Thinking & Feeling

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

Wednesday, 29 August 2018

To Natey on your 4th birthday

Today would have been your fourth birthday dearest boy. I wonder how you would have looked now?

Is still imagine you with your beautiful golden curls. I wonder if they would have stayed, as you grew and got haircuts? I am sure your big beautiful brown eyes would still be bright and sparkling with delight and energy.

I imagine you being excited about your birthday, especially the cake. You loved the idea of birthday cake. You and Minda would enjoy the cake the most! (I loved the way when you ate something really yummy you would close your eyes and really savour the taste.) I am sure you would still be totally in love with Minda. She is still so kind and caring, and fun and beautiful as you remember her (but a bit sadder, like all of us).

I imagine that you would be the center of attention at school today on your special day, with cupcakes for the class. You'd probably be a little shy, but would actually love it. 

I imagine what and who you would be now. How big you'd be at 4 years old. Not a little baby any more. You'd still be so talkative, active and excited by things. I think you'd still take such delight in life.

I imagine you'd still be the complete love of our lives and our sun - which we'd still all revolve around. 

I wonder what you would like now? Still bikes and trucks?  What sort of party would you have wanted..?

Daddy and I, and Quinn and Griffin too, are sad that we can't have a fun day celebrating with you today. But know that we will be thinking of you all day. We will have a small celebration of your life as a family later and will be sure to have some cake or ice-cream for you.

We miss you every day sweet boy. Happy 4th birthday.

Love Mommy.

This is how I remember you my sweet charming characterful beautiful boy. ❤️

Tuesday, 28 August 2018

A Time of Darkness: Surviving The Death of My Son (by Andrew)

As I mentioned in my last post, Andrew and I gave a talk at Nathaniel's old school (and what will no doubt be Benjamin's school when he grows up). We were invited to talk at their fundraising event dinner titled 'An evening of Inspiration'.

Benjamin came along with us, and was the only baby (only child actually) at the event and he was on his very best behaviour and was delightful. It was lovely to get a chance to see our old 'Natey community' again, including our dear Melinda (Natey's au-pair 'Minda'), all of whom have been so very supportive of us through the past year and a half, and well before that even.

The evening and the talks were held in the school hall which is where we held Nathaniel's memorial service, so it was very poignant and emotional to introduce Benjamin into the community in this way, and in the same place..... This is the talk Andrew gave:

A Time of Darkness:
Surviving The Death of My Son… My Life’s Greatest Disaster

Delivered at Alon Ashel pre-primary school (Seapoint, Cape Town), “An Evening of Inspiration” dinner
Andrew Canter, August 23, 2018

Jane and my little son -- our sparkling, intelligent, beautiful, fun Nathaniel -- died at the age of 28 months on December 30, 2016.  He had been a student* here during that year, and thus Alon Ashel touched our lives and his life touched the school community.

Many people here tonight have been friends and supporters during our happy times with Nathaniel, the dark time of his death, and now again the happy time of Benjamin’s new life (now 4 months).   

I want to thank you all – thank the Herzlia community – for all you’ve given us, and also for the opportunity tonight to tell part of our story.

We can all celebrate the new life of little Benjamin, but it would be false to avoid how we got to this point.   What looks like a short trip from the despair of our Natey’s death to the joy of Benjamin is really a long and continuing journey for us.  As much as many of our friends and family want to believe that having another baby is a sign that we are ‘healed’, that would be a misconception.  For example, because my brain is juggling past & present, regret & joy I’ll probably muddle Nathaniel’s and Benjamin’s names during this talk -- as I have many times in the past few months.   

What I want to share are some elements of our journey thus far -- and where we hope it’s going.

Navigating the Darkness
As a starting point, there will never be ‘closure’ on Nathaniel’s death.  Some say it’s like losing a limb: You can never regrow an arm, but you can get used to functioning without it.  For me it’s like being stabbed in the heart: At first there is blood, damage and sharp pain… it’s dramatic and acute… but over time, if you survive, it becomes a permanent dull-ache… scar tissue: Never fully healed, but a chronic impairment that you live with. 

