When a child dies

On Sunday the 31st of August this year, the weather was really crap. We had arrived in Ballito the Friday before for a one week break, and as luck would have it, or not it seems, the weather was revolting: overcast, windy and freezing. We decided to take the kids to the beach for a walk, despite the cold gusts lashing at our faces.beach

There were hundreds of dead cuttlefish laying on the beach, along with a weird brown scum on the waves. A very strange occurrence indeed. Alex spent ages picking up discarded cuttlebones to add to his shell collection.

On the way back to the car, Alex and Gary were far ahead of us, Caris and I were dawdling, chatting about the beach and looking at the succulents growing on the sand dunes. A woman walking with her teenaged daughter smiled at us, and for a moment I stared at her face, trying to place where I knew her from. She just kept on smiling, almost as if she too was trying to place me. I didn’t know her, but she looked so much like a friend that I had known in high school, someone I haven’t seen in person in over 20 years. Someone whose gorgeous children regularly appear on my Facebook feed. It was a very weird serendipitous moment.

The next morning, while browsing Facebook, my timeline showed that this old friend was being tagged in a lot of posts, most preceded with “sorry for your loss” and “RIP”. After visiting her profile and reading the many, many posts, I learned that her young son, Joshua, had been killed in a motor cross accident. He was only 10 years old.

For a moment, my heart stood still and I shed tears for a child I did not know in person, for a fellow mom whose heart had been irreparably broken. For a dad who has lost his son.

My timeline is still littered with images of this beautiful boy and posts offering condolences to his grieving parents. My heart jumps into my mouth every time I see one. My heart breaks all over again. I wonder how they are coping. If they will ever be FINE. Through the facade of social media they seem so strong: Thanking everyone for their support, and posthumously praising their beautiful boy’s worldly achievements. I do not think that I would have even one single ounce of the courage and strength that they seem to have. I can not even imagine how painful this process must be for them. How painful it will always be. I have tremendous admiration for these two incredible parents.

Losing a child is the most unbearable thought, something my brain refuses to compute. I feel paralyzed at the thought of losing one of my children. It is something that is just not normal. I don’t think that the age of the child matters, losing a child is something that no parent should ever have to experience. It is the single biggest fear that I have.

I wonder if the posts that people write help console their broken hearts, and if the kind words of others are helping to heal a wound that will surely never heal. And if by knowing how many people loved and admired their son makes them proud of the boy they raised. I hope so, as I have written some of these posts too.

Rest in peace beautiful Joshua.

 

 

Moira

I heard your voice in a supermarket the other day, Moira. I turned around, really expecting to see you standing there. The woman who the voice belonged to regarded me quizzically while I stared at her face expecting yours to materialize. For a moment I forgot that you are dead.

quote

There is no light way to say that. It is what it is.

Dead.

A young life snubbed by a disease no one ever wants to encounter.

Cancer.

I haven’t seen you in person in more than ten years, as you emigrated to Canada ages ago, but I remember your smile and infectious laugh so clearly. And how you used to put your fingers on either side of your tummy when you were pregnant with one of your boys to block their ears if someone swore nearby. You loved your two precious boys, Calvin and Julian, with all your might.

Facebook kept us in touch over the years, albeit superficially. Liking each other’s statuses and oohing and ah-ing at each others’ growing children’s photos. And then Gary was diagnosed with kidney cancer and you told me about your headaches and needing to go for a brain scan. It was nothing really, you said, and that you had tried everything to make the headaches stop. Drugs, physio, nothing helped. So the MRI was a last resort. They found a massive lump in your brain, which turned out to be cancerous. They operated, removed all of it, and you were in good spirits, and then some belated post-surgery complication a while later knocked you for six.

Dead.

It has taken me a few months to digest this, and write this post. Gary’s cancer was still very much an open wound when you died.

Dead.

Just like that.  I still have the last email you sent me; you were so positive: the headaches were gone, you were feeling stronger. Telling me how you had (almost) beaten cancer. You were commending me for being strong during Gary’s ordeal, encouraging me to be positive, even after the huge ordeal you had been through. You were going for radiation and joked about them frying your brain. You were struggling to sleep, but remained so upbeat, despite the doctors also having found lesions on your liver. So positive. Oblivious of the ticking time bomb in your own body.

