Karen Haggerty

Writer & Clinical Hypnotherapist

A Happy Reunion!


Three glorious weeks in NE Slovakia. It’s so close to Poland that we’re driving through the old Checkpoint Charlie most days to have our fix of both countries.

Three weeks is a long time to leave my large leafy Wimbledon home and sleep in one small spartan guesthouse bedroom with three beds when we are not The Three Bears. There’s no porridge for breakfast or long walks in the woods. There are bears, I’m told, that sometimes wander down from the high Tatras after a long winter, looking for food. I love bears but I’m delighted it’s summertime.

I’m no lover of extreme sports or trekking through the countryside and white-water rafting is not on my holiday to-do list. As beautiful as this area is I’ve travelled here for a different reason. I’m here to see Max. Not a sweetheart or a boyfriend but my Grandson. Fast-approaching nine years old, he’s growing quickly. Taller than the last time we met and with some teeth missing, he looks so like his Father at that age. My mind constantly flips between past and present with each hour we spend together. Eighteen months is a long time in the life of an almost nine-year-old. It’s been that long since we last met. In the weeks before the trip, I wondered how he’d feel when he saw me: how long would it take for us to feel familiar again, like Grandma and Grandson?

My fears that he might feel shy or awkward before we fell into a natural rhythm were unfounded. Running towards me on arrival, he almost knocked my rather frail body over in his excitement to get close. Like his Father, his ability to treat you as if he saw you only yesterday shone through and my fears melted away. That moment alone was so worth every second of the last year and a half of pain that I’ve gone through. In darker times I feared I might never see him again. The crippling, worsening onset of my EDS, followed just a few months later by stage-three Melanoma diagnosis, have been so much more than just life’s setbacks. The whole experience has not just taken the wind from my sails but knicked my bloody sails altogether some days!

He speaks such little English: in reality just a few words. All learned from his weekly English class at his Slovakian school. He’s a live wire like his Daddy so I quickly learn to say ‘stop it’ and ‘slowly’ in Slovak to prevent any accidents happening while he is in our care. His small hand in mine takes me to bygone days when my son and I would walk along together singing made-up songs to amuse ourselves. You see, I knew Max before, in another life before he was even born. He is his Father’s son and the resemblance is so striking it repeatedly takes my breath away and makes my heart beat faster. Sadness and joy sitting alongside each other in the same moment. I can’t show my pain. He’s too young to understand and although the English-to-Slovak app is very helpful on Google, it doesn’t cover matters of the heart. All that is inside me, fit to burst, will need to wait for another day.

My mind fast-forwards to the Monday after my return to London, to my next scan to see if cancer has spread or is still sitting quietly on the runway like a plane that has lost its slot. After all, the gap between the first and second time the monster reared its ugly head was twenty-four years! Stay in the moment, I scold myself and snuggle in closer to breathe in his smell, ejecting all thoughts of the monster from my mind. I almost succeed but fleeting thoughts of ‘will I see him grow up so I can tell him all about the almost thirty-one years his Father walked this earth?’ are always lurking. It’s the worst loss, I was told many years ago, by a Mother whose child died. I now know that to be true. But what about Max? He’s lost a Father he barely remembers; ‘isn’t it worse for him?’ I ask myself.

In the early days after my son’s death, I felt afraid to see Max. He’d lived with his Mum back in a small village in rural Slovakia for a few years by then. We’d had no contact, only through my son, and when he died it all but dried up. So we became desperate to see Max and as his Mum would not bring him to see us, we came here. Our earlier visits have all been for a few days or at most a week. I’ve been just a handful of times as my texts and emails have mostly been unanswered. Not much change now, so we just book and forward our dates and hope for the best.

This is the first visit that he’s stayed at the guesthouse with us or even spent time with us without his Mummy. He’s a confident chap and the lack of language has not been too much of a barrier. He’s picking up English fast and we now have his Mum’s approval for him to learn. Of course his Slovakian is brilliant but he needs the languages of both his parents and their cultures too. Slowly I hope we will add that to his life.