The night Nathaniel died, I remember lying in bed with Jane and feeling my heart literally breaking.  I know there is scar tissue there, and I can feel it holds me back from complete immersion in love.  My goal is to fight that impairment, and throw myself into loving Benjamin the way he deserves. 

More broadly, we are on a journey from “anger” & “regret” to “acceptance” & “appreciation for what we had”… we are hoping to be able to think about Nathaniel with some happiness and not with sorrow.   We don’t pretend we are there yet – we are still on the road.   Our walk so far from “acute pain” to “chronic ache” has had several steps and survival strategies.

Nathaniel died on December 30, 2016, and for the first few months of 2017 we lived in a swirl. 

You spend a lot of time recounting all the tiny moments that led to disaster – knowing that the slightest change could have completely altered the outcome.  Along with that we faced guilt and shame: A parent’s first job is to keep your child alive, and we failed.  Generously, no one has imposed blame or guilt on us – but we both carry it in equal measure. 

Perhaps the first step – the most vital step -- to our survival was that between Jane and I -- in the moment of Natey’s death, in the intervening months, and now – there has been no blame, anger or recrimination for each other.  We know that what happened could have happened on either of our watches, that we were jointly responsible, and shared joint blame.  The gears meshed, the one-in-a-million event happened, and our little boy died.  If we’d had any sense of blaming each other, the entire rest of the story would have been radically different.  We were partners before, during, after… and now.

In addition to that, we found out we both dealt with the disaster in similar ways.

For a start, neither one of us hid from what happened: We watched the ambulance crew that night… we held his body at the hospital, escorted it to the morgue... and said a final goodbye at the morgue the next day.  We took pictures to cement the images, and as a final reminder of his beautiful face and hair.  Together, we looked death in the face – literally – and that made it real and undeniable.

The grieving books advise you to confront and accept your loss – because the shock is going to get you sooner or later.  That rings true as, in some ways I find it no easier to think about Nathaniel now than it was a year ago -- sometimes a photo just shakes me.  If we hadn’t continually confronted the pain when it was expected, then it would be harder to deal with months later when one would think the pain had faded.

Also, neither Jane nor I wanted to push Nathaniel out of sight: We have wilfully kept him close-by in our lives through, for example, our screen savers running his photo montage… our Facebook pages… his toys, art and pictures in the house... we made a “Natey place” in our bedroom… we light a memorial candle at family dinners… and we keep the little wooden box of his ashes in the dining room.  Poignantly, we also made “Natey Bear” – a stuffed bear that wears one of Nathaniel’s sleepy-suits -- that slept with us for many months.

For me, the most terrible thing has been that Nathaniel is drifting away – floating backward in time.  Jane and I can’t stop that drift – but we certainly don’t want to hasten that inexorable and sad fading of his life-force.  By now I can no longer conjure his touch, feel or smell… sometimes it feels like I’m grasping at smoke to hold onto him: The memories are all we have left.

Jane and I also coped similarly by sharing our stories: Jane wrote a moving blog about all the details of that last day of Nathaniel’s life – with all its happiness and fun… followed by his death.  I wrote and rewrote his eulogy and life story – jotting down every single memory I could muster – hoping, I guess, that it will help me re-capture Nathaniel in the years to come.  Jane and I both put all of these writings online for those who wanted to share our loss.

We also both spent time curating Nathaniel’s photos, videos, memories, documents… until, eventually, we realised we’d been through it all, and there were no more memories coming.

We followed the advice to “do what you can, when you can”.  We both went back to work within a couple weeks, but it’s fair to say our colleagues cut us quite a lot of slack: We were more “at work” than actually “working”.  At meetings I’d bring along my adult colouring books to help me stay both distracted and focussed (and, by adult, I mean ADULT!). 

As it turned out neither Jane nor I are “hide under the covers” kind of people:  While there were months where we had no interest in socialising, we remained engaged.  We tried to keep life moving forward professionally, personally, and we both continued to exercise and take on some challenges.  We had asked that mourners make donations to the Red Cross Children’s Hospital, where eventually enough money was raised to buy two new blood-oxygen machines – and a lovely plaque was placed in their garden of remembrance. 

At some point, unconsciously, I guess we decided we couldn’t define our lives by our loss, but rather by the lives we continued to lead.  As Jane has observed, “you don't get to choose what will happen to you in your life, but you do get to choose how you'll respond.”

