Thinking & Feeling

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

Thursday, 12 January 2017

Natey's Eulogy - by Andrew

Eulogy for my son
Nathaniel Leonidas Thor Canter
Netaniel Aryeh Ra’am ben Avraham Chayim

Andrew Canter, January 5, 2017

 Thank you all for coming tonight to support us, and say goodbye to Natey.  At some moments as these pictures of Nathaniel scroll past I can’t help but smile… and that’s jarring as I’m listening to the sad words being said.  If one of Natey’s photos makes you want to smile I’d like to invite you to do that… even if I’m crying.  You can’t offend us tonight – you’ve come to share with us.

I’m going to need some time.  I want – I need -- to tell you all about my son, Nathaniel Leonidas Thor Canter.    Born August 29, 2014 and died, at just 2 years and 4 months, last Friday night December 30, 2016.

There are so many people who have touched Nathaniel’s life in the past few years – from conceptualisation to conception to birth, nurturing and developing.  So many played a role in his short happy journey -- please know that Jane and I thank you, even if I can’t name everyone today. 

In particular thank-you all for coming to mourn with us… and especially Rabbi Newman, Cheryl, Edie & Fred, Ian, Jon, Melinda, and Paul  for your words. 

I’m what you’d call a Cultural Jew, not religious but connected to the values of the Judaism:  Community, family, ethical values, debate, learning & education.  I was so proud when one of Nate’s first expressed desires was for me to read him a “bookie”. Our house is literally strewn with an entire library.

And later, when Nathaniel was to be ready to make his own choices, I wanted Judaism to be his first recourse.  I wanted him to be anchored – as I am – to nearly 6000 years of direct lineage to this religion and community. 

And that choice has been deeply affirmed this week: We are overwhelmed by the support and love of the Alon Ashel and local Jewish communities.  Both from people we knew and from those who knew us only as that wild-haired-smiling-kid on bike with his daddy. 

And Cheryl Lazarus…. before we’d made a single call to anyone in SA Cheryl was at our door first thing Saturday morning and has been continuously offering practical and emotional support.  While we study how to raise our kids, we do not prepare to bury them – we don’t read THAT handbook: In those terrifying first hours Gary and Claudia Palmer were there quickly—and then frequently -- to guide me and simply make things happen. 
Love, advice, this hall, prayer, support and – that most Jewish of customs – food, have all been offered generously with a warm heart. 

While I’m not objective, it seems to me that Nathaniel was a remarkable and special boy.  Really, aside from normal toddler stuff – throwing toys down the stairs to see what would happen… swiping other’s food… the occasional melt down or whinge… a bit of self centeredness… and having a penchant for treating the dog’s dish as a snack bowl… he was actually, honestly perfect.

Those of you that knew him, or followed his journey on Facebook, would know the ever-present smile, the infectious laugh, the intrepid explorer, the engaging & social manner, the cleverness… and more recently a budding “attitude”.  Asked to do something he’d intone:  “Oh okaaaayyyy” or ‘Fiiine’.  His sarcasm – honestly acquired from both his parents’ families – was rising: “Are you kidding me?!” he’d say. 

If you ever met my Natey you were warmed by the experience.

Nathaniel’s story begins with my desire at about 50 years to have a child.  I went to Tertia Albertyn of Nurture (egg donors, surrogates), and asked: “How can I have a baby without having a wife or a girlfriend”.  I’d been through enough relationships to know that even the long-ones aren’t permanent, heard all the stories about relationship failures and conflict, and I wanted control over my and my child’s destiny.  I was looking for ideas… possibly some sort of co-parenting arrangement… maybe a nice lesbian couple needed a part-time dad?  Tertia would have seen that I was ill-prepared and hopelessly naïve about parenting…and keep in mind I asked her these questions in cycling shorts at a coffee shop.  To her credit she not only didn’t throw me out on my ear but told me to consider being a single parent – that it was possible with loving care givers and professional support to do it myself.  Of course I rejected that idea out of hand – but I recall she asked me “How many single MOMs do you know? They can do it, so can you.”

Well, I had to chew on THAT idea for a while … and a few months later, after pretty extensive research I asked her to add me to the list for a surrogate.  Then, a few weeks later she called:  “I have someone you should meet”, she said.  She introduced Jane and I by email, and then – remarkably for any professional – she simply got out of the way and let us engage. 