And then a few days later I saw a mutual friend’s Facebook status: “RIP Moira.” And I was like “WHAT!” A few emails later confirmed the unthinkable. You were gone. Your boys were unmothered.

I think about your boys often, wonder how they are doing without their mom. (One of my biggest fears is dying while my children are still young.)  I think of your husband, I wonder if he feels lonely, or sad, or if he is angry at you for dying. I’m sure they all miss you more than anything. How does a child get over their mom dying prematurely?

I also think of how closely our lives were intertwined for those moments: Gary and you both dealing with cancer.

I still cannot process the fact that you are dead. It rips my soul apart every time I think about it.

Young people shouldn’t die.

Moms shouldn’t die dammit!

RIP Moira. (May God hold you safely in a special place.)

Don’t sweat the small stuff

At dinner last night, with a few good friends, we were chatting about our kids (and other things too) as women with children are wont to do. We were laughing about the silly things they say and do, bitching about how hard it is sometimes, and moaning about eating issues, bed-wetting and cheekiness. Then my friend J mentioned that she had changed the way she approaches parenting since a good friend of hers’ child had died. How she is more lenient, softer, and a little less hectic. How she tries not to sweat the small stuff. I think every single one of us got goose-bumps at the thought of losing one of our children.

About a year ago, in one of the local pre-primary schools, a young boy choked to death on a cherry while at school. They allegedly tried everything they could, and even asked the Vet in the property next door to help. He was then taken to a nearby hospital, but sadly the little guy did not make it. I don’t recall his exact age at the time, but he was 4 or 5 years old. At the time of the incident, I remember thinking: Imagine getting THAT call from the school. “Hi, this is um, the principal, your, um, child had an accident at school. He is, um…. DEAD.”  And just like that, in a two minute phone-call, your life would change. Forever. No more hugs and kisses from a small boy whose parents are the most important people in his life. No more giggles, silly discussions and a thousand questions. No more arguing over eating dinner, putting on shoes or tidying up the playroom. No more goodnight kisses and playing with reckless abandon. No more anything. Gone. Forever. Dead.

The very thought still makes the hair on my arms stand up as a cold shiver runs over me. It makes me nauseas in the pit of my stomach.

It has been a year since the untimely passing of this young boy, and apparently his family have tried to move on as best as they can. They have had another child, and are trying to be a normal family. But I cannot even begin to imagine how hard it must be for all of them. How the trauma surrounding the death of their child must haunt them daily. And how they must always wonder what it would be like if the accident had not happened. How they must think about that child. Every. Single. Day. How they must long for one last hug, one last kiss and even one last argument. How they must ache with sadness every time they see his photograph or remember something that he said or did.

So we all vowed to not fight with our children today. To let them wear whatever they want to. To let them eat ice-cream in the car. To let them be silly, laugh and mess around in the Pick ‘n Pay. To just let them be kids without forcing our grown-up boundaries onto them. To relax with our rules, just a little. To not shout at them for dirtying the newly-washed floors. But most importantly: to not sweat the small stuff, and to hold them tight and love and cherish them. Today and always.

What’s up with young, healthy people just dropping dead?

In as many weeks, I have heard of three young, healthy women, all with young children, just dropping dead. The first, a few weeks ago, a friend mentioned that her ex-husband’s new wife (early 30’s, slim and otherwise healthy), was found dead in her home, flanked by her two young sons, after phoning her sister to say she was feeling a little unwell. They still do not know what happened to her. Case two, on Monday morning, a good friend of mine called to tell me that the Gynae, Charlene, whom we both see had a massive heart attack on Sunday, without any prior warning, and literally dropped dead. I was shocked and saddened, not only because of the personal relationship that I had with her, but because she was young (mid 40’s) and seemingly healthy, and also the mother of two young boys. After mentioning this story to my dentist later on Monday, she told me that her sister-in-law died the week before, healthy the one day, dead the next. She also left behind a young child. She was not even forty.

To say that these three separate incidents have sent a creepy shiver up my spine, would be putting it mildly. It scares the crap out of me. I cannot even begin to imagine the pain that these women’s young children must be going through right now. One of the greatest fears I have as a parent, is that I won’t be there for my babies. Or worse still, that they will grow up with no mother. Losing a parent at any age is hard, but losing your mom or dad when you are just a little thing, must be the most devastating experience ever.

