I just finished the title; looking at it, I still can’t believe it.
It’s August, and I arrived in Cambodia with my ex-girlfriend, Kristina. We headed to see the famous Angkor Wat temple complex. After a 6 hour-long bus ride overnight from the capital city, Phnom Penh, we got to our accommodation. For the first time, we decided to spoil ourselves a bit and get a nice place with a swimming pool on the roof. The bus dropped us off at 5 a.m. but our room wasn’t ready yet so we spent the morning on the couch in the lobby. I was kinda upset after receiving an email from the school with some not so good news. Later, we got our keys, dropped the bags in the room, and decided to go to the swimming pool. When we hit the top of the building, I remember my feelings like it was yesterday, I was filled with joy and kept repeating to myself: “Life is good. This is great!” That was also the last time I told myself the same thing. After we took pictures and got into the pool, I got a video call from my mom. I was thrilled. I wanted to share my joy and excitement with her. I wanted to show her where I was and how nice it was. When I answered her call, I saw her in tears and I knew that something was really wrong.
First, I thought that something bad had happened to my father. He likes adrenaline, and I could imagine he would do something without extra care. Plus, naturally, he is the oldest member of the family. But this wasn’t the case. My mom said: “Katka has died.” I didn’t want to believe it. I immediately replied: “That has to be a really bad joke.” I won’t forget that moment for the rest of my life.
My sister, Katarina Dlugosova, died on the 19th of August 2018 at the age of 28 in the mountains of Switzerland.
After that horrifying news, we immediately left the pool and walked towards our room. I felt a lot of pressure in my head, close to feeling dizzy; it was a shock and I did not know how to process it at all. It was one of those cases where no one ever thought about one dying before retiring, and now it happened in a fraction of a second.
I cried a lot and yet had very limited information, just as my parents did. After a couple of hours, I decided to try to call the Slovak Embassy in Switzerland to hear more about what had happened but when they picked up the phone, I was unable to speak. I couldn’t verbalize it, I was unable to talk, and just started crying.
8,600 Kilometers Away From Home
My parents were not sure when the funeral would take place since there were many logistical issues that had to be addressed prior to the funeral planning. The amount of work they had to do in such a short time while also grieving for their youngest daughter is unimaginable.
Finally, my parents gave me a date to work with — I was in a coffee shop next to the Angkor Wat temple, the internet connection was terrible and I was trying my best to get reasonably priced flight tickets home, and I did.
The problem was that we had left some of our stuff in Vietnam, (which we had previously visited and planned on going back to) so, in order for us to get home, we had to go back to Vietnam first. As Slovak citizens, we needed e-visas to cross the border. Since we were planning on going back to Vietnam anyway, we had already requested our e-visas. The only problem was that the intended date of arrival to the country was actually one day earlier than the day we were crossing the border. So to make things even harder, we also had to put an exact (best guess) border crossing while applying for our e-visas.
Early in the morning, we jumped on a bus headed for Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam. We arrived at a different border crossing than one we had planned on. According to our e-visas, we had arrived at the wrong border on the wrong date and the officers started to go after us, not wanting to let us pass. We had our flight tickets booked, the rest of the group was waiting for us, and I, with tears in my eyes was trying to explain the situation to officers that could barely understand any English. Our group left, and I was still trying to convince them to let me pass by showing them the documents that my family had sent me regarding the death of my sister. It was my last chance to say goodbye and I was about to miss it. Fortunately, after a bunch of calls and written requests, they agreed to let us go. We crossed the border and missed our bus but luckily we were still able to get to the airport on time.
While waiting for our plane, I put together this Facebook status.
Looking back, I wouldn’t change a single word. It reflects my feelings even today.
I am a computer guy, and I was used to helping my sister with all kinds of computer-related stuff; from maintaining her laptop to designing her resumes. Designing her death announcement was not something that I would have ever imagined doing. That hurt a lot.
There were so many things to take care of prior to the funeral. It left us all completely spent.
The mass was extremely hard for me and I was in tears throughout the entire thing. Katka had always been the person who would always hug me and tell me that everything would be okay but this time and for the rest of my life, she wouldn’t be. The rest was just really painful for me — to say goodbye forever. I thought that I wouldn’t be able to shake the hands of my family and friends while accepting their condolences, but, I was probably in such delirium that I didn’t even really process the reality happening around me.
All of the family and friends gathered and then all of them were gone. It was just us, left with pain and sorrow in our hearts and memories of our dear Katka.
Leaving to Hong Kong
Because I was already selected to spend a semester in Hong Kong, I figured that it would also allow me to run away from all that pain. So, I flew to Hong Kong a few days after the funeral.
I lived on campus and had a roommate. Sometimes I would find myself in tears when all of a sudden he would enter the room and I would quickly try to hide my face from him so that he wouldn’t see that I was crying. It wasn’t just a regular feeling of sadness. I felt desperate, angry, and sad — all at once. I wanted to scream but I only managed to sigh.
My sister kept popping up in my dreams. She was alive. It always took me a couple of seconds to realize that the dream was just a fantasy and that my reality was different. Often times, I had a hard time falling asleep. I would also get emotional very easily. Just watching a movie, reading a story or news about someone who had passed away triggered tears in my eyes.
Prior to arriving in Hong Kong, I shared my situation with university staff and asked whether the university had a psychologist. I knew that this was way bigger than me and bigger than anything that had ever happened to me. In fact, I don’t think there is anything worse that can happen to one than death. However, once I arrived in Hong Kong, I didn’t have the same attitude as before — I knew that the psychologist was not going to bring my sister back to life; I knew that it wouldn’t help.
