One of the hardest things about being an expat is not being there in a time of need. Since I have been in Turkey, many of my friends have lost a parent. My friends may not have felt like they needed me at the time, but I sure needed to be with them. It puts me at a loss. They have all been there for me at critical points in my life, and here I am, far far away. For them, time has stopped, even if only briefly, and my days go on and on.
Just weeks before moving to Ankara, my lifetime best friend lost her mother. Paulette was a strong woman. An expat from France, she married an American and moved to the US, shortly after WWII. She raised four children in the States and ran a bridal salon and tuxedo shop with her husband and continued to do so after he passed in 1993. I was happy that I could be with Martine during this time. Her mother fought a long and hard battle and it had taken its toll on Martine and the family.
That was the last time that I have been able to let a friend use my shoulder to cry on.
After moving here, Suzie lost her father. Suzie was a new friend but we had become very close quickly. We were roommates and she had helped me every step of the way to plan my wedding. I never met her father and I honestly don’t recall the details of his passing. Suz is a doctor and she leads a very busy life, so it is more difficult for us to keep in touch between her schedule, the time difference, and my hatred of talking on the phone. I am sure she let me know when it happened. But I was so tied up in my new life here, I did not respond appropriately. Some time has passed now and Suz is now planning her wedding day. I plan to at least be there for her on her special day.
You may remember last October that I was in Istanbul for the marathon. My husband, my nephew, and my friend Petra were all going to run a 15k. Petra is the partner of my cousin. He is my age and one of the closest of my cousins. When she joined the family, Petra quickly became my “German best friend.”
Petra was not able to fly in from German because her father had become very ill. Sadly, he passed the day of the race. I could not fly to Germany because of the trip to Istanbul, and because my nephew was still visiting.
Next, in December, I went back to the States to visit my family. During that time, my “Best Turkish Friend, aka Kanka” had been struggling with her own father’s illness. She is also an American expat. Jules knew he was terminal. She needed to decide when she would go back to the States, as if one could possibly judge when a parent will be called home. She finally set a date for mid-January. I was happy to know that we would have a couple of weeks together to share our friendship, before she would head back tot he States.
However, Jules got the word that she needed to go back sooner than planned. She left just days before I returned to Ankara. That was sad for me because it feels like a long time without her. She is my Turkish rock. But I am so happy for Jules. She spent a lot of good quality time with her Dad. I met him once in Ankara. Really nice guy. A go-getter. Very smart. Very friendly.
Dan passed away just over a month ago. Jules seemed devastated. Having just been back to the States, I couldn’t go again. I try to message her and be more supportive than I had been for Suz. But I know I don’t do enough.
Then death struck again. I was in Kayseri enjoying the snow at Mt. Erciyes. Petra messaged me. Her mother died suddenly. She had been ill since the loss of her husband. But this was unexpected. Within months, Petra found herself an orphan.
I was just about to head back to Ankara. Instead I took out my laptop and started searching for flights. But I just couldn’t afford a last minute trip. The prices were high. This time, my husband encouraged me, telling me Petra is family. Do what I need to do. But I didn’t. Petra insisted that I didn’t come. When she finally said that her mother wouldn’t want me to spend money like that, I let it go.
Last week I learned that another friend’s father was ill. Brenda is someone I met at law school. We went back to school later in life. We spent four years plugging through night school. With over 100 people in our class, Brenda walked up to me after the first evening. She said she was looking around the room counting the number of Blacks in the class. When she got to me she was confused. I busted out laughing! That was the beginning of a very dear relationship.
It turned out that she had moved from Philly to West Chester and lived right around the corner from my Mom. We studied together and played together. But fear struck when Brenda didn’t show up for our first exam. She had cancer. She fought through it and ended up back in law school, finishing a year later than planned.
I tell you all of this about Brenda because it leads up to the story of her Pop who passed away yesterday. While Brenda was in the hospital, her Pop of course came to see her. One day he said something like this to her, “I only knew one person from West Chester. I was in the War with him. Tommy Henson.” My Dad.
Wow. Brenda’s Pop had fought in Italy and England with mine. Through the years, I got to know my Dad better through the stories her Pop had told. They separated when my Dad took the option to go on to occupy Germany, after WWII, where he met my Mom.
I actually only met Brenda’s Pop a few times. Unlike my Dad, he was more talkative and easily willing to share those stories with me. He was handsome as heck. Smart. The kind of guy that would put you back in line with just a look. He taught his daughter so much more than any of us can fathom, and way more than I will feign to know. Imagine taking your daughter on a trip to the South and having to explain to her the separate bathrooms and drinking fountains.
I can describe Brenda’s Pop to you, and her Mom too, by telling you about her. She works much harder than I do. She is smarter than me too. But what I really like about Brenda is how level headed she is. She takes shit from no one and does it in a very calm and respectful way. I really look up to her. She has been through a lot in her life and will get through this now too. She is a living tribute to both of her parents. Her Pop was very proud of her.
I lost my own Dad suddenly during law school. It will be 20 years in October and seems like only yesterday. So I know how these friends feel. Life goes on and there’s not a damn thing that can be done about it. Their parents are still dead. It all seems so wrong.
What I want to say to all of these friends is that I love you. You are not only my friends, but my sisters and my inspiration. I miss you all and although it may not always be obvious, I am here for you.
Martine, Suzie and Brenda, I plan to see you all before Summer comes. Jules, I am looking forward to your visit this Spring, however brief. And Petra, my visit to you is only weeks away.
Be strong, be healthy, and thanks for being my friends!