I was 16 and he was 30 but nothing could stop our love – Part 2

Names: Emel & Alpay

Status: Married

Been together since: 1968

(This touching love story spans over 4 decades so we have divided it into 3 parts. For part 1 click here and part 3 click here.

Putting love into our lives every single day…

The political and economic climate was changing in Turkey and we found ourselves dancing on the outskirts of a financial crisis.

My son was attending a private high school and the risk of not being able to pay the fees was now ever-present. Just as we had taught our children about abundance, we had also taught them about scarcity. We always told them that we could never know what life would to throw our way, that every road up might have a journey down but that hand-in-hand we would be able to overcome any challenges. Openly outlining the potential problems we might face, we asked them to focus on their studies.

My approach in handling such matters had a lot to do with the love, discipline and teachings that I had received from my own family. I always used to ask myself, ‘How would my parents handle this?’

Plus, I had my husband at my side. My husband really was a very loving, very considerate man. Getting married to the wrong person at such a young age had definitely left a big wound on his psyche but, just as with most misfortunes, he had also inherited the blessing of experience and growth.

“All the pain that he had to suffer through his first marriage had made him so much wiser.”

Being the only son in his family, he had been wonderfully spoiled financially. Previously for him, responsibility and money had never gone hand in hand. However, this had changed completely after he married me. He became very disciplined in his approach to finances. Even my mother-in-law had been very surprised and impressed.

It was clear that the reason he had abandoned his home and opted to live abroad during his first marriage was not because he was irresponsible, it was because he was deeply unhappy. In reality, he really was an amazing husband and father when it came to us.

All the pain that he had to suffer through his first marriage had made him so much wiser. Him sharing all his stories with me had allowed me to absorb his wisdom too. During our first two years, we shared every single detail of our lives with each other. The more we shared, the more we nurtured the seeds of love that we had planted. Our foundation was thus built on rock solid ground.

I was very young and had married a much older man. My family had had to endure much talk in town as a result and that had weighed very heavily on my heart. I frequently apologized to them because of this but they always responded, “You are so happy that it doesn’t matter. Let them talk.”

My parents always loved his children as if they were their very own grandchildren and treated them as such.

It was the deep love that my parents had for each other which showed us how important love was. They really loved each other until the day they died. During the last three years of his life my father was ill and bedridden. Even when we were forced to change his bedroom my mother stayed by his side and never left him alone.

We always said, “Respect brings affection and affection brings love.”

Alpay and I used to call each other ‘love’. It was only if we were upset with each other that we reverted to using our actual names.

There were things we did automatically. For instance, in the rare moments where anger got the better of us, we never allowed it to spill over to the dinner table or into our bed. We would never raise our voices. And when one did go to bed a small brush of the hand and a touch of the foot and any anger would dissolve.

Even at the dinner table, we would never let our children witness anything. At most, they would just end up thinking, ‘Hmm, our parents are a little serious today…’ My husband would never raise his voice. He would rarely ever get angry and when he did his face would turn red and he would leave the room and would return when he was calmer.

He inspired a lot of respect from our children and they would do their best to not upset him. Like I said, he really was a very special person.

“Our situation, which was tip top to start with, shifted along with the political climate in Turkey. Both trajectories were on a downward spiral. It was a stark contrast to our glorious past.”

We were very well liked amongst our friends. My husband used to have a special bond with children and the affection was always mutual. Our friends would always want to share their special occasions with us, we were blessed. The joy and happiness my husband had ample amounts of was infectious and he spread it everywhere he went. It was almost like a race to ensure his presence during holidays and picnics.

Tragedy strikes…

Well, this was our personal life. But tragedy still didn’t leave us alone…

The economic climate was still changing and we needed to secure our savings. We decided to buy a house from Karsiyaka, another part of Izmir that I called ‘foreign lands’. All of our friends remained behind in Kucukyali. That’s the year our Nursen got married to Alpay’s childhood friend’s son. She moved to Istanbul.

Nursen is also very happily married. She says that they are also following in our footsteps with the example we had set for marriage.  They also blessed us with a grandson. He is in his last year in university completing his degree in physics.

Our situation, which was tip top to start with, shifted along with the political climate in Turkey. Both trajectories were on a downward spiral. It was a stark contrast to our glorious past. We lost a few court cases and had to shut down some of our petrol stations.

When faced with this situation most people would probably get swept into a very dark place but we made a conscious effort to not allow this to eat away at the love and respect we had for each other.

“It seems to be a trend in our family: Everybody gets married quite young but the unions are blissful, happy.”

Although he couldn’t gain entrance to University that academic year, we were still grateful when our son graduated from high school. He went on to complete his military service and on his return started working for a big regional TV station, Ege TV.

