Thinking & Feeling

“The world is a tragedy to those who feel, but a comedy to those who think.” Horace Walpole

Friday, 9 February 2018

What no one tells you when your child dies...

I am writing this because it has been weighing on my mind, and I feel like writing about it may help me to process it, and also I think more importantly I hope it may help someone else in some small way...

There's no doubt that dealing with the death of a child is the very hardest thing a person can ever experience. Nothing compares to the loss and pain you feel. It doesn't matter whether it was an early miscarriage, late miscarriage, still birth, congenital defect or anything else. No matter what the reason, the result is the same  - immeasurable and constant deep deep loss and devastation. You never 'get over it'. You just, in time, learn to live with it.

I lost my first born, a beautiful and perfect little girl, Angelique, nearly 20 years ago now on 23 March 1998. I still think of her all the time even though, born far too early, at only 25 weeks pregnant, she was with us only for the briefest amount of time. You never forget, you never 'heal'. You are forever altered and changed. You, your being and your life take a new course after a child loss. It's a loss of innocence, loss of blind-faith, loss of who you were before....

But then there are the other losses, the ones that happen beyond birth and health issues. The ones where a child dies due to an 'accident'. These, in my mind, carry an additional layer of grief and complex emotions, as these are officially classed as 'preventable deaths'. Nothing quite captures the feeling when you first see that word as part of the classification for your child's death. Preventable. It could have (SHOULD HAVE) been prevented. It was PREVENTABLE!

And when your child (or anyone) dies of a preventable death, that death automatically gets investigated. If you think about it logically of course that makes sense. Any accidental death absolutely should be checked out to understand the circumstances and to ensure there was no negligence, or worse malicious intent, involved. It completely does make sense. I really understand that.

The worst scenario is where not only did your child die of an accidental death, but you were present (and in my case the ONLY person present) and so you are the focus of the investigation...

Even if you know, have accepted, and taken on the mantle of responsibility, guilt and shame for being the one who failed in the primary responsibility of a parent - to keep the child alive. Being  investigated by law enforcement for this and having to contract a lawyer to 'defend' you is possibly the very worst possible situation to be in.

And the problem is NO ONE tells you this is going to happen. No one warns you to be prepared that you are going to be investigated, and that there will be police, detectives, lawyers, inspectors, directors of public prosecutions, magistrates/judges involved. No one tells you just how scary, terrifying, nerve wracking and simply devastating it will all be. That you will be scared you will be found 'guilty' and have to face the 'consequences'... And if so, what exactly are those? Jail?? And then to feel like you deserve to be in jail anyway for failing your child so thoroughly and fundamentally.

I thought dealing with and having to LIVE through and beyond losing our precious perfect and beautiful Natey was the pinnacle of hurt, pain, loss and grief. We set about the impossible, but necessary, task of figuring out how to carry on after his loss and memorial in January last year. Trying to be as open, authentic, intentional and real as we could be through it all. I was compelled to go INTO the experience fully and write down every detail and thought as I relived it, in the hope of being able to process and make sense of what had happened and HOW it could have happened!? (This detailed information and time-line later proved to be crucial. I had no idea how necessary it would be, or that by sharing it publicly I could have inadvertently been exposing myself to liability (either way I am always entirely honest and have never had anything to hide)).

As I result of all that I have been through this year. When I heard of another family tragically losing their dear baby boy to a drowning in December,  I felt like I had to reach out to them and warn them to be prepared that it was not over, there would be more to come. And that it may not happen immediately either, it may wait until you think you are finally 'coping' and then blind-side you....

I wish someone had told me. Warned me. I hope this helps someone in a small way some day.

----

So this is what happened to me/us.

Around 6 months after losing the centre of our solar-system, our son/sun. Andrew planned a trip to Iceland. He had apparently already in his mind planned that he and Natey would go to Iceland when Natey was around 16 or so to do the trek through Thorsmork, in the area of the now infamous volcano Eyjafjallajokull. Andrew had been intending to do this trek in 2010. When literally 2 weeks or less before their planned trip the volcano erupted. So those plans were thwarted, and their trip to Iceland was curtailed to day activities in and around Reykjavik. One of Natey's names and his long-time nick-name in-utero, and as a baby, was 'Thor'. The volcanic eruption of 2010 caused 2 new craters on the side of Eyjafjallajokull called Magni & Modi (the name of Thor's sons). And so this hike became the teenage bonding voyage they were going to do as father and son once Natey was old enough. I hadn't know this until Andrew said he wanted to take this trip now with me, as a cathartic memorial journey. And so we planned the trip and took some of Natey's ashes with us as well as a 'love lock' and photo of him to place in Iceland.

What most people also don't know was that Andrew had also asked me to consider having another baby with/for him. And we were in the midst of that process. Just before the trip I had an IUI/AIH procedure and so when we embarked on the trip we thought I was newly pregnant. The trip was to be a big watershed trip of remembrance, acceptance, loss, grief and allowing ourselves to look forward with new hope to a new start.