All along we have both remained open to our feelings, and honest about them:  When we had bad moments or bad-days we’d verbalise it… we’d send a Whatsapp saying “I’m having a bad Natey day” – and we both understood what that meant.  We made no effort – in private or public -- to pretend “everything is alright”. 

As months passed we might have some time when we’d forget we were supposed to be sad: But often people would ask, meaningfully, “How ARE you?”  One can’t say “I’m fine”, as the answer is always more nuanced.  Part of the journey is being pulled into the ‘role’ of the grieving parent… being reminded you are mourning. 

We came to realise we’d joined”the Club no one wants to belong to” -- parents who have lost children.  We heard many terrible stories… and we realised there are far more members of that club than one would expect.  We met other parents with equally sad (or worse) stories.  As we heard of others’ childrens’ deaths we felt it deeply and tearfully.  

I learned to live with “The Shark”:  He was always there, circling underneath me… sometimes coming up to take a bite out of me… to pull me down… without any warning.  Sometimes he still comes up for a bite… always a surprise, usually triggered by a photo, memory or thought.  But you find out you can struggle back to the surface and keep swimming.

Making New Memories
With Natey’s death my life’s plan was in tatters.  I had come to parenthood late in life… a new journey that was completely rewarding, exciting, and energizing.   That came to a crashing halt -- my parenting duties reduced to paying tribute, mourning and packing away my son’s life in a cardboard box and a hard drive.

Within days of Nathaniel’s death I knew that I wanted to have another child: Frankly – honestly -- without that direction, I would truly have been lost, aimless and demotivated.  I started that discussion with Jane far too soon… and it carried on for a while as we discussed our motives, aspirations and fears.  But in the end Jane and I agreed to re-embark on the journey… or, perhaps, to continue our journey together. 

That said, neither of us felt ready to quickly have another baby – it was too soon, it felt too raw and unsettled:  You never really can rush a pregnancy, and we didn’t want to try to force the issue when we were both – particularly Jane – stressed and unhappy. 

I remembered the scene from the book “Like Water for Chocolate” where Tita, the main character, sheds tears of sorrow into the batter of a wedding cake she is baking… with the result that all the guests at the wedding end up crying uncontrollably.  I didn’t want to imbue “Baby #2” with sadness… to mix our tears into his batter.

Benjamin was born a mere 16 months after Natey’s death.  That unduly short time was driven very much by our respective ages (43 and 55) and by a doctor’s forceful advice: “If you are going to do it, don’t waste time!”
In any case, knowing the path we were on gave me a timeline and the much-needed ability to make a plan.  We entered what I called “The Interregnum” -- that is defined as the period of time between the death of one monarch and installation of the next: In this case the Interregnum was the period between the death of the Prince (Nathaniel) and the birth of another Prince (Benjamin). 

We knew there was a danger of getting stuck in the past and stuck in sadness -- but we needed to find a path forward.  One of our better coping mechanisms -- which I take full credit for (you won’t find it in the grief guide-books) – was to try to “make new memories”. 

So, in April 2017 – four months after Nathaniel’s death – Jane, Griffin, Quinn and I – went on a trip to Egypt: Chosen intentionally as a challenging destination.  In Egypt you are either contemplating 5000 years of human history and civilisation, or you are dealing with the chaos of Egypt itself.  It ain’t a beach -- it’s hard work!  Being outside of our comfort zones, it helped bring us all together.  Of course Natey was in our minds… and I recall sitting on a stone in a 3500-year-old temple crying for him.

Continuing the idea of making new memories, in July 2017 Jane and I went to Iceland.  That turned out to be life-altering and I want to tell you a bit about it. 

In 2010 I’d planned a trek in Iceland that was cancelled by the eruption of the volcano Eyafjetlajokull (you remember, the one the grounded all flights in Europe).  The trek was on my bucket list, and the Interregnum was a good opportunity to fulfil the goal.  Also, one of Nathaniel’s middle names was “Thor”, named after the Norse god of thunder (in Hebrew  -- Ra’am – Thunder), and it seemed fitting to visit his “ancestral homeland”. 