I gave it a shot and I felt really bad for the psychologist. Imagine that someone comes to you for a session and he spent half of the time crying. It hurt a lot. The psychologist proposed an exercise in which I would talk to Katka just as she would be present in the room but I just couldn’t handle it. Eventually, we agreed to me writing a letter to Katka and reading it out loud. Not like I would be able to read the letter all the way through without crying, in fact, I cried a lot. But, even though I had little hope in these sessions helping me out, they did. I let a lot of emotions out and even though it didn’t get me my sister back, at least I didn’t have that feeling of desperation, anger, and sadness all at the same time.
Particularly hard days for me were when Katka was supposed to visit me in Hong Kong. I had received an email from her only one day before the accident, forwarding me her flight tickets to Myanmar with a layover in Hong Kong.
But she didn’t arrive.
I come from a pretty religious family. I would say I had a pretty good relationship with God before my sister passed away. But with what happened, I can’t praise the Lord, I can’t believe how nice and great he is. I have plenty of questions and no answers. Why did it happen? Why didn’t she just break her bones? Why couldn’t she still be alive?
I tried hard to reconcile with God. I gained enough courage to find a church near the university and attended a mass. It was the second-worst experience after the mass before Katka’s funeral which I spent crying nonstop. This mass was no different. I was unable to praise the Lord as I still felt like he allowed this tragedy to happen. I wanted to run away from that mass but I just wiped my tears and tried to wait until it was over.
Visiting the Place After One Year
A year went by and while there wasn’t a single day when I wouldn’t think of my sister, my emotions softened because of everyday worries.
This was true until, my dad, brother and I decided to pursue our previously stated decision, to visit the place of the accident on the first anniversary. The goal was simple: we wanted to do the same hike as Katka did and leave a metal cross on the place where she took her last breath.
So we traveled to Switzerland. The landscape in the area was spectacular. It was a strange mix of feelings; the present moment was telling me to enjoy the beauty all around me but the past was telling me a terrible story of that place. The metal cross we carried had sparked a lot of questions in other people’s minds. It felt weird; as all of it had happened too fast. My sister sent me an email a day before the accident, and the next day she was gone forever. Now, a year later, as I am hiking in her footprints, a thousand kilometers from home, and the only thing I can do is light a candle for her. I, or anyone in our family, would do anything to bring her back, yet the only thing we can do is light a candle. It’s hard to accept.
So we did it; we left a metal cross there. As I saw the place, live and for the first time, my mind was overcome with thoughts about my sister and how it all had happened exactly one year prior.
Till this day, I have a hard time answering the question: “How many siblings do you have?,” or similar. I don’t even know how to answer. After answering with 3 (including her), I usually hope not to be questioned further (e.g. what do they do?).
On the other hand, once I feel comfortable with people and start talking about it, I would prefer people to question more. But, most people stop right after I tell them what happened and start apologizing for asking. Please, don’t. Please ask me more, I want to tell you, I want to share with you, I want to tell what a great person my sister was.
Shortly after my sister died, I wanted to quit everything, all my efforts, university, career. I just wanted to go back to my hometown and give up on life. Life didn’t make sense to me anymore. I realized how insignificant everyday problems are, and if you haven’t realized it yet, then you should too.
Later, a friend texted me her condolences and what she wrote stuck with me deeply.
These words made me change my mind, and that’s what I work hard on. I can’t get any more life with Katka, but I am trying to live a better life because of her, and apply her best recommendations. Katka traveled a lot, she was tremendously diligent and hard working. She was the best, but she didn’t get much credit for all her hard work throughout her life. That’s something I would love to change; I dream about naming a part of a hospital or a hospital itself after Katka with write-ups about her interesting story. So if you by any chance know someone who can help, hit me up.
All our plans are destroyed now. As I do my best to make her proud, and live as she would, I am grateful that I was able to travel to Indonesia at the end of my semester in Hong Kong. Exactly as I had planned with Katka; she was supposed to go to Indonesia with me as well. After traveling and finishing my studies, I managed to graduate 🎉 and was able to turn one of our other plans into a reality. During one of our many video chats, we agreed that I would work in Switzerland after finishing university so that we would live near each other. I got a job offer in Switzerland and started my new life earlier this month. The only thing I am left with is:
I am here but … where are you?
Who Was Katarina Dlugosova?
Katarina Dlugosova was born on the 30th of December 1989 in a small town in the north-east of Slovakia. While at school, she earned countless awards and won countless competitions. A few worth noting are third place at the International Geography Olympiad in 2008 in Tunisia, and participating in the International Biology Olympiad in 2009 in Japan. She played five instruments: guitar, piano, violin, flute, and cross flute. After high school, she applied for one of the top and oldest medical schools in Central Europe — Charles University in Prague. From ~1500 applicants, ~250 students were admitted, she was the #1 applicant after passing written exams, and third after oral exams. While studying, Katarina did a semester abroad in Vienna, interned at King’s College London, and completed two semesters of acupuncture studies. After 6 years of hard work at school and in search of a better life, she passed the German OSD language certification and got a job at a hospital in Germany. Katarina loved skiing, mountaineering, horse riding, ballroom dancing, and mountain biking. She traveled to North & South America, Australia, Europe, and Asia. One thing I will always admire about her — she never wasted a second of her life. It’s like she knew how valuable it was without knowing that she had little time. Anytime she had a day off, she was out in nature, exploring. She had an enormous drive and was a big inspiration for me. In December 2017, she moved to Switzerland to work as a doctor there. On the 19th of August 2018, at the age of 28, she suddenly died in the mountains of Switzerland.