Jane had been an egg donor… she’d become a doula… and she had a vision of having the “perfect pregnancy and birth”… she’s raised her two teenage boys herself… and did not really intend to raise another child.  At 10 years younger than me her window of opportunity to have that life-experience might be closing.

My mission was to have a baby.  Jane’s mission was to make a baby. Talk about a lock-in-a-key situation!  And she lived 3 kilometres from my office. And she seemed like a rational woman. And, a compulsive runner, she thought it was cool that I arrived at our first (and all) meetings on a bicycle. 
And best of all, after doing extensive Google-snooping, reference checking and personal interrogation – she decided that I was worthy to receive such an enormous gift: That she could take a risk on me to go into an odd relationship and hand-over a newly born child to my sole care.

But neither Jane nor I rush into things.  Months passed… we met a couple times… we decided that if we were going to do this, then we better get to know each other better.  We started dating. 

We planned on a proper, legal surrogacy – egg donor, IVF, high court application – but shortly decided that as consenting adults we could figure out how to make a baby without much medical intervention and the high costs of a legal surrogacy.  We engaged with lawyers, family mediators, and therapists.  Jane’s sons, Griffin and Quinn, gave her their permission to go through a pregnancy. 

We’d both been let down enough times to know this wasn’t to be done on a handshake.  Many of you here can appreciate a well-structured deal—and let me tell you we did really good legal work.  We needed an agreement that protected each of us from the other’s potential to change their mind.  What if Jane decided to keep the baby? What if I decided to run away from the pregnant Jane?  What if one of us died in the process?  The key document was what’s called a “Parenting Plan”: It’s what you draft if you are getting divorced and need to specify each parents’ rights and responsibilities.  It gets approved by the High Court so has force. 
And in that agreement, Nathaniel was – as much as legally possible – my child.

Jane held all the decision-rights about pregnancy and birth, and I was responsible thereafter.
She was in “Manufacturing” I was in “Development”.   

Good contracts make for good neighbours… and like all well-functioning partnerships, those contracts were signed, witnessed, then put into an envelope in a drawer and have not been consulted since.

Jane managed her pregnancy...  chose her support team... nutrition… stimulation, etc.   She exercised – as she does – every day up to his birth (even at 11 days over-due she was banging on the treadmill at gym) and I’m convinced Thor’s love of movement was formed then. 

I studied: Listened to endless baby podcasts, read books, talked to people.  I was mentally prepped for the pregnancy, birth and first 12 months.  That became a challenge later as Nathaniel outgrew my pre-studies.  And, as many of you know, reading ABOUT parenting WHILE parenting seems easier said than done!

At points our roles of Manufacturing and Development overlapped: For example I kept trying to order Indian takeaways so the baby would acquire a varied palate (as the books advised)… Jane told me to back off, that the oily food was giving her heartburn and making her nauseous.

A key element of the pregnancy was Jane introducing me to the natural-birth movement – a battle-hardened group who believe that women are usually perfectly capable of delivering babies without medical intervention; that the process of natural birth is good for both baby and mother; and that while medical care can be necessary it has a bad habit of taking away the birth experience.   I started out sceptical, but Jane, her midwife Marianne Littlejohn and eventually Nathaniel – have made me a believer. 
Now when a friend or colleague announces their pregnancy I ask them about their birth plan.

I probably don’t need to tell you that our bespoke “surrogacy” elicited a range of supportive and hostile reactions from our families and advisors.  We asked people for their input so they would challenge our thinking – and we took in all the advice, pro and con.  I started with Paul, my business partner, and then my colleagues – and they all enthusiastically and generously encouraged me to become a dad.  My own parents were not impressed, to paraphrase – “Why can’t you just be normal and get married?!”  But it took them only about 48 hours to realise that another grandchild might be in the offing, and to soften their stance.   Jane’s family were remarkably accepting – trusting her judgment to make such decisions: But I had to face some interrogation from one of Jane’s sisters – she knows who she is  – and I wouldn’t be surprised to find out she’d put a private investigator onto me.

