Thursday, 4 October 2012


4 October 2012

Death – it is so very, very final.  It allows for no grey area and no comebacks.  But by definition, I suppose that is exactly what it is – a point of no return.

A very good friend of mine’s husband died on Saturday.  And my heart simply aches for her.  Her much loved husband was simply too young.  He still had a wife to love and kids to help raise.  How is it possible that his time was cut so short?  I can’t seem to find a rhyme or reason to these things.  Can’t we all simply go at a very, very, very old age softly in our sleep one night?  And only after having a full, long and healthy life.

Richard had been ill, for quite a while.  He suffered greatly, as did those around him – seeing his decline and pain.  But he fought the good fight, and he fought it bravely, with much courage.  In the end he was at peace and ready to go.  He leaves behind a beautiful, but broken young wife – heartsore and numb.  A beautiful young girl, a tween if you like.  And a lively little boy.  Will they ever remember their Dad as he was before illness ravaged him?  His goodness always shone out.  As did his love for them.

At 82 my grandmother has been absolutely overwhelmed by death at the moment.  Within two short years, she lost her brother and both her sisters – they were all exceptionally close.  They spoke on the phone daily and visited each other often.  She says that in the beginning, the quiet telephone really caught her off guard, after being used to it ringing so frequently.  And now on a weekly basis she is notified of the death of yet another cousin or long lost friend.  At 83, my grandfather has lost all of his male friends and peers.  His brother is long gone, as are his brothers-in-law and his male cousins.  How terribly, terribly sad.  So very depressing.

My Dad was still so young at 46 when he died.  We had had time to prepare for his death, and had the very surreal experience of standing around his bed, a week before he died and telling him exactly how much we loved him.  How it was okay for him to let go.  How we would look after our Ouma Cathy – his mother.  How we would remain a close family.  I made an oath to him that I would ensure that my children (at that stage I only had Luke) knew about him and that I would keep him ‘alive’ for them.  We assured him that we would always look after our mom.  Personally I thanked him for everything he had ever done to me.  How much he meant to me and how deeply I loved him.  I remember my matric valedictory with absolute clarity.  It was a special moment for me.  The culmination of 12 years at school.  We were wished a stirring farewell by our principal and teachers.  Our head boy and head girl made fabulous uplifting speeches.  And us, the class of ’90 sang a farewell song to the school.  I was hugely disappointed as my folks wouldn’t be able to attend.  My mom was a teacher and thus was working – not able to take leave.  And my dad was working too.  They had both expressed remorse and regret, but assured me that they would be there in spirit.  And they warned me that I would have to rehash the whole thing for their benefit later that day, once we were all together again.  And then, during the assembly, I looked out towards to crowd of parents, proudly sitting and watching their kids.  And there, at the very back of the hall was my dad - standing.  I still don’t know why it meant so much to me, except that it did.  Hugely so.  He must have moved mountains to make it happen.  Just for me.  Just to make me happy.  And even now, while I’m typing away, I’m crying about it.  Ridiculous, I know.  Such a silly thing to do.  But at 17 it meant the world to me.  And on his death bed I thanked him for it.  And still think about it to this day.  It taught me a lot as a parent.  To never underestimate things that seem trivial to us, are so very important to our kids.  I remember giving my dad simply the biggest, biggest hug when assembly was finished.  How he stood around chatting with all of us – he always fit in with the teenagers.  A friend has a video clip of it, which I would dearly like to see.  And I remember my dad rehashing the story with me, to my mom that evening when we recalled the valedictory.  So special.  I would like to believe that it gave him a measure of peace, when we all stood around his bed.  Even though he was no longer capable of speech, he followed us with his eyes, and at one point he squeezed my mom’s hand.

My friend whose mother has Dementia, currently has a very different take on death.  But then again, she is watching her much loved mother suffering.  All pretence of dignity gone.  Her dearest wish, without sounding callous, is for her mother to have a massive and painless stroke or heart attack, ending her suffering.  She fears her mother could carry on forever in her current state.  All mental faculties gone, but the physical body at least is still doing relatively well.  And being in a home, the environment is quite clinical.  The chances of her getting sick are zero.  There are no stresses or strains enforced upon her.  So for now, she is wasting away on the inside – becoming more and more hollow.  Simply a shell, an empty vessel.  No one steering the ship.

Personally, I very much share Woody Allen’s take on death, and I quote “It’s not really that I’m scared of death.  I just don’t want to be there when it happens”.  Which I supposed encapsulates it for me perfectly.  But what I have witnessed, in my near 40 years, is the effect of dying.  Not on those that are dearly departed.  But on the ones that are left behind.  Trying to pick up the pieces and going ahead.  Not the simplest of tasks by any stretch of the imagination.

Rest in peace, Richard.  You were very much loved and your legacy will live on forever.  Your family will be cared for.  They are loved and cherished by many.  And have an awesome support system.  You did well.  Your work is done, you may rest.  You have deserved it.


  1. Very beautiful 'story' Helene. Illness and death both seem so unfair and so sudden even when it's not.

    RIP Richard with the lovely family. xxxx

  2. As always, beautifully written Helene. Condolences and love to Richards family. RIP.