He then met a girl called Burcu. She won all of our hearts.

Burcu had two other siblings. They were all girls and their father was understandably very protective when it came to his 3 daughters. He had certain rules: Anybody wanting to date his daughters needed to have serious intentions and had to formally ask him for their hand in marriage. He then expected the engagement and wedding to take place within the month.

Knowing this, we decided it would be best for us mothers to get acquainted first. Meanwhile, our children were putting together their nest. They were buying furniture and other things in preparation for their married life. We were meanwhile getting ready to go and formally ask for her hand from her parents.

They had been dating for about a year. It was 1998 or 99. My son was around 27 and she was 21. Cenk had to go on a business trip to another city. He was going to leave in the morning and return by the evening. Burcu really wanted to go with him. Her mother and I discussed the details and got our story straight so that we would not slip-up and her father would not find out.

Cenk’s company had rented him a car for the trip. They were both very excited and looking forward to it. They hit the road. Burcu had put her seat down and was asleep.

My son saw traffic control a little further down the road. He was driving slowly so it wasn’t a problem but he told Burcu to straighten up her seat and put her seatbelt back on. When Burcu removed her seatbelt to straighten up her seat there was a loud bang – the tire had blown up.

The car went into a spin, veered onto the other lane and came to a stop. They looked at each other in shock and hugged.

At that precise moment there was another loud bang. A truck that was going really fast had hit my son’s car at the side of the driver’s seat. Since Burcu wasn’t wearing a seatbelt the collision had thrown her door open and Burcu was thrust right out of the car and onto the road. My son managed to free himself from his crushed seat, which had almost trapped him in, and he ran to Burcu and hugged her. He quickly checked her everywhere. She had cuts on her forehead and on her lips but she seemed okay and she kept saying that she felt fine. They immediately flagged down a passing car and went to a hospital.

Cenk called his office telling them that he had had an accident. His colleagues didn’t want me to panic so they came over to my place personally to talk to me. “They’ve had a car crash auntie, but don’t worry, they’re fine.”

This of, course, did nothing to calm me down. I somehow managed to track them down in the local hospital they had gone to and we talked. Cenk reassured me saying, “Mom, we’re fine. They’re sending over a helicopter right now and we’ll be in Ege University Hospital soon. We’ll see you there.”

I immediately called my husband and told him what had happened. “Love, bring as much cash as you can with you and meet me there. They might need to operate, let’s be prepared.” We rushed to the hospital. All of my son’s colleagues were already there. We kept waiting but that helicopter never arrived…

We found out what happened afterwards: As Cenk and Burcu were being transported hand-in-hand to the helicopter, Burcu’s condition took a turn for the worse. Her fingers started turning blue. Turns out she had internal bleeding. They couldn’t pry Cenk away from her. They were forced to sedate him. We lost Burcu there…

We heard this over the walkie talkie as we were waiting for the helicopter. It was an enormous shock. I can’t describe how painful it was.

We waited for the ambulance for quite a while.

Finally it arrived.

One went to the morgue and the other to the emergency ward.

They treated my son all night. He survived.

We had to inform Burcu’s parents. That was the worst part. His colleagues had gone to collect her family.

Since us mothers knew about their trip that day, the burden of guilt lay heavily on us. The only thing I remember was her father coming to me and saying, “Miss Emel, I need to talk to you.”

I don’t remember anything after that but they told me later what had happened.

Apparently, we walked away with him leading the way. They had every right to do anything they wanted to me. Their child had died, their pain was enormous… But my son had managed to survive. They had every right to be furious with me, to swear at me, anything…

He turned to me and said, “Miss Emel, I don’t understand… what happened?”

I explained, “They were very serious… They were already buying their furniture… They were looking for a home close to both our families… We were going to visit you to ask for her hand in just a few months… That’s what was happening…”

He stopped for a while then said, “This is God’s will. My belief in God and his hand in our destiny is strong. I just couldn’t understand why she was there, that’s all.”

So I told him, “They were only going to be gone for the day. Burcu really wanted to keep him company and that’s why they went together…”

He said, “Well if this is the case then this evening we celebrate their engagement and tomorrow, their wedding. The girl is now yours.”

Her mother was, of course, utterly devastated.

We had the funeral the next day.

It was soul-crushing for everybody.

Had you not known it was a funeral, you really would have thought that it was a summer wedding. There were so many young people…

Burcu and Cenk’s Friends, their colleagues from work, they had all arrived with bouquets of flowers. It really felt like a wedding.

I had a big bouquet of chrysanthemums which I handed to my son. He jumped inside her grave with the flowers, trying to give her a final kiss goodbye. At the end, he laid the flowers down and hugged her. It was difficult to pry him away from her.

