the UK again, which in turn raised other questions such as 'What Am I really doing here anyway?'. The difference between the right thing and the desired thing is something we all encounter, sooner or later. And the ability to withstand it is the cruel but effective way of learning how to be an adult.

This time though things were slightly more favourable - the funarel could be delayed up to about a week, giving us a small window of time, which we focused upon as the only thing that made sense. Home Office was its usual hell when we showed up on Monday, involving wrong forms and rushing across London to get them re-filled, and waiting, and explaining, and pleading and begging and essays. We then spent one of the most torturous afternoons of my life sitting in a cafe in Victoria, phoning up airlines, speaking to bored people who didn't give a shit and wanted to charge us £700 per ticket, per capita. Then, just for a change, we'd be phoned by Z's sister who'd have hysterics at us to tell us that arrival on Wednesday was just not good enough because it meant that she couldn't fly out to England until Saturday and she wanted to see her children. The emotions of understanding for the immense stress she had been under and the intense desire to punch her in the eye for making a stressful situation ten times worse fought in me, with the latter winning and lingering in some form to this day. Perhaps because charity can be a strenuous act, while bitch-slapping never loses its satisfaction.

By 4pm however, there were a measure of mercies. Yugoslav Airlines had shown themselves to have a heart somewhere by finding us some tickets that we could actually afford, and saying they'd hold them in store until we let them know on which day we could fly. It turned out that someone in the Home Office had a heart too because we walked away with Z's passport that same day, our nervous breakdown tipped itself over for a second into joy, and he knelt down on the pavement and asked me to marry him in the legally binding manner, and I accepted.

The next day we were on the plane to Yugoslavia, in Z's case for the first time in fourteen years, and in some ways the really tough part began (although he didn't get arrested at the airport or anything by the military police, so it's not as tough as it could have been).

At the funarel the sight of the coffin was a shock, and the grief slid home like an arrow. The sight of Z's hand caressing the wood and the sorrow for his sorrow tipped me over the edge, but it was all right because I was a girl and allowed to cry.

The rest of the funarel and the days that followed was like a long dive, a disconnected dream. Where you just have to hold your breath and push through, and when you think you cannot hold on anymore, you just do.

Mostly, it was all surrreal. The feeling of moving through a dream never quite faded. Families and friends were seen, city streets re-visited, bars encountered- but through it all sorrow walked a step behind. Not the raging grief I'd felt for my own father's death as a child - a subtler thing, that quietens every conversation, that dwells like a shadow in the corner of each room.

I learned many stories about Z's wild youth, most of them involving alcohol but some of them involving creativity with electiricity (such as converting an old field telephone into a thing to administer mild electic shocks to younger school children with). I also learned that either I've gotten a lot prettier lately or else being unavailable is the best aphordisiac around, for I have never been hit on by that many men in my life. Some of these were strangers, some of them not but in each case my protest of "But I'm married" only brought the answer "But I'm married too!" as though the two cancelled each other out. By the end I was beginning to suspect that it was all some kind of code for let's have sex, like two secret agents communicating in pre-arranged sentences (It's sunny in the Alps! Yes and the snow is melting! etc) to identify each other.

I'd never really been the object of such frequent desire before, and although certainly flattering and a welcome distraction from my aged grandmother (now 99) telling me I was fat all day, it was also annoying in ways I had not anticipated, especially back when I was a teenager with bad hair and terrible clothes.

When I came back to England, Z brought home some kind of virus that had been circling his workplace and first he, and then I, got ill. Although some of this I'd suspected before, I nonetheless discovered that a) bodies can only be pushed so far, and pushing them further results in things like fainting on the way to the bathroom, b) for a lethargic person I'm really not that good at spending extended periods of time lying down. I spent two days moaning weakly in my bed, trying to get myself well with folk remedies (sage, garlic and brandy), and on the third day I arose like Jesus only to find I'd overextended myself and go right back to bed again only to stay down this time anchored by the combined weight of wisdom, and cats.

So, that's been my (largely-internetless) month. How's everyone else doing?


( 14 comments — Leave a comment )
Oct. 6th, 2006 04:49 pm (UTC)
the shock of it was so tangible that it occupied the room with us, had its own seat at the table.

Yep. I know that one.

I also know how hellish immigration things can be, and I didn't even have such an excruciating reason to get where I was going.

Fainting on the way to the bathroom is also no good! :-)

So much empathy; so much sympathy. I hope you and Z are as well as reasonably be expected. xx
Oct. 6th, 2006 06:54 pm (UTC)
Thank you, we are. Sometimes I think the illness I have now is my body's way of processing all the stress of the mind. But, we're healing.

Thank you for the sympathy in the time of need. :)
Oct. 7th, 2006 06:52 am (UTC)
I think the illness I have now is my body's way of processing all the stress of the mind.

Could be. That's certainly happened to me. Take care. x
Oct. 6th, 2006 05:00 pm (UTC)
Oh my. My heart is with you. Again, I can only say how glad I am that you have each other during this time.
Oct. 6th, 2006 06:55 pm (UTC)
Thank you. :) I'm glad of it too - feel good knowing that at least I was there to support him, and that this made a difficult situation easier.

In a way it feels like bonding on a deeper loyaly level too, drawing closer together, becoming war-buddies. Also, he owes me one for future childbirth. ;)
Oct. 6th, 2006 06:25 pm (UTC)
Oh what a terrible shock to have. My condolences to Z. As someone else has said, I'm so pleased you have one another/he has you in such a trying time.

*healthy vibes flying your way* I hope you feel better now?
Oct. 6th, 2006 06:57 pm (UTC)
Thank you :) Yes, I'm glad I was around too and I know it made the whole thing easier for him...

I am feeling utterly exhausted mostly, but I think that's because I have a period on top of illness.

Still though... I am healing.
How are you?

(Was so excited to read of your world trip thing!)
Oct. 6th, 2006 07:39 pm (UTC)
My condolences and love to you both.

Oct. 6th, 2006 08:48 pm (UTC)
hurrah Z-passport
condolences for the rest.
Oct. 6th, 2006 09:25 pm (UTC)
I had my own sudden loss this month, also.

Please extend my condolences to Z (and yourself) from me.

Oct. 7th, 2006 07:48 am (UTC)
Lung cancer is truly horrible. Condolences to you and Z. x
Oct. 7th, 2006 01:37 pm (UTC)
I wondered where you'd been and gosh, now I know... Welcome back. xx
Nov. 8th, 2006 03:00 pm (UTC)
I ve just read it. such a shame..

Nov. 28th, 2006 01:04 am (UTC)
OT: Typepad
am i the only one who cannot leave comments on it at all? i've tried Firefox, Opera and even [*shudder*] Internet Explorer.
( 14 comments — Leave a comment )


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