We were packed. My employer had been understanding, telling me to leave and make contact as soon as I knew anything. Tony’s employer less so, not quite making the connection why – as it was my mother, not his – he needed to leave in such a hurry. The topic of grief in the workplace is a blog for another day.
The evening before I went to check-in online. And experienced a soul-destroying panic when I went to put in our passport details. Both of the children’s passports had expired about four weeks before. It was close to 6pm and I literally could not think. I managed to speak to someone in immigration who would not believe I had been able to purchase flights online without entering details. I didn’t care that lastminute.com had a flawed system, I just needed two bloody passports! It got worse, unlike adult passports, the kids needed a brand new application to renew. Where would I get passport photos at 6pm? Thank God (or whomever you ascribe random luck to) for Google, online services for printing our applications, and the wonderful pharmacist at Rockdale who stayed open late for me to skid in with the kids. When he told me that he’d only listed passport photos on a special search site only the day before, I knew, somehow, somewhere, some benevolent spirit was helping us.
It didn’t stop my sheer terror that we’d miss the flights though. Virgin Atlantic told us we had until 1310 at the absolute latest the next day to make the flight. Tony calmed me, saying I could leave the next day and he would follow with the kids, but, bizarrely, that made me even more upset. The irrationality of grief; suddenly the thought of facing a 24hr flight alone became overwhelming. Seriously – most mothers would jump at the chance to fly 24hrs without their 7 and 5 yo and enjoy movies uninterrupted. Indeed I had done so five months earlier! But this time was different. I needed my family unit around me.
The next day was organised with military precision. I left crack of dawn to be at immigration offices when they opened. Bags and kids stayed with Tony who would meet me at the airport at normal check in time. I was playing by the belief that if we just stuck to the schedule, it would all work out fine.
Bursting into hiccuping sobs in front of the immigration desk probably wasn’t my best look. They made no promises, but put the children’s passports on express — which is normally with 2-3 working days. You can rant about bureaucracy as much as you like, but I experienced nothing but support and compassion. The passports were turned around in three hours. A stressful, fingernail-biting wait, with more tears when they handed them over, but I made the airport with time for a calming G&T before the rest of the family arrived and we embarked. Not only did the rush, the stress and the race keep me distracted, it gave me special insight into what was to become a constant theme over the coming days and weeks. The kindness of strangers.