Kevin

I have been thinking of you so much lately Kev. The thought of “the anniversary of your death” rolling around in a few weeks fills me with absolute dread. Its a funny thing: I usually balk at people taking it upon themselves to commemorate awful occurrences; constantly bringing up all the old hurt and feelings of grief. But then again, the healing process is a very personal one, and who am I do judge another person’s methods of closure?

I am still spinning at the realisation that just under a year ago I became an only child. The how and the why don’t really matter. What matters, is that at the end you were loved, Kev. A piece of me died along with you that day. The piece that is made up of the careless days we wasted away together, drinking half-litre cokes and eating salt and vinegar chips while playing endless hours of “Asteroids” at the Greek cafe on the corner of our street. Chewing chappies till our jaws ached, and blowing enormous bubbles. Sitting around talking absolute rubbish and laughing till we cried. The thousands of memories that defined our lives as siblings, as best friends growing up. I still cannot believe that you are actually gone, I still hope that my phone will ping with some nonsense message or joke from you. I still check your Facebook page to see if you’ve posted any new rubbish. How sad: life for you just stopped, while everything around us just carries on.

You left an impact on so many people’s lives. Saying goodbye was so hard, and it will still seem unreal for a long time to come. Maybe even forever. I could not even properly mourn the death of our father just 11 days after you died, siblings are supposed to rummage through the deceased’s stuff and reminisce about their childhood aren’t they? I cannot bring myself to go thru any of dad’s stuff, even now, almost a year down the line. It’s still too hard.

So, this post is my way of commemorating the most awful of anniversaries. The anniversary that I can’t (and don’t really want to) comprehend. (Even though I don’t really buy into the whole “commemorating bad events” thing.)

These are the words that I spoke at your memorial:

KEVIN ROBERT JONAS 24 April 1970 – 18 March 2018

Kevin was my first friend. The lucky recipient of a brand new baby to play with at the ripe age of three and a half. I am told that it was love at first sight, and that he took his roll of big brother very seriously. He used to love helping mom with “his baby” and apparently took great delight in covering me with way too much baby powder.

And I simply adored him from the moment I laid eyes on him.

One of my Earliest memories of Kevin, is when as young children we still shared a room, and every night he told me another installment of the “one day while I was swinging on the lights” stories, which usually started off by crashing through the bedroom window and embarking on some  fantastical journey. He would take us on wild, hilarious adventures in our imaginations. Our stories were usually cut short when dad came in to tell us to be quiet based on the laughter coming from our bedroom.

We formed part of the “26 Bruce street” gang, in the block of flats that we grew up in, where we were constantly playing in the courtyard downstairs, or in the street, riding bikes, roller skating and generally raising havoc. There were close to 20 of us, kids of similar ages, and the noise that emanated from us could rival a nightclub. Kevin and I  did everything together. We used to walk to the Hillbrow swimming pool on hot days, and explore the storm water drains in the Pieter Roos park on cold ones. We would play tennis on the pavement, and throw paper planes out of our parents’ bedroom window onto the street below.

We always had each other’s back.

Kevin loved to play practical jokes as a kid. I would often come into my bedroom to find my Barbie dolls stripped naked and placed in provocative positions. Or have a peanut butter laden piece of bread slammed into my face as he exited the kitchen. One of his more revolting pastimes, was called “catch the egg”, which involved screaming “catch the egg” while hurtling an egg towards my bedroom door. It never ended with me actually catching the actual egg, and I was always left to clean up the mess. And let’s not forget every teenage girls nightmare, coming home to a lounge filled with teenage boys watching some dodgy German porn that Kevin had acquired by picking the lock of my dad’s video cabinet.

Kevin was very creative, and he expressed this in both sketches and writing. He also used to love building cities out of grey plasticine, and painstakingly constructed tiny buildings, houses and motorways out of small strips of clay. They really were quite something to behold. The fact that he would then declare war on these cities and destroy them with little bombs made out of lion matches and sulphur purchased from the chemist is besides the point. Another of his favorite pastimes was making small tokoloshes out of latex, a glass bottle and a cloth “cloak” and scaring the bejesus out of our long suffering housekeeper.

