So we had the funeral at nine this morning and an hour later we were outside again as I watched the car with the remains of my wife drive off to the crematory. As per Sandra’s wishes there wasn’t a real service, just Simon, me and my family to say goodbye with some of her favourite songs, poem and some heartfelt speeches from my parents and brothers. In a month’s time I can pick up her ashes, then sometime early next year I’ll fly over to England and her sons and I. scatter them somewhere on a favourite spot of hers. And that’ll be the end of our relationship, except in my memories.
We met each other in 2000 in the most geeky of circumstances: online, but not just online but on IRC and not on any IRC server, but on the alt.fan.pratchett servers in Lspace. I’d been a regular there for a couple of months or so when she showed up and at first I thought she was just a cynical smartarse — and she thought the same about me. But we kept talking and became friends, then more than friends, talking for hours on the phone too (still paying off those bills now). The first time we met face to face was after Christmas that year, when she came to visit me in Amsterdam — I’ll never forget the first time I saw her, when she stepped out off the Euroliner bus, all lovely and smiley and tiny. Those first couple of days were awkward, but we persevered as we learned to be around each other.
For the next couple of years we had a long distance relationship, visiting each other every few months or so. In 2001 I tried to get a job in England and almost ended up working for Camelot, the lottery people. I’d quit my Dutch job, moved over to Sandra for a month or longer and got roped into helping the local Socialist Alliance candidate romp home to an overwhelming election victory of a few hundred votes. Sandra was his electorial agent but had gotten a bout of food poisoning at an afp barbeque meet, so I said I’d do some leafletting and such for her. It was my first acquintance with the sharp end of socialist politics — and the first time I saw her during a proper health scare.
She told me from the start, when things had gotten serious, about her health problems, of the cancer she had survived and the consequences she still suffered from, that being with her would inevitably mean having to deal with her being poorly a lot and possibly not live very long. No, of course I didn’t realise or understand how honest she was at the time, or what the consequences would be for her and our relationship. At the time I thought it a risk worth taking and I still do.
She moved over to the Netherlands in 2003, just as I became unemployed again. We had a few lean years, then as we became more financially well off her health started to trouble her again. At the same time, her new doctors at the VU medical centre were positive on helping her deal with some of the side effects of the various operations she had been through when dealing with her cancer, though it did mean more surgery as well. Not that everything revolved around her health all the time, but sadly her health troubles did become more frequent over time. In the end her kidneys failed completely, she had to go on dialysis and luckily it turned out I could be her donor. We had the operations just before Christmas 2009, I recovered quickly enough to be out of hospital on Christmas day, while Sandra was home a couple of weeks later. Things had turned for the better, but then she fell prey to the first of many side effects. It took her two years of a cycle of being in hospital for a couple of weeks to months to be treated for new nasty side effects of yet another cocktail of drugs, a couple of weeks at home finally on the mend, then having to come back to hospital for yet another infection that popped up. She fought long and hard but in the end she won many battles but lost the war.
Even so, even in the last few months, things weren’t all bad. Though it may look like her ill health ruled her life, that the past few years especially were completely dominated by it, this was never the case. As most people with chronical illnesses or disabilities probably discover, these are things you have to work through or around, something that’s always present in the background, but that doesn’t mean you are defined by your illness or disability. Sandra always wanted to live as normal a life as possible, keep doing the things she wanted to do for as long as she could. Even in the last few days she became angry if I was too impatient with her to allow her to get her cigarettes herself when she wanted to go outside to smoke.
As for myself, I don’t regret a single thing about our relationship, save of course for the way it had to end, much too soon. The years I spent with her were not wasted. She made me a better man than I actually am because that’s what she thought I was.