Grieving at a Distance

August 25, 2009

simone

Last week I got some terrible news.  A friend of mine, Simone Katzenberg, has passed away.

Simone was a divorce lawyer I had known in London.  She was South African by birth.  We had got to know each other through our shared interest in writing.  We used to meet up every so often in coffee shops early in the morning to discuss books and anything else that came to mind.  She was a sharp and funny person.  She loved writing and harbored ambitions to finish a novel.  She was struggling with that; but with typical generosity was happy to enjoy my (relative) success in the field.  She was friends with a few writers.  She used to go to their readings and then, with her utterly unpretentious curiosity, ambush them afterwards with extremely direct questions that paid no heed to the supposed literary prestige of the author in question.  She was a riot.

In 2002 Simone was diagnosed with a rare and severe form of leukemia.  She should have died back then.  After that our visits took place at the Royal Free Hospital (where she lived on and off for two years), or at her home.  Against extraordinarily long odds she successfully battled the disease.  She loved her three young boys more than anything else in the world and I think she was just determined not to leave them quite yet.

But by then her immune system had pretty much collapsed and she was in and out of hospital for the last years of her life and the smallest bug could lay her low.  And now she has gone.  She was 51 years old.

Here’s the thing, though.  Simone died in February 2008.  I only found out at all because I was thinking about her, and did a search on the internet.  My sadness over her passing is compounded by regret that I should have discovered the news in this way, so long after the event.  Because, really, what kind of friend could I have been?  Of course, it’s inevitable that when you move to another country, you lose touch with people.  I get that.  I suppose nobody she was close to knew me or how to get hold of me, so I wasn’t notified when she died.  Would I have returned for her funeral?  Probably not.  But having to grieve at this distance – both in terms of geography and time – just feels all wrong.

There’s no point feeling sorry for myself.  (Simone would never have approved of that.)  This is just a newly-discovered downside to moving away from home.  Note to self: keep in touch with your friends.

Travel well, Simone.

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