Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Until we walk in those shoes....

I have been reading the latest post on Richard Catto's blog and it has prompted me to share something with you. For those of you who havent read it, Richards writes about a story he read in the news of a young girl killed by a stray bullet in a suburban neighbourhood, an area which her mother did not leave even though she thought herself in enough danger to call Chubb security. It is not so much the story itself that has prompted me - sadly, violence has become an all too common occurence - but what Richard has written in his comments following :
I wonder if her marriage will survive this (assuming she’s married, that is)? I don’t think I could stay married to such a woman. I would blame her for the death of my child and never be able to get over it.

Four weeks before my 6th birthday, on Christmas Eve 1989, my brother died. He was not a victim of violence, but his was a child's life lost nonetheless. He was almost 2 years old, two weeks from this milestone, and being a small child he had fallen asleep on the way to my nan's house on the other side of town. Being so young myself, i do not remember the exact details of the day, but i do remember that when Eli woke up he did not appear to know who anybody was. He had already begun to talk, to communicate in small broken sentences, but he couldnt recognise my parents or myself, or my brother. Nobody. He was just crying, screaming, non-stop. He was also feverish, as far as i remember. My parenst took him to the local hospital, where he was diagnosed with meningitis, an illness that causes inflammation of the covers over the central nervous system area of the brain. It was decided that he needed to be rushed to a specialist childs hospital in Sydney, by helicopter, which would normally take around half an hour. On this particular Christmas Eve, their was fog covering the Blue Mounatins (hich serve as a gateway to Sydney from the west)and, whilst being transferred from the helicopter to a more suitable plane, my brother passed away.
He did not make it to the hospital for treatment, and was pronounced dead on arrival.

The point of sharing this story is to demonstrate my disagreeance with Richards idea that he could never forgive this particular woman her mistake, if he were the childs father. Perhaps disagreeance is not the right term, because i do see where those feelings come from, but i do not think things are so black and white as that.

I have never spoken to my parents candidly about how they felt when my brother died. Being a small child at the time, you understand that mummy and daddy are sad, you are sad, everybody is sad because Eli has gone away and cant ever come back. It's not until your late teens ( in my case ) that it occurs to you that there is more than just sadness involved. I would imagine that their would be a massive degree of guilt to be sorted through. I do not think my parents would have blamed each other, but blamed themselves. That is, they would not have blamed one another as seperate people, but rather themselves as a parenting unit - what if WE had taken him to the doctor at the first sign of fever ? What if WE had called an ambulance sooner ? What if WE had recognised his symptoms as signs of meningitis rather than just a simple cold, or earache? Surely they must have felt guilt at the actions they did not take but, rather than rip them apart, i think it may have brought them closer together.

I would like to think that my parents, or myself in their situation, would try and hold onto the love i had for my partner and for my remaining children, even admist the devastation of having lost someone. That i would cling to the to the love that drew me to my partner in teh first place, all the adoration and admiration i had for them before we become parents, and use that as my strength to pull me through my grief. I believe, without ever having confirmed it, that my parents, my father in particular, had quite a difficult time after my brothers death but here is the strange thing - my sister was conceived, and then born in October of 1990, approximately 10 months after my brothers death.

I do not mean to equate physical intimacy with love, but only to say that my parents must have been pulling together, perhaps in one of the best ways they knew how, if only to stop themselves from tearing apart.


  1. My apologies, Richard, for not linking to your blog - i'm technological deficient, i dont know how!

  2. Amy, I can't see how either of your parents could be blamed for your brother's death.

    I think if a parent causes the death of a child by being negligent, they can basically kiss goodbye to their marriage.

    But there are other circumstances to avoid, such as whether to allow your children to undertake risky activities, or allowing them to ride a motorcycle.

    Unless both parents agree to allow their child to bungee jump or ride a motorcycle, it's not a good idea for one parent to override the misgivings of the other, lest those misgivings prove accurate.

    If a child dies, it is the most serious thing that could happen in a relationship. If one partner blames the other for the death, that relationship is over.

    I'm sorry that your brother died, Amy.

  3. i don't want to take anything away from the death of your brother, but these situations are hardly comparable

  4. I disagree Sonny.... sure, the way in which the children died is very much different, but surely losing a child to violence, or illness, or plain old accident hurts exactly the same?

    My story was not to say " my brother died, pity me ", it was to give my viewpoint that if you love someone enough to marry them, to take them as being part of you, hopefully that love would help you forgive what was a terrible mistake and keep your relationship alive....

    Of course i understand that having a child die because your partner made a somewhat naive decision must be a horrendous pain to go through, but you think that losing a child because you didnt recognise the warning signs of an illness is any less painful? If thats what you're meaning by saying they arent comparable, then i'm sorry, but you DO take away from the death of my brother...

  5. of course i don't think that its less painful, but i don't think there would be the blame game that you are referring to for mistaking a disease well known for being misdiagnosed compared to a violent murder.

  6. Amy, diagnosing an illness is a very hard thing to do, even medical doctors struggle to make the right diagnosis often times.

    It's very difficult to apportion blame when a child dies of an illness.

    In January this year, my uncle (younger brother of my father) was carjacked and murdered within 10 kilometres of where I stay. This was in the relatively peaceful suburb of Marina da Gama.

    South Africans have become rather inured to violent crime. It's an ever present part of our daily lives. Knowing what to do in a hot zone is crucial to our survival and most South Africans have well developed instincts. It therefore surpised me that this woman did not flee the scene.

    This woman lived in Gauteng where violent crime is a lot more prevalent than in Cape Town.

  7. I guess my point is, boys, that until you walk in those shoes - until you are a parent who loses a child - you're not really going to know for sure how you'll feel either way.

    I just thought Richard's statement was a little black and white .... forgive me if i've chosen the wrong example to demonstrate how grey the world actually is