The highlight of the trip was a 5 day, 90 kilometre trek across the wild and beautiful terrain.  Before going we had finally opened Nathaniel’s box of ashes and taken a tiny vial -- with the intent to spread them on the hike.  Thus, Natey was very much in our minds as we did the long trek across barren open spaces, volcanic ridges, glacial terrain and raging rivers: We were carrying Nathaniel emotionally and physically… toward the end of the group trek in a beautiful forested place called “Thorsmork” – Thor’s Forest. 

From there Jane and I left our group, and hiked alone up the slopes of the Eyafjetlajokull volcano.  As we climbed up and up we went above the snow line, into wind, rain, snow and fog… and there at the top of the pass, beside the two new volcanic vents – Magdi and Modi (named after Thor’s sons)… standing in the barren volcanic rock, ash and dirt we paused to spread the tiny bit of Nathaniel’s ashes.  I remember taking off my glove, pouring a bit of the ashes onto my palm and holding it out to the wind – hoping it would simply blow away without my having to do it: But making it harder, eventually I was forced to throw Nathaniel’s the ashes into the wind. 

As if that weren’t enough – we then had to continue to hike the final 30 km down to the coast… mostly in driving wind and rain – such that despite having fully waterproofed gear we were soaked through, frozen, muddy and sore.  The experience was nearly biblical in its enactment, and cathartic for us: It was a moment of being with Nathaniel as best we could, acceptance of his death, and a degree of letting go.  As we were leaving Iceland we stopped to put our first “Love Lock” for Nathaniel on a steel bridge… and then Jane threw away the key to that lock into the cold North Atlantic Ocean.

We knew this trip was emotional and an important moment, but we only realised later that the experience was a critical step in our journey.

Less than a week later Benjamin was conceived.

Compassion is one of those highfalutin words I hadn’t really thought too deeply about… it’s used by the likes of the Dalia Lama or Desmond Tutu.   But the past 20 months has taught us a lot about compassion: How the sharing of sorrow alleviates the burden… how the recognition and understanding of each other’s sorrow connects us and helps us carry the load.  Compassion is the sense of knowing “you are not alone”… and realising there is always someone suffering equally with, or more than, you… and that they are also not alone.  Everyone has grief in their life – whether in the acute or chronic stages – and we are part of the community of humans who will all suffer in our lives. Maybe to really understand compassion one has to suffer.

In the wake of Natey’s death we were flooded with compassionate love and support – much of from this community: And that was a great help during this tumultuous period. 

But importantly, that compassion went both ways: We tried to comfort others who also suffered Natey’s death – family, friends, his teachers, his loving nanny Xolisa, his loving au pair Melinda.  Also, we could see the sadness and uncertainty in visitors and supporters: “What do I say to someone who’s child has drowned? What shouldn’t I say?”  We really tried to make everyone comfortable expressing and sharing with us. 

Sometimes people said things we didn’t feel: “It’s God’s will”; “It was meant to be”;  “He’s in a better place”; or other thoughts that didn’t really work for us.  But we understood it all came from a place of love, and accepted the sentiments of support graciously.**  Any well-intentioned support or condolence was, and is, welcomed – particularly happy memories.
As a grieving parent one grants oneself some self-indulgence, but one of my regrets is that I didn’t realise the impact of Nathaniel’s death on my wider family.  We recently took Benjamin on his “baby tour” to the USA and in conversations came to realise how shattering his loss was.  For example, one of his cousins was so shaken as to have nearly dropped out of university for a semester.  Being self-absorbed in my grieving, this was a failure of compassion on my part.  Likewise, I’d been told that Natey’s death impacted on the entire Herzlia community, and I have come to a better understanding of that now.

The Interregnum
While I ambled through the Interregnum, Jane was hard at work being pregnant – she had a really difficult pregnancy with persistent nausea, fatigue and -- later -- pain and discomfort: There really was no easy time for her during that 9 months.  And while I eased back into work, Jane tackled her PGDip program at the UCT Graduate School of Business – quite an intense process to take-on during months 0-6 of her pregnancy (and her peak nausea)!  She suspended those studies during Benjamin’s final trimester… but has now gone back to finish the 2nd half of the program with Benjamin only 3 months old!