Sometime late in the pregnancy, Jane and I also realised that her giving birth and going-away would not be ideal for the baby.  Breastfeeding and nurturing were always best if possible.  Likewise, that brothers, aunties, grandparents were also going to be good for the (as yet unnamed) child.
So we went back: More therapy… more thought... more consideration… more discussion: And at some point we gave Jane’s family “permission” to think of the baby as part of their wider family.  I say “permission”, because up until then she had told her family “do not think about this baby as part of our family, its Andrew’s”.   Thus, Nathaniel acquired the Fraser clan, and they him.  Indeed, I also acquired the clan, and they have accepted me as one of their own.  At Nathaniel’s bris I was honoured that Ian Fraser, his grandad, was willing to be Sandek (the person who holds the child during the circumcision).

And finally, a few weeks before Nathaniel’s arrival Jane and her boys moved into my house… now our house. 

What started as a bit of a whacky story, suddenly looked quite like a normal family arrangement – and that has served us well for the last 2.5 years.

The Birth:
Jane self-birthed in the bathtub at our house at 5am on August 29, 2014.  The Birth Team, alerted late, only arrived after Nathaniel’s arrival. 

Jane will deny it, but I think she “arranged” to have an undisturbed birth on purpose: I woke up to her softly moaning, and asked her if she was in labour: “Yes” she said.  I asked if I should call the birth team: “I’m not sure” she said.  I asked how fast the contractions were: “about every 3 minutes” she said!!!

Of course I played the critical roles of running the bath and making the tea.  Having been well trained, I expected a 4-8 hour drama… I was looking forward to eating the lasagne in the fridge.  So, I was settled in for a long-haul, but didn’t even have a chance to light the candles, get out the aromatherapy oils, or put on music.  Jane just said “I think I want to get into the water now”... and a few minutes later “I’m going to start pushing now” (which in my naivete did not trigger any particular reaction) shortly followed by an expletive… and lo-and-behold there was the head… and at the next contraction Jane gently pulled out the baby and brought him out of the water.  That’s all: Simple… magical… calm… peaceful.  The moment of fear was that the baby came out of the water very grey and lifeless – much more so than when we saw him actually dead on Friday night -- my heart sank.  But Jane was like an earth-goddess…. she gently put the baby to her chest, rubbed his little body, and spoke softly to him, saying “come on… wake up”.  And he did.  I watched as Jane literally brought him to life, again. 

Let me just pause here and say that I have thanked Jane – in my heart, mind, or verbally – every day for the past 2.5 years.  Aside from all she did up to that point, she has been the most wonderful mother, and my guide through the entire process.  There are books, and then there’s pragmatic advice – and she was helpful in screening ideas and rich in pragmatism.  I’d say “well the podcast says” and she’d help filter the useful from the not.  While our contract said I had all the decision-rights, be assured not a single meaningful decision was made without Jane’s input and advice. 
I continue to thank her now for all she is, and all she has done, and all she still does.

While I still won’t admit that I could not be a single dad, I will freely admit that it’s far superior to have a good partner, family and tribe.

His Name:
During the pregnancy I mulled about baby names, alighting on Nathaniel Leonidas Thor Canter.

·         Nathaniel/Netaniel-- “gift from god”, named after my mother Nancy who died a few months before his birth;
·         Leonidas/Aryeh, “the lion” after my father Lou (with his permission);
·         And Thor/Ra’am, thunder… it’s what Quinn, Griffin and I called the baby in utero… a built-in nickname, and just a cool name to help him woo girls and ward off enemies.  
Overall a Meaningful, Strong, Memorable and Flexible name.

Baby by Design:
I’ve already stipulated that Natey became a wonderful and exceptional little boy.  And while I never underestimate influence of luck, we consciously tried to make him that way. 

The most useful pieces of advice were:

First, no Stress.  Stress – cortisol in the system – shuts down the brain’s ability to learn – it’s true in adults and more-so in babies.  It was our explicit job to minimise stress -- during pregnancy, in the house, in our relationships, and for the baby.  When Thor (I called him Thor for many months) would cry -- we’d try to go “zen”.  Hugging him, carrying him, shushing him, playing music.  I’d spend many hours walking up and down the street, or pacing our balcony, wearing Thor in his carrier and letting him listen to the cadence and tone of John F. Kennedy’s famous speeches.  I could almost always get him to calm down by playing him “The Battle Hymn of the Republic”... usually he’d quiet down at the first chords.