Hearing about these three women, whose lives were snubbed prematurely, has made me stop and think about how flippant we all tend to be about our health. How seemingly insignificant niggles are often ignored, and sometimes even the big things are not checked. We are all so busy getting on with our daily lives that we forget to look after ourselves. Especially moms who are typically more concerned with worrying about their children, than looking after themselves. (After hearing about Charlene, I immediately phoned Gary to urge him to get a mole, that has started looking a little dodgy of late, checked.) It is so important to look after ourselves, both physically and mentally. Stress is a silent killer.

Life is so short, and sometimes we forget to slow down and take in the scenery, to stop and smell the proverbial roses. I, for one, am very guilty of that. So tonight, I’m going to read my babies that extra story even if it is past bedtime already. I am going to hold them and tell them that I love them more than anything, and I hope that they will always know this, no matter what. I am going to tell my husband how much I love him, and how much he brightens my world. And I will always hope and have faith that we will grow old together and be there for our babies as they grow up.

RIP Charlene.

Travelling

I hate travelling. I like being on holiday, but I just don’t like the travelling involved to get there. The thing is, I am afraid of travelling. I can’t say that I have always had this phobia, but I think it has grown over time, mainly based on a few recent events:

 1. Many years ago, we were travelling down to San Lameer one December, it was us, the two boys (long before the babies arrived), and in another car, Gary’s brother and his family. Somewhere just before Marian Hill, a guy in front of us, who had way too much stuff tied onto the roof of a tiny venter trailer, the likes of which you only see in Africa, decided to lose the spare wheel that was nestled on top of the pile of stuff. Thankfully, Gary saw it, and slammed on brakes and swerved out of the way as the tyre bounced on the road in front of the car and literally missed us by an inch. His brother, who was a few metres behind us, did the same, and I am still to this day surprised that there was no accident in the early morning traffic heading in to Durban. The boys were asleep in the back of the car, and woke up when the car jerked violently into the adjacent lane. Let’s just say we all needed an extra strong cup of coffee when we stopped for breakfast a few moments later. (I am now officially a nervous passenger in cars.)

2. On a flight to New York, we experienced the most terrible turbulence. Somewhere over Africa, we hit an air-pocket that caused the plane to drop what felt like a few hundred metres. It was so unexpected that the captain had barely switched on the seat-belt signs, when the plane felt like it was literally falling out of the sky. The air-hostesses were halfway through the dinner service, and everyone had plates of food and full glasses on their trays, everything went flying. We happened to be in business class, and they had a drinks trolley with bottles of wine and champagne on it, which literally lifted into the air and everything on it went crashing on to the floor. I have never been so scared in my life. (I am not a big fan of flying since then)

3. A girl I used to work with was killed in a car accident. She and her husband and their 8 week old baby boy were on their way to see family in Bloemfontein, when a truck failed to stop for a road-works “stop and go” sign on the highway. According to the newspaper, it drove right over their 4×4 bakkie. They were all killed on impact. I still get cold chills every time I think about it. She was not a close friend, but we had been chatting so much during the last few weeks of her pregnancy, I was devastated when I heard the news. I had just had Alex, and she had been picking my brains for tips and advice on being a new mom, and we had been sharing pregnancy experiences. I sobbed like a little girl at her funeral, so sad that these young lives were ended so abruptly, and sad that the baby boy hadn’t even had a chance to experience anything yet. A part of me was relieved that they had all been killed in the crash, because I would not have wanted any of them to feel the pain of perhaps only the baby, or one parent, being killed. As a mother, I cannot begin to imagine the pain of losing a child. Another part of me was angry that the truck driver’s neglect had caused the death of this beautiful family. He was unharmed. Life is unfair.

Having had children has made my fears even worse. I wouldn’t say that I am a complete nervous wreck when I am travelling by car or plane, but I get that heavy feeling in the pit of my stomach. It is even worse when I travel without my family. Or when Gary travels alone, which he has been doing a lot of lately for work. I pray that we will all be safe, always, but that if it is our time, please take all of us, as I cannot bear that thought of my children growing up without parents, or of us growing old without our babies.

Travel safely, dear reader, and may your guardian angels watch over you and your family always.