Thursday, 29 July 2010

Ways of grieving

My last post expressed just a sample of my devastation at the loss of a family in our community. We weren't enormously close, but we shared a birthday party with them in June, some playdates, a great bottle of wine, and coffee. Close enough that I really liked them, and really wanted to spend more time with them. But they're gone now, ripped away from us all. And there's not even a criminal to be angry at, or a negligent anyone to blame. It just happened.

This has hit me far harder than I thought it would. I still choke up in tears at random times, and while I want to print out pictures from the birthday party for Shane and the family, I can't bring myself to go into that section in my photo library.

I have spent some time contemplating grief today. I have only had a handful encounters with death, and they have all been very different.

My grandfather died of cancer when I was 16. He was ill for a long time, and my greatest regret that my last attempt to show him that I was there by squeezing his hand turned out to be extremely painful for him. He was gone the next morning.

My dad died five weeks after our wedding, after a brief but grim illness with cancer of the pancreas. My dad was my counsel, my foundation, the person I turned to for advice, the person who I could trust no matter what (along with my mom), and the person who surprised me with spots of spontaneity in his very measured and accounted for life. We spent his last day with him in hospital, even though he was unconscious, caught between the stark reality that he was never going to wake up, that those ice-blue eyes were never going to twinkle again, and relief that his suffering was over. I miss my dad every day, I wish he was here to know my boys, but he was sick and in pain and he was old and it was the way of life that he be released from that. My heart doesn't ache for him, it treasures his memory.

Andrew was my best friend at varsity. For a while I was in love with him, but I soon saw the folly of that, and we went back to being buddies. A successful law practice, a huge inheritance and a failed marriage later, he was a drug addict and an alcoholic. I watched him destroy all that he had created, I and others tried to intervene, but we learned the hard way that no-one can fix an addict unless they want to fix themselves. After some particularly harrowing encounters, I remember driving to work one morning sobbing my heart out, because I believed that it was a matter of days before someone found him dead of an overdose. As it turns out, he semigrated to Cape Town, disconnected from everyone he knew in Joburg, cleaned up, and became a pretty awesome photographer. A month short of being clean for a year, he died in a kloofing accident. It felt like I'd already mourned losing him, like his death came as no surprise. We'd seen him the month before when he was here to photograph a friend's wedding, and he told me the root of his addiction. It was an intense and shocking conversation that started about 10 minutes before I had to leave for work, and we never finished it. My mourning for Andrew is more about the conversations I wish I'd had, the apology for judging him when I had no right to. It's about missing the sunsets on atop his roof, and how he challenged me to push limits. It was with him that I drove a Porsche at 256kph, and with him that I climbed to the top of the water tower at Knockando. He knew how to pique my defiance, and I miss that. Besides, now I'm all responsible and stuff, being a mom.

And now Monica, Rogan and Milla. Three beautiful people, young, precious, gentle, so full of potential. Taken in the most cruel and dreadful way. I cry for what could have been, for them, for their husband and father, for her parents, the children's grandparents. I drive past that house every day on my school run, and I can't help but be reminded of the detail. It's some comfort that they didn't even know what happened, but we do, and we can guess just how little was left by the time the fire was extinguished. The raw tragedy strikes me at odd moments. I'm the tough one, the calm one, the one that just deals with stuff. And even though these three souls were not a big part of my life, they were ripped from it in the most brutal way, and I am grieving for them and for Shane's loss, for his future that was torn from him. It catches me when I least expect it, and my heart aches, and I become overwhelmed with a sense of grieving that I'm not quite sure how to deal with.

Perhaps I need to keep it simple and embrace Daniel's take on what happened. We had a psychologist come and explain what had happened to the children at his school, all of whom were fond of Rogan - he was destined to be Popular. She told them that Rogan and Milla had been in an accident, and that they would not be coming back to school. That the children were not to worry about them, because they were safe now, and happy. Daniel's a smart kid, and he's figured out that the fire he saw all over the front page of The Star was Rogan's house burning.

"Don't worry, Nana." he said, when she drove past the house, previously unaware of where it was. "Rogan is safe with God in Heaven."

Oupa, Dad, Andrew, Monica, Rogan, Milla. You're safe, and you're happy. But I still miss you, each in your own way.

Monday, 19 July 2010


Today was a day when my already tenuous link to faith in a God was pretty much broken.

My sons' friends, aged 2 and 4, and their mother, died when their house burned down last night. Their father and husband survived - he has lost his wife, his children and his home. My children spent the afternoon at their home on Friday last week. I sat and drank tea with Monica while our children played and built jigsaw puzzles. Now, they are gone having died a terrible death, their house is a burnt out shell, and a good, kind, loving, young man has lost his world.

What possible higher purpose explanation could there be for this? How could there be any need for this man to learn any lessons that are THIS hard to start with? Why does my son have to lose his innocence about life and death at such a young age? Why do we all have to deal with images of how these three precious people died - in print and in our minds' eyes?

What possible higher purpose could there be out of this?