Second, my dear friend Marlene Hesketh brought me the 3-pronged mantra of: “Exercise, Discipline, Affection”, in that order.  Very relevant, useful and simple to understand.  I only realised later it’s actually from dog training!

The single most useful bit of advice came from my brother-in-law, Jon Ryan (here today):  “Its ALL quality time” he said, “enjoy every minute, whether you are watching TV or calming a crying baby”.  And I took that advice to heart and truly enjoyed every minute I had with Nathaniel no matter what we were doing. Admittedly a few times at 3am I had to quote Jon to myself (“ENJOY EVERY MINUTE!”).  That approach was helped because of my conscious choice to have a child … and my resolve to have no resentment toward him for any of life’s adjustments.

Fourth, Movement & Grit: Jane and I are both very active, and we ensured Nathaniel moved… every day... as much as possible.  I let him explore the world, wherever we were.  And we wanted to build grit… resilience.  I let him fall down… and then (unless it was a serious bump) get himself up again.  He was nipped by dogs at least twice, but he kept engaging with them and other animals.  I note, however, that when we came across a puffadder on the road, his instinct was to hang back! 
In his world he learned that there wasn’t any pain from which he could not recover: And perhaps – tragically -- he came to believe he was bullet-proof.
And his independence, exploration and sense of safety led him to open that gate and get into the pool by himself.  I struggle to reconcile that: Instilling those qualities with the consequences of those qualities!

Fifth: Bonding: Bonding was natural for Jane – aside from all else, she was breastfeeding for 18 months.  For me “Bonding” started as an abstract concept in a book.  Marianne had told me as preparation that she would put the baby on my chest just after the birth,and I thought dismissively “oh isn’t that nice”.  Until he was laid on my chest 5 minutes after being born… and the hormones adjusted… and we became one.  I remember the first time I bottle fed him (with breast milk), how I burst into tears: Clearly I was tapping my inner female.  I reinforced that bonding over the coming months… every minute was an opportunity for a hug… we all co-slept up until about 12 days before his death… I stopped using any cologne or anti-perspirant.  I would intentionally pick him up and hug him the moment I came in from cycling, all sweaty.  He KNEW me… and it allowed me to calm him. 

Continuing his story: Jane went back to work after a month, while my colleagues granted me 3 months of paternity leave.

Jane and I were “attachment” parents – carrying Thor whenever possible... and keeping him close.  My rule became (and has remained): Where I go, he goes.  But I’m not much for staying home, and early on we were going to Makro for supplies, and Builder’s Warehouse for hardware… cutting, banging and drilling.
In the last couple of days people have reminded me where they met Nathaniel – at business functions, fund raisers, conferences, shops, my office, Johannesburg, Durban, Drakensberg, Chicago, Boston, New York, Montreal, Florida.  This kid got out there.

Nathaniel and I bonded completely, to the extent that I developed a bad habit of ignoring everyone else: Often I’d come home, and walk right past Jane, as Natey and I jump into to each others’ arms… and she’d chide me with an “AH HEM!” or “HELLOOOO!” to remind me she was there.  To her credit, she understood it and forgave me, daily.

And with a foundation of peace, calmness and security…. little Thor could take in stimulation.  Jane, Me, Quinn, Griffin, Xolisa (his nanny, granny, and day-mommy… his “Kia”), Olivia (his “Via), and others… and later Melinda (his wonderful au-pair and girlfriend).   There were times when there were 2 or 3 people in the house looking after baby Thor… seemingly over-the-top, but my view was that more people means less potential for stress and more potential for stimulation.

While Dads usually play the “rough house” role, Griffin and Quinn did that very well.  Early on I watched the flipping over, knocking down, banging on the head, skateboarding (yes, really) with a bit of trepidation… but it didn’t take long to see how happy Thor was with it all... how he loved the fun and attention.  About 10 days ago I watched as Griffin took a large physio ball and threw it to Natey saying “Natey catch!”.  It bounced directly on Natey’s forehead and knocked him on his butt: He bounced straight back up, with a huge smile and said “again! again!”
And, in any case, I was happy to be the person who could restore Thor’s calm.