As it turned out, on the very morning the hike started, literally 10 minutes before we set off on our 90km multi-day trek, I popped into the loo to the discovery that I was not pregnant at all. My period had come a full 4 days early, and I was entirely unprepared for it. I had nothing with me. I had to 'McGyver' my way through with home-made 'tampons' and 'pads' made from tissues and paper towels for the next few days. I was emotionally devastated. The trek, while truly wonderful, was so emotionally charged with a deep sense of loss and emptiness. In retrospect maybe that was right because it meant our full focus and attention was on Natey, but at the time all I felt was loss and emptiness... while in the most wondrous and beautiful place I had ever been.

Anyway the point is we came back from that trip having processed many deep emotions and after a final few bonding days in Paris. We breathed deeply, looked forward and went back to work.

Day 1 back at work on Monday 24 July 2017 at approximately 14:30. I was in a meeting with my boss when my phone rang. I didn't know the number so took the call quickly. It was Detective XX from Seapoint Police Station. She said I needed to come in to make a statement. I was genuinely confused and had no idea what about. I asked... and she said 'About the death of your son'... I felt a stake go through my heart.

I was confused, but printed off my blog post and went there immediately after work, just 2-3 hours later. I arrived and made myself known and I was told to sit and wait for a more senior detective. When he arrived he started asking questions and telling me I had to make a statement. I told him I was fully willing to do that. I handed him the print-out and told him that was exactly step-for-step what had happened. He started reading it and then handed it back. He mentioned a lawyer. I told him I was happy to make a statement, I had nothing to hide. He told me that the case would go to a prosecutor and depending on who got the case they 'might not like my story' and there 'could be consequences'.

By this stage I was becoming overwhelmed by emotion and I told him 'I was there, I was the only one there. I AM responsible. It happened exactly how I said, and if there are consequences I am taking them. I deserve it.' and I started crying. I started having visions of being locked in jail and letting my other boys down too... It was NOT a good moment. He again started talking about a lawyer. He said he COULD take my statement then and there if that's what I wanted, but it would be legally binding....I stopped and looked at him and said, 'Are you advising me that I need an attorney?'. He said 'Yes'. And then he said I should go for counselling too. I think he was trying to be kind and helpful but by that point I just wanted to get the hell away from him. They told me they'd need to send a team to take photos. Of what!? 'The pool and area'. What!? All the nets, gates and security measures were long gone, it was nearly 7 months later!??

I left and walked into the now dark winter evening. Crying. Not knowing what to do, feeling like a criminal. I phoned Andrew, telling him I was sorry but I had no idea what to do or who to turn to. I don't have a lawyer. He has contacts and said he'd reach out to the the legal firm he deals with for work matters.

I was uncomfortable using an attorney, feeling like that made me look like I was trying to spin my story and defend myself, when that was not the case. The truth is the truth and I was fully willing to tell it.

We met with the attorney. A nice, kind and clearly experienced guy (who charges R5000 per hour!!). He explained how these things work and how it's a structured process and that the benefit of using legal representation is that they know how to navigate the process as smoothly and quickly a possible. They know what kind of information and evidence the prosecutors, magistrates and judges are looking for to be able to make a call and appropriate ruling on the case.

He helped to guide us in terms of what we needed to include in our statements, what 'evidence' was useful. We had photos of all the baby-proofing and pool security measures, floor plans of the house, time and date stamped Whatssapps, SMSs, phone call logs etc. Also the blog post which had the exact sequence of events and timings (which I would NEVER have remembered in such detail at that point had I not taken the time to write it all out so soon). We had character references for us both from our au-pair, and the school principal. There was the post-mortem from the forensic pathology services (the morgue). I think the police constable that was present on the night, and who had stayed in touch with us, gave a statement too.

We submitted everything we had. And then we waited and waited and waited. With this axe hanging over my head, wondering whether I was going to be found 'guilty' and if so what that would mean..?

We finally got word recently on 26 January (so nearly 13 months after the event) that the magistrate had ruled on the case and deemed it to be 'an accident' and that no one was to be held responsible or 'culpable' and that there was no finding of any 'negligence'.

Of course it is a relief that in the eyes of the law I am not 'guilty'. But I can't say it makes me feel any better about anything. In a sense it is good that it is finally 'over', but it doesn't change anything, and it's not over. It will never be over, As I said, you never 'get over' the loss of a child.

But as least now we can go back to our grief and mourning and memories of Natey himself and not have the legal axe hanging over us.

----

No one warns you in an 'unnatural death' that your grief will be complicated, compounded and extended by the legalities of it, and that you'll have to literally 'pay the price'. I wish I had been warned. I hope this helps to fore-arm someone else. (Although I wish more that no one else has to endure the heartache of losing a child, and especially to drowning. It is such a senseless waste of precious little lives.)


6 comments:

  1. What an awful thing to go through on top of everything else. I am so sorry Jane.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Thank you for sharing so bravely. 💜

    ReplyDelete
  3. I’m so sorry you had to go through this on top of losing Natey 💔🌻

    ReplyDelete
  4. I truly hope you and Andrew get blessed with a rainbow baby, not to replace Natey (no-one ever will), but to help heal you both ... �� ❤

    ReplyDelete
  5. Hi Jane,

    My name is Leigh Hermon and I'm a features writer for Essentials magazine.

    First off, may I just say I'm sorry for your loss and you're incredibly brave to be so open about it and the events that followed.

    I'd really like to chat to you about a story I'm working on. If you have a moment, could you please drop me an email at leighhermon@caxton.co.za
    Thanks,
    Leigh

    ReplyDelete