Saturday, 17 July 2010

Things I learned in France

So, after the travelogue of this post, I thought it worth putting a few notes down, about the things I learned in France - and on the way there...

1 An Airbus A380 is a very very big plane. It freaked me out totally that SO many people and their luggage could fit on one aircraft, that it could get up in the air and then stay there. For 10 hours. And then land in one piece. Although the landing in Paris was a bit hectic. More like the pilot was throwing the plane at the ground. A bit scary when you're in it...

2 Air France is pretty cool. Well, they weren't when their suggestion connection between Charles de Gaulle and Orly totally failed because of traffic through Paris... but they put us on a later flight at no extra charge. I guess because it was their stuff up, but when we wanted to change our flight from Bordeaux, they also did it for free.

3 France may be one of the big economic powerhouses, but they have windscreen washers at robots, and shacks occupied by squatters too. The windscreen washers were gypsey ladies, and they made the guys on Grayston Drive look like pussy cats. And the architecture of shacks is universally desperate.

4 The houses in the French countryside are very basic on the outside - just raw brick or stone. Apparently, way back when, you were taxed on how rich you looked, and the postman decided that. So, nobody did anything to the exterior of their home - they just decorate inside. The houses are all very simple, decorated outside with geraniums and other very pretty flowers. If it wasn't so far away from home, I'd have moved there in a heartbeat.

5 The only boy to ever break my heart (a very long time ago) was at the wedding, and we saw him and his wife every day. I learned that time takes away the awkwardness, and that, just as I thought, he and Brett would get on really well, once the awkwardness was done and dusted.

6 Much as I love my boys to total distraction, and I missed them while we were away, it really was totally awesome to have a grownup weekend away with Brett. I am blessed to have my mom so close, and grateful that she's so ready and willing to babysit for us.

7 Paris might be the city of romance. It is very clear that an afternoon there is not long enough. But I think we figured out that it's the city of romance if you have a LOT of Euros in your pocket. Like, a LOT. And you probably have to have a cold too. Because a blocked nose would help you deal with the appalling smell in the Metro.

8 Just because a person is not afraid to overshare on their blog, doesn't mean that they're not afraid to overshare in public. I didn't mean to offend, really I didn't! Even if it's in a fun way. Next time, I'll stick to fridge magnets all round as holiday gifts... or perhaps even a toaster... :-)

9 Laughing Cow cheese is cheap at the price, when it's R15,99 in Pick n Pay (I've always refused to pay more than R12,99). It was more than two Euros in a local supermarket we visited.

10 Travelling is fun. Lots of fun. But there's no feeling more awesome than coming home, and getting the biggest hug in the history of ever, from your boys. That is, until the next hug comes!

Thursday, 15 July 2010

About my trip to France...

Believe it or not, I've just been best 'man' for the second time - this time for my friend Thomas, the best brotherfriend a girl could ask for. I hope that this marriage lasts longer than the other wedding I was best 'man' for - that lasted all of three months. The bride this time is not a psycho though, so things are looking good. :-)

The wedding was at Chateau Rigaud, about 45 minutes out of Bordeaux, in between a couple villages. It's beautiful. Totally. Think 11th century (and younger) chateau, done up like a boutique hotel. Filled with cool people for the weekend...

We arrived on the Friday, and had (lots of) French champagne and canapes (not snacks). I learned a valuable lesson: French champagne doesn't give you a hangover...

On the Saturday, we visited Saint-Emilion, a medieval village perched on a hill in the middle of some wine estates.

Before and after lunch in the village, we visited wine estates. Learned that in France, an estate only makes one wine per year, unlike in South Africa, where the estates are much bigger, but they make a variety. Herewith, the obligatory gratuitous chin touch pic...

I loved this graveyard (weird, I know). Was intrigued to notice that most are crypts above ground, and that not all of them face East. There's something in Revelations about Christ returning from the East, I believe, which is why most Christian gravestones face the East. And criminals' gravestones, like the Robber's Grave in Pilgrim's Rest, don't.

On Saturday night, I learned that French wine doesn't give you a hangover either. No, really! 

The wedding was on the Sunday, in the steamiest heat I think I have ever experienced. Here's proof that the past and the present can be cool together in the future: 

The sun only sets after nine, and the chateau was even more beautiful by night, with the simple addition of some candles. 

One day when I grow up, I want to do proper long exposure photography. These will have to do for now though.. 

Monday was mostly recovery time, and then Brett and I spent the afternoon in Paris. Which is not nearly as glamorous as it sounds. It was hot, crowded, dirty, and all the cool sites were messed up by preparations for the Bastille Day parade set to take place the next day.

The Metro was efficient, but was literally a hole. However, the architecture was beautiful. Beautiful enough that I can understand why the peasants revolted against the nobility. I would have revolted too, I guess.

So, that's a brief snapshot of one of the best long weekends of my life. Spent some awesome time with my gorgeous husband, got to catch up with my best friend in the history of ever (apart from my gorgeous husband, that is), got to meet some new people, and got to be amazed at how time really does mellow us all out.