Music was always a backdrop to Kevin’s life. He looked like something straight out of a Duran Duran video in the early 80s, including the peroxided coif and mullet. His teenage bedroom was wallpapered with Iron Maiden posters; wherever you looked, Eddie stared back at you with a macabre smile. Kevin taught me to love Metallica,  Megadeth, Queensryche, Rammstein and Van Halen, among others. In the later years, out of school and able to grow his hair past his shoulders,  he was the quintessential metal head.  He wore ripped jeans and a black trench coat and thought he was super cool. But he actually loved any music. Okay, not Kylie Minogue or anything but you get the drift. My father used to make video tapes for us with music videos recorded from TV programs such as “pop shop” and “hot hits”, and they were Kevin’s most precious possessions.

Kevin once created a fictional rock band, called “Trouble in the chains” and even created a gold record for the band by spraying an old LP with gold lacquer. It hung on his bedroom wall for many years. He even wrote a collection of songs for the album.

Kevin adored poetry, both reading it and writing  it. He wrote thousands of limericks. He had a particular love for the macabre romanticism of Edgar Allen Poe. One of his favourite pieces was “The Raven”.

When Kevin learned to drive, he acquired my mom’s old beige golf, and used to drive it like a bat out of hell down Louis Botha avenue, with some or other thrash metal blaring out of the radio as a standard. He taught me to drive in that old jalopy, and made me inch up hills in reverse gear to help me learn clutch control. Years later, when we both worked for Edcon, we went hurtling along Rivonia road in separate company cars and we ended up having a bumper bashing. We both got out the car and said “are you okay?” at the same time and then burst out laughing. If I remember correctly we were on our way to meet Nathan for a drink, so we promptly got back in our cars and carried on. And then blamed Nathan for the accident. It was, um, interesting explaining the damage of two company vehicles to our managers on Monday morning.

After Kevin moved to Cape Town, he would often come and stay with me in my townhouse in Sunninghill, and my house would  acquire what my housemate and I referred to as a “Kevin smell” which was pretty much garlic and beer, given his love of garlic smothered food and black label.

Kevin loved animals, and he was responsible for bringing home both our first cat and dog. The white cat he named “Kitty”, was a gift from a girlfriend at the time, and then later he got the German Shepherd he named “Tequila”, who became my dog when he moved to Cape Town. He loved his huskies Neo and Kira, and often sent me selfies of him and his “fluffies”.

Kev loved his friends. He loved to socialize. And his friends loved him for his bizarre sense of humor, his morbid jokes and his inappropriate comments. Kevin didn’t really sugar coat his opinions, and as a result often got involved in many heated debates. So many of his childhood friends, that he has kept in touch with, in some cases for over 40 years, have reached out to me to express their sadness at his passing. If Kev was your friend, he was a friend for life.

He loved horror movies. The more blood and gore the better. Once again illustrating his warped sense of humor. But then again, and he’s probably going to be furious at me for saying this, he also loved Mary Poppins.

Kerin, you were the apple of his eye. He loved you with all his heart, and I know he will always be with you.

Watching my own children grow up reminds me so much of the wonderful bond that Kevin and I had growing up and I’m going to miss him like crazy.

I will leave you with these words from “the Raven”

 

“Be that word our sign of parting, bird or fiend!” I shrieked, upstarting—

“Get thee back into the tempest and the Night’s Plutonian shore!

    Leave no black plume as a token of that lie thy soul hath spoken!

    Leave my loneliness unbroken!—quit the bust above my door!

Take thy beak from out my heart, and take thy form from off my door!”

            Quoth the Raven “Nevermore.”

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I need to write

A friend pointed out to me the other day that I haven’t blogged in a while, and yes, it’s been close to two years. There is no excuse really, other than life getting in the way and a lack of real inspiration. And just like that, almost two years zoom by, and even WordPress has given up on sending me “we see you haven’t posted in a while” reminders. I quit my job about 18 months ago, so in theory I have plenty of time to ramble on over here, but the funny thing is I seem to have less time now than ever before. Perhaps my ability to write down my random thoughts went down the drain with my career, or maybe life has not really been blog-worthy. Maybe I’ve forgotten the real reason for writing here in the first place: for Alex and Caris to have an insight into me when I am gone. I wanted them to have a glimpse into me, the adult, the person, the thinker and feeler; not just their good old mom who plods on in the background making food and picking up all the random shit they leave lying around the house. A friend of mine died very suddenly yesterday, and the news has sent me into a sad reflection of how short our time here is; how it can end abruptly with no warning. So, I need to come back here and record the thoughts and feelings that are overflowing from my being. I just need to get through today…

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.

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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.