After the funeral I went to their house for the wake. I walked through the door and they started screaming, “Killer! Murderer!”

I went and sat on a chair like a defendant staring at the floor with my head bent down. My son had had to go back to the hospital for treatment after the funeral.

They were in such deep pain, I felt they had every right to be angry.

I couldn’t move.

I couldn’t say a single word.

I kept praying in silence, ‘Dear God give me strength, dear God give me patience.’

We went to their house every day for 52 days with my son. As per Islamic tradition, we also marked the 40th and 52nd day of her passing. I never let it go. The pain was crippling.

The immeasurable power of love in adversity…

I have experienced all sorts of love; love between man and wife, between children and daughters-in-law. Love makes you manage, to ease you along, giving you the strength to carry on through it all. For a long time following the accident, my son and I visited the graveyard every single day.

”I have experienced all sorts of love; love between man and wife, between children and daughters-in-law. Love makes you manage, to ease you along, giving you the strength to carry on through it all.”

Cenk locked himself up in his room. He stopped eating. The guilt he felt was overwhelming. He became deeply depressed.

My husband and I would secretly stand guard outside his door. When my husband slept, I would take over. My husband had secretly nailed his balcony door shut. He was in such a dark place that we were afraid of what he might do to himself. We kept checking to see if he had any sharp objects or pills around.

Finally, his boss in the TV station, Mr. Erol, had a suggestion which could potentially remedy the state he was in.

“Let’s send him on an assignment to Las Vegas,” he said. He had a job lined up for him. Thus, we sent Cenk to the States. On his return, they assigned him to work on a documentary. They always give him something to distract him from his sadness with under the guise of an assignment. Slowly but surely, Cenk pulled himself out of his darkness.

Meanwhile, I was still visiting her family. On the anniversary her death, we did the memorial service in my house. Burcu loved chocolates. We prepared little baskets full of chocolates and my son distributed them to everyone, even people passing by on the street.

One day, Cenk came to me and gave me a hug. “Please forgive me. I have made you both suffer endlessly. I can see it now,” he said. “You did everything you can and more. But let’s put this behind us now. No more visits, no more graveyard.”

We had already paid the caretaker at her final resting place.

“My conscience is clean now, mom.”

So we discussed this with her family and then tried to put that chapter to rest. Looking back, I don’t think I could’ve gone on like that for much longer…

I feel that I got the power to get through this because of the love and bond that we had as a family. Love and dedication gives you the strength to do anything.

When you get married, you form a small circle. But love is not just between two people and it grows by adding more circles. To that circle, you add children, friends, relatives and that is how the strength of this unity blossoms. That is how you experience the full power of the glory of love.

Saying that, it is not a must to have children. This love can be nourished with your parents, your in-laws and your friends; that’s how you get love to grow.

My son managed to put those bad days behind him but our dark days were still not over.

The truck that had hit them from behind had been going so fast that even the collision hadn’t been able to stop it. It had hit the policemen up ahead, killing one of them, and had also crashed into two other vehicles destroying them. The truck driver had been injured too. Cenk was the victim of circumstance.

They advised us to hire a local lawyer from Kuyucak. So we looked into it and authorized a lawyer who had been highly recommended to act on our behalf.

He would call us once in a while asking us for payments that needed to be made for legal fees and court fees and such and we would send them to him.

It took two years for the court cases to complete. Turns out we had lost every single one! We had no idea about this until it was too late.

One day, there was a knock on the door and we received a letter. It was official notification requesting payments for everything from us: All damages and expenses related to the accident, lawyers’ fees as well as any interest that had accrued for all of those. It gave us 15 days to pay or face legal action.

While we were still dazed over this first revelation, we got another official letter. It was from the state social security department of the policeman that had passed away. Turns out, they had also taken us to court and we had lost. They were asking for all expenses related to his funeral and death. We were paying dearly for the misconduct of our lawyer.

It was one big blow after the other.

We contemplated what we should do. At the end, we decided not to file a formal complaint. Had we taken this to court, we would have had to relive everything all over again. Those stories would have to be retold, evidence resubmitted and all of those deep wounds reopened… Our son had only just recovered from his deep depression.

To us, it wasn’t worth going through all of this for something like money. Our Cenk was still alive and that was all that mattered.

“When you get married, you form a small circle. But love is not just between two people and it grows by adding more circles.”

We decided to accept everything without dispute. A flurry of payments ensued and we hired a new lawyer to help with the frenzy of outgoings. The amounts were tremendous: Court fees, damages, compensations, the interest for all of these – it felt like there was no end.