During Nathaniel’s life I had been writing him a letter about his story and my relationship with him.  I continued Nathaniel’s letter after his death -- but also started a letter to “Baby #2”.   

At first we wanted a clean break for a fresh-start -- and we hoped for a little girl.  But at the 11 week scan we found ourselves in the same clinic getting substantively the same news we’d had 3 years before: It was a healthy little boy with all signs and measurements being positive. 

As Baby #2 continued growing… got through his 20-week scan… and he began moving inside Jane…  I realised that pretty soon the “baby-to-be” had to overtake the “baby-that-had-been”: My Focus was going to be drawn forward.  I felt (and feel) guilt about that shift… as my writings to Nathaniel have had to peter-out into apologies, regrets and goodbyes.

Jane and I went to Thailand for a relaxed “baby moon” in December 2017 (5 months pregnant)… we lit a candle and shed some tears for Natey in a Buddhist temple, and we contemplated compassion and the Buddhist ideal of letting-go.  That learning experience was part of the inspiration for one of Benjamin’s middle names – “Bodhi”:  A Sanskrit name which means “enlightenment”… and you may recall that the historical Buddha achieved enlightenment while meditating under a Bodhi tree.  In Hebrew this became “Meir” – “one who enlightens” or “bringer of light”.  We hope it imbues Benjamin Bodhi with compassion and enlightenment – and so far that seems to be the case, as he’s a very chilled baby.  His other middle name is “Achilles”, but we haven’t seen much of that part of his personality yet!

And now?
I commented earlier that we couldn’t “make new memories” with Nathaniel: But that’s apparently not true… we carried him our hearts to Egypt, Iceland, Thailand, and America.  We bought him a silver cartouche and a little white alabaster pyramid in Egypt (both now in his Natey-space).  We thought of him – and cried for him -- while we raced up Table Mountain***.  We spread some of his ashes on the volcano in Iceland and in a park in Chicago alongside some of my mother’s ashes.  We placed love-locks for him in Iceland and Paris.  We lit a memorial candle with him in Thailand.  And, strangely, unseen photos of Nathaniel continue to pop out of old cell phones, cloud storage, and friends’ archives.

While Nathaniel is always with us I find that more and more I have to make specific time to “be with Natey” – to listen to some of his music, quietly think about him, remember his laugh, and cry for his loss.  It’s not too hard really, if I just pause in my intentionally-over-busy life – to walk on the mountain or have a stretch – Nathaniel comes to mind.

As strangers see me with Benjamin there’s that awkward question: “Is this your only child?”  A simple “yes” would avoid the uncomfortable answers of “He’s my only surviving child” or “I had another boy, but he died”.  But to take the easy route would be to deny Nathaniel’s life, push him further away, and would feel like a betrayal.

Jane and I continue to seek that elusive state of “appreciating what we had while we had it” rather than “regretting the loss of what might have been”.   We still have a long walk to get there.

With Nathaniel we started out to build something permanent, but it got swept away and we had to restart.  While the standard rule of parenting is ‘don’t compare children’, one almost can’t help it.  Rationally I know Benjamin does not (cannot) replace Nathaniel – but I have occasional confusion: For example, I’ll think “It would be nice if he had Nathaniel’s beautiful red hair, but I’m really glad he doesn’t.”  In that sense, it’s a relief that Benjamin’s (mellow) personality is already visibly different than Nathaniel’s (energetic).  Perhaps we’ll be a little stuck in this comparison period until Benjamin has surpassed Nathaniel’s life span of 2½ years. 

As we set out on Benjamin’s journey I had fears of such comparisons: “Nathaniel was so perfect” I’d said “we’ll never get that lucky again”.  But a good friend and advisor said: “Don’t worry Andrew, every child is perfect in their own way.”