In sum, Nathaniel was getting 24-7-365 affection, physical touch, stimulation and activity.

And the first 10 months sped by in a sequence of developmental milestones, outings, his American Baby Tour, boxes of nappies, first eating, first steps, etc.

His Heart:
At 10 months, Thor developed a very nasty diaper rash… so much so that it demanded Dr. Lee’s attention. He was overdue for a checkup anyway, as he’d been going like a trooper and there were no developmental issues.  Dr. Lee quickly identified that his heart had developed some swooshing, and we were referred to the “A Team” of pediatric cardio care – Dr Harold Pribut and surgeon Dr. Susan Vosloo.  His aortic valve was simply malformed, it wasn’t opening sufficiently and that was causing back-pressure in the heart chamber: It had to be fixed.  He had just taken his first steps, and we thought that if we were going to “knock him down” for a while it was best to do it before he was fully moving around.  So, within a week Nathaniel was being rolled in for full open-heart surgery… open chest, stopped heart, heart-lung machine!  It was scary, of course, but a “plumbing problem” is something we could understand, there was only a half-day of genuine uncertainty… and we knew he was in the best hands, literally, in Cape Town.   Still, everything stopped.  Jane “moved into” his small, cage like hospital bed… and nurtured him and breast-fed him through the week of post op.  And, another seeming miracle, within a couple days he was back up, chirpy, trying to climb out of bed, and walking in the corridors.  And, frankly, he never looked back.  The post-op checkups showed the valve was functioning, and there was every sign that -- while he might need a new valve in the deep future -- his life would not be impaired.   

As it happens a couple days before he died, we listened to Nathaniel’s heart with a stethoscope and both felt it had gotten noisier and I intended to get his February checkup moved forward to January.  We’ll probably never know if there was some heart related issue that caused him to die so quickly… for his heart to just refuse to restart.

We celebrated his 1st birthday with a sigh of relief and thanks.

At the beginning of 2016, at 16 months old, we decided that Thor might be ready for play school – and he was luckily taken in by Cheryl and Alon Ashel… where he spent the year being wrangled by Veronica, Sandra and Patricia (sometimes, I bet, all three of them at once).  And, again, he thrived in the environment of love, stability and interaction – making friends with the children and adults around the classroom.  It became another home:  When we’d drive past he’d shout “My school”. 
Because he became “Netaniel” at school, he soon chose his own nickname -- “Natey” he called himself, and thus we did too.

And we got into a rhythm.  I had morning duties – dressing, a big bowl of plain high fat yoghurt and berries, bike to school (rain or shine).  Then Xolisa and later Melinda would pick him up from school for his nap and whatever fun they had planned for the day.  Jane would be home in the early evening to take over.   It seemed that he considered sleep to be a waste of time – he’d resist settling often demanding “one more bookey” and “a lil’ more milky”… his bedtime could range between 9 and 10:30pm! ... while he’d continue to wake up at 6 or 6:30am:  We took some strain, but he had the luxury of a daytime nap.

His life was full of normal kid stuff… he developed his taste for transport – buses, cars, airplanes, fire engines.  He could name the parts of excavators like nobody’s business!  He loved going to the aquarium with Melinda to see the fishies, and World of Birds to have the monkeys climb on him.  He and I would stand outside at night, looking into the dark national park, and silently listen until we could hear the owls hooting in the distance.  All punctuated with local and international trips.   He and I recently found out how easy and fun it is to go sit at the heliport behind the V&A Waterfront and watch the helicopters take-off and land.  (Note: Best free kid’s entertainment in Cape Town!).  And speaking of value-for-money, he thought rocks & stones were toys… so virtually everywhere we went there were always free, unbreakable toys to play with.

His vocabulary blossomed… so that conversations were now possible.  His iphone swiping technique was improving… particularly the “skip ad” button became a favourite.