We sat down as a family and discussed what we could do. Our brainstorming produced various solutions.

Again, the love we felt for each other kept us strong. I knew that if I was sad, my son would be sad and so would my husband. Similarly, they knew if I saw them sad it would upset me. So each one of us did our best to be positive about this. Again, we managed to get through by holding on to each other.

Together we stand strong…

A year or two had passed. It was now the year 2000.

Alpay had always been healthy and strong. But lately he had started to lose weight and got fatigued frequently. I finally persuaded him and we went to see Baha, our friend’s son who was a general surgeon.

Extensive examination and analyses revealed a terrifying result: Alpay had lymphoma cancer. We just looked at each other and left without being able to utter a single word. Even Baha was left speechless.

“Alpay had always been healthy and strong. But lately, he had started to lose weight and got fatigued frequently.”

We couldn’t go home for a long time.

We walked around in silence for hours.

When we came home he hugged me and said, “I promise to get rid of this malady without causing you any sadness.”

This left my son devastated again.

We spent the next six months in hospital. He had cell transplantation. We had to import special treatments from the States. Our financial situation was under a lot of pressure yet again but God helped us through one more time.

Cenk had recently been in court as he was owed payment for some work that he had done. He won the case and was awarded a lump sum payment just around the time that we needed cash. Thus, we were able to pay for my husband’s treatment.

Just as we are about to get through this hurdle we were hit with another merciless blow.

Just before the accident, we had had some of our petrol stations taken away from us. We had gathered our remaining savings and had bought into a factory. So we were 5% shareholders and Alpay was also working there as the General Manager.

While we were staying at the hospital, the accountant at the factory would bring him his salary every month which we used to cover his hospital bills. We actually had a private room since we had to stay there for six months. The accountant brought him his salary as usual on the third month but on the fourth month he didn’t show up. We had payments to make but no salary to make them with.

Cenk had meanwhile started to work in a new production company. He hadn’t told anyone that his father was sick. As a family, we are not the kind of people to use this to benefit us and would only disclose our situation if we really had to.

I kept calling the factory but nobody would pick up the phone. The costs for his private room, all the treatments he was getting; we really needed the cash! I asked Cenk to go to the factory and investigate personally.

Turkey was now firmly in the grip of a crisis and it was in this climate that we discovered the truth: His two partners had apparently decided to sell the factory.

When the accountant used to bring my husband his salary, he would make him sign a receipt. My husband would trustingly sign without checking it. It turned out the last document they had made him sign was a sales agreement and not a receipt. They had sold the factory, including Alpay’s shares. We had no idea! Even our car that was parked outside the factory was nowhere to be found.

Meanwhile, my son and I were carefully hiding these horrible facts from my husband. The cancer treatment had been debilitating and his immune system was destroyed. He had to be fully shielded from any stress.

My son and I took inventory and put all of our funds together. We started being very mindful of our expenditure: We stopped taking taxis and would only buy necessities and nothing else.

Left with no other choice but to make up a story to buy time, we told my husband that his partners had temporarily closed down the factory and had gone abroad putting the accountant in charge until they returned.

“Don’t you ever worry, everything is great and we’re doing really well.” We assured him that we really didn’t need money anyway and that we had plenty of savings.

The harsh treatment that he was receiving had also affected his comprehension anyway. This was a side effect of the treatment which typically killed off all the good cells along with the bad. Slowly the dead cells would be replaced with new cells and adaptation would begin only after that.

When the salary wasn’t delivered again the next month, we had to make up stories once more saying, “Oh, he didn’t have time to drop by here so he dropped off your salary at home.”

Meanwhile we were chasing the lawyers and the accountant. We finally managed to get hold of the accountant. We told him that seeing as the factory had been sold, we wished to receive our share of the payment from the sale since we were part-owners. He said, “Of course,” then he disappeared never to be heard from again.

We got through the recuperation phase. My husband was finally stronger. He kept telling our son to go get the car because we needed it and asking for his things from his office. Poor Cenk, what could be say? He kept saying, “Sure, dad.”

Alpay would ask him again the week after where his things were and why he hadn’t brought the car. Cenk kept on trying to stall him saying, “I was really busy, I couldn’t make it.” Then his father would understandably get angry and Cenk would apologize and promise to go the following week.

We were all smiles in front of him but tears would fall behind his back…

My husband got stronger and stronger. When he was finally back on his feet we told him everything. It was a very tough pill for him to swallow but, painful as it was, he finally managed to accept the situation.

Life went on. Our strength would be tested yet again on the bitter sweet journey that lay ahead.

To be continued…

(Interview & write-up by Bianca)

For part 1 click here and part 3 click here.



Read about our previous couple Anita & David.






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