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Sunday, January 10, 2010

The tale lessens in the telling

I've just watched a documentary on diarists presented by Richard E Grant. In it he suggests that diaries are an attempt to make sense of that which does not. I can' t think of a better explanation of the urge behind this blog. To try and unravel the knot which is my wife's death from cancer.

I have been sorting things at home this weekend. My daughter is five in a couple of weeks and I am trying to move her out of my bedroom and into her own room (she has slept with me since Jelena's death last May). I wonder whether I have allowed this to continue because it is as comforting to me as it is to her... In any case the only way to do this has been to involve her in the grand project of the creation of her new bedroom, choice of colours, furniture etc. I am converting Jelena's old study because it is adjacent to my room in case she is frightened in the night.

This has meant the sorting out of a lot of old files and difficult decisions over what to keep and what to give or throw away. We cleaned out Jelena's wardrobe a couple of months or so after the funeral with her sister and nieces all in attendance so everyone got something to remember her by. In fact we did a fairly poor job because one of the wardrobes is still almost full. I just cant summon up the strength to face it.

I am trying to put together an archive for my daughter but somehow it feels wrong that I should edit it. For instance I found in a file of memories Jelena, amongst all the (fairly predictable) schmaltzy romantic cards and letters I had written her early in our relationship, had kept a letter I had written her after we had had a blazing row which resulted in me storming out of the house. In the letter I had tried to say all the things that you don't get to say in fights between long time partners because you both know too well how to push each others buttons. But I wonder if this should be preserved...

I wonder if one of the reasons I am so drawn to writing about this is that Jelena wasn't. She fought her cancer all the way to the end. She didn't write a letter to her daughter or record a video because that would have been an admission of defeat. Am I compensating for something I feel she has been cheated from.

Consequently, I never really talked to Jelena about death or dying. That wasn't my role. I was her advocate. It was my job to find another oncologist or surgeon if the one in front of us didn't want to do what she wanted or said something she didn't like.

You don't plea bargain with death.

I imagine, although I don't know, that changing doctors is fairly commonplace for those who fight cancer over a protracted period of time. It is only human to start to blame the doctor for your continued illness after all they are the one giving you all the bad news. So we moved around a lot. Jelena fell out with British surgeons who, in her eyes, would cut first and ask questions later.

I had bought Jelena PPP's most expensive health insurance several weeks before we were married because we wanted to have children. We were living in Moscow at the time and didn't really want to trust the state health care. Unfortunately most international health schemes viewed pregnancy as a self inflicted illness and didn't provide cover. However, if you weren't pregnant when you took out the PPP policy of for three months afterwards they would cover you. So I took out that one. This accident probably gave Jelena an extra ten years of life.

Moreover, having this policy meant that she could be treated for her illness almost anywhere in the world (apart from the USA which was too expensive). So we were able to shop around for oncologists and surgeons and consequently spent quite a lot of time in Germany (about whose health system I cannot sing enough praise). But even if we had not had the insurance policy to fund it I am fairly sure we would have travelled in our fight to beat Jelena's cancer.

Jelena was a fighter to the end.

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