Jane & the boys and I had a light-hearted cultural tug-of-war:  They were “South Africanising” Nathaniel – getting him to drink tea (that most un-american drink)… eating rusks! (also known as stale bread)… and even Bovril!  For my part, I kept Goldfish and M&Ms in the house… I played marches of John Philip Sousa and America’s anthems as I’d ride him to school… he listened to Kennedy, Martin Luther King and Obama as we’d walk the street.  I’ve never had a Bostonian accent, but I found myself channelling my brother-in-law John and my father… referring to the Hahbah… driving in the cah.
About a week ago, he reached into the salad we were sharing saying I want a “Tomaaato”… I corrected him “Tomato”… he corrected me… I corrected him. 

He and I shared everything… we’d eat from the same bowl, shower together, brush our teeth together, co-sleep, get the same coughs and colds, and – as we moved into potty training – we’d wee together in the toilet and in the grass.  Jane finally twigged to that secret because, as Natey and I started upstairs in the evening I’d say “lets go listen to the owls”, and he’d say “wee in the grass!!”.

From birth, he loved water… baths, basins, fountains, dog bowls, glasses of water even. Also the beach and going into the pool.  But it wasn’t an unnatural obsession, and he seemed to have learned (and been taught) to respect it.  We’d watch to see how he behaved if left alone, and he didn’t make a bee line for water… and would repeat back that he must never go to the water alone.  The whole family was taking part of teaching him how to engage with water.  He was learning to hold onto the side of the pool… and how to use the steps… that ocean water can knock-you-down coming in, or pull-you-out going back. 

Nevertheless, and despite the baby gate, pool net, teaching and experience -- for reasons we don’t fully understand -- last Friday evening he decided to take his toy truck and get into the pool. 

It happened on Jane’s watch, and she wears that heavily.  But she should know that not one ounce of me blames her.  She was there, in the room… she’d given him attention... there was no strife... he asked for play dough and sat down with it… her back was turned for only a couple minutes… and in that short time he silently breached the gate, got into the pool and slipped in.  There was no dereliction here.  This could have happened on anyone’s watch. I can picture it myself: “Natey I have to run upstairs to get my shirt” I might have said.

There is probably no parent in this room whose child didn’t avoid grievous harm only due to sheer luck or the intervention of a stranger.  Certainly it almost happened to me.  Mentally Jane and I are recounting the tiny, incremental, moment-by-moment actions prior to that moment… knowing that any slight shift could have altered the trajectory that lead to Natey’s death.  But it is what it is.  1-in-a-million odds means that sometimes the circumstances align and the “millionth” comes up.

A timeline says he couldn’t have been in the water more than 1-2 minutes – and Dr. Lee has told us those moments are enough to take the life out of a toddler.  And I have a terrible mental picture of his surprise and terror as he went in, and down.  Oh I hope he didn’t suffer!! And of Jane’s terror of taking him out, doing CPR, pushing the panic button, running to the street to get help, and then calling emergency services and me.

We watched our son die, there on the side of Ocean View Drive, as the emergency crews worked diligently.  We needed to watch… to know they’d done what they could.

And when he was declared dead at the Christian Barnard Hospital, they kindly left us in the emergency room with him, alone, to remove all the medical tubes and probes… to wrap him in his blanket and to hold him, smell him and kiss him one last time… still soft and warm to the touch.  

And finally, knowing he’d never reach his milestone 3rd birthday, I asked for scissors and clipped off a lock of his beautiful red hair.

And Now
Jane and I quickly decided that we will celebrate Natey’s short, happy life.  To keep what was, and to attempt not to dwell on what might have come.

A dear friend, Mei Chi Liou, who lost her soul mate during 2016 explained one the things she’d learned about mourning:  “It’s like losing a limb: You can’t recover or get-over-it, you can only try to learn to live with it”. 

There are reminders everywhere -- our house and lives are full of Nathaniel.  His scribbles are on the wall next to my desk.  There’s still a wrapped gift, intended for the last night of Hanukah, neatly labelled “To Natey,  From Daddy”.
We will have to “clean up” but not “cleanse out”.  I don’t have to clip the cupboards closed now… or put the vitamins, knives or glassware out of reach.  The baby gates have come down…the car seats can come out.  But we’ll make a physical “Natey space” for some special mementos, toys and photos… and curate his hundreds of photos and videos.

Life has never really taught me how fragile it is.  But I get the message now. I should have let Nathaniel eat more M&Ms and ice-cream… and I shouldn’t have spent as much time at work. 

We are all grieving together – me, Jane, Quinn, Griffin, Xolisa, Melinda, The Frasers (Ian, Rose, Belinda, Catherine, Brindy – all of whom have come).  The Canters, my father Lou – who, at 86 years old, held a special place in his heart for Nathaniel – my sisters Marcia, Edie and Becky, my brothers-in-law Jon and Fred, and my nephew & nieces Dan, Rachel, Leah and Julia.  All of whom had made special efforts to know Nathaniel.  And our extended families too, and our friends. My heart goes out to all.  And I am incredibly thankful that Edie, Fred and Jon were able to come this long distance be with us now.  

My nephew, Dan Ryan – a conductor in Boston – has composed a short piano piece for Nathaniel, and we’ll play that iIn a few minutes, when I’m finished speaking.

Shortly after Nathaniel’s birth I began a letter, post-dated to August 29, 2030, his 16th birthday.  I’m not so young and, well, I just wanted to make sure there was something for him in case I didn’t see 2030.  I’d like to quote from myself:

“I’d heard that parenting is amorphously “rewarding” frankly I didn't expect anything from you at all.  And yet you've flipped it over:  By coming into my life you've liberated me to love unconditionally and completely.  In retrospect it seems I've lived, since my first love at the age of 16, in an emotionally defended state -- not allowing myself to fully immerse in any person or thing: Afraid of causing hurt or being hurt.  And suddenly that void, which I didn't even realise I carried, you have filled and healed.  A thousand times I've told people "I miss you"... but when I am away from you I genuinely, physically feel a sense of "miss".  Just to come back into your presence and hug you... or have one of your long-engaged stares into my eyes...or get your look of recognition and a smile... is to be fulfilled and to know what "miss" means.

When Nathaniel came into my life, my dreams came to life – I mean my literal, sleeping dreams: They had become boring… but suddenly with Natey around they were vivid and varied.

Only a week ago the next 30 years of my life – my life expectancy -- stood before me in rainbow colours, full of plot twists, adventure, learning, and challenge.  Right now as I think about those 30 years to come I feel I’m staring into a long-dark tunnel. 

Oh my Natey.  You completed me, made me whole.  Now I am lost and broken. You’ve left me, and you’ve taken my soul with you. 


  1. Andrew you spoke so well and so honestly and real allowing us to see all who you are. We will never forget your words, your family and most importantly, your little boy. The brightest star up in the sky.

  2. Just tears....

    I am so sorry Jane and Andrew for this heartache.

    This was a touching read. Beyond measure.

  3. no words. only sadness. and thoughts of you and what lies ahead.what an amazing father you were. so sad that he was taken from you so soon.

  4. It was a privilege to spend time with Nathaniel. You reminded me that he had howled when you had to go but all I remember is a sweet,happy boy who got excited about singing and reading,loved being read to and forming new words. He would check with me if he was saying them correctly.

  5. Too beautiful but yet so heart breaking. In my prayers Andrew, Jane and family. X

  6. May love and strength carry you through life always!I have cried with you all..I pray you find the peace you deserve.

  7. Dearest Jane and Andrew

    im so so so sorry words have left me, can only imagine what you guys must be going through plus being so open and honest about your life.

    his the brightest star that shines down on you. tears running down my face i read janes block aswell as andrews he was loved and taken care of well. both you are good parents and the pain will ease be strong.

    i feel this pain with you guys, nathaniel is in my heart to stay will keep you in my prayer and thought daily all the best. much love from a parent

  8. I'm soo sorry for your loss. Your words have touched me and now your Natey has a piece of my heart.

  9. Jane, I am so deeply saddened by your loss. I feel somehow connected through having a cardiac baby myself and I specifically remember chatting to you on Mamahood Cape Town shortly after Nate's surgery, as my son was due for his just a month later. I wish you and your family tons of strength during this time, and I wish to send you lots of love from one mother to another. Thank you for sharing Nate's story with the rest of the world. I am sure i can speak on behalf of all moms around the world who have read your story, that we share your pain and heartbreak. And when you feel alone, I want you to remember that Nate's story has touched the lives of so many including myself. All the best, Jane and family. RIP Nate <3

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