We will not imbue Benjamin with our prior hopes or expectations for Nathaniel.  Benjamin will have his own full life, he will be his own person.  But Jane and I cannot deny being changed -- we have innate fear and uncertainty now, and that fear is on several levels:
·       - First – obviously -- we see and think about more risks:  Life was always full of uncertainty, and we were – we thought – very aware and cautious.  Yet even though someone was within a few metres of Nathaniel for just about every minute of his 28 months (including the night he died) tragedy managed to find us.
·       - Nathaniel was so wonderful that I felt we’d “won the baby lottery”, and I expressed that feeling.  Now I hold back my positive judgement and enthusiasm about Benjamin as I’m afraid that I might ‘jinx’ his life.
·       - In some sense I struggle to see an unimpeded rosy, long-term future… somehow it seems shrouded in uncertainty… I have fears for what might happen.
·       - And, frankly, I also fear for self-esteem: Losing one child is a tragedy… losing two would be a clear sign of irresponsibility.

At Nathaniel’s memorial service – here, in this room – Cheryl Lazarus, speaking directly to the school’s parents, wisely urged them not to live in fear nor impair their childrens’ freedom and activities because of Nathaniel’s tragedy.  I thought it was a wise and bold leader’s statement, and something Jane and I now keep in mind as we move forward.

Without regard to whatever fears we have or healing we have to do, our goal will be raise Benjamin with all the security, love, and opportunity as we can – to make his life fun, free, and full of adventure and learning.

Another step in this long emotional journey will be enrolling Benjamin at Alon Ashel in January 2020:  We will see Natey’s track… and Natey’s plant… and Natey’s classroom… and Natey’s teachers.  It will be a little scary and difficult for us and all who knew him: But I have little doubt that Cheryl will have done her homework, and will be ready to prepare us all for that step with the same steady, sensible guidance with which she’s helped us cope with Nathaniel’s death.

Jane and I don’t feel inspirational – in part we feel like failed-parents trying to cope with a life-disaster as best we can.  But I am inspired by Jane – who has shown resilience, perseverance, and a remarkable willingness to help me through the darkness… and who has jumped back-in with love and commitment to bring light into my life.

Thank you all again for giving us the opportunity to share our story… for all the love, compassion, support and generosity over the past couple years… and for joining us in the celebration of the continuation of life -- particularly for little Benjamin.

*The magic, of course, is that Nathaniel didn’t know he was a ‘student’ -- he just thought it he was playing and having fun.

**Sometimes people would share their own grieving stories, and we tried to be as compassionate with them as they were being with us.  Others would offer unsolicited advice on grieving, mourning or coping and we’d generally take such advice in much the same way as one takes unsolicited parenting advice, graciously and with thanks.  Of course solicited advice (or advice from experience or knowledge) was always welcomed openly.

***Jane and I entered the Table Mountain Challenge in 2017 – a race which entails climbing up the mountain (and taking the cable car down) as many times as you can between sunrise and sunset.  We did 6 laps each.

Friday, 24 August 2018

You either survive - or you don't…

Andrew and I were asked to do a talk at Natey's school last night as part of a fund raising dinner they hosted. The theme was 'An evening of Inspiration'.

Andrew spoke at length and in detail about our journey and the practical steps we have taken and learnings we have had on the way. We also had a slide show of about 120 photos of moments in our journey over the past 3-4 years.

I spoke first, this is the talk I gave:


People tend say you are brave or inspirational when you survive something. The truth is you aren't, or at least I don't think I am.

I think bravery is choosing to do something really difficult or scary. When you are thrust into that position, it doesn't feel like bravery at all. But when tragedy strikes you, I guess then you only have 2 choices; you either survive - or you don't…

The fact is that time marches forward whether you want it to or not, and so you have no option but to move forward too.

I lost my first child - a tiny very premature little girl Angelique - born too early 20 years ago, in a bungle of bad practise in a state hospital.

Nathaniel’s birth many years later healed me and brought the trauma of Angelique's birth to a momentous circular close with an amazing calm home water-birth. There was no one else there, just myself (and Andrew) as he was born into my arms.

When he then died at home at 2 just years old, it was also in water, and again with no one else there just me - alone this time. That circle of healing and completion shattered open again. It shook the very core and foundation of who I was and made me doubt everything I knew. How could that have happened? How could the most beautiful, perfect and cherub-like little boy be gone so quickly and so incomprehensibly? It just made no sense.

So there I was, having lost not just one but two of my dear, longed for and much loved children... How does one carry on from that??

Honestly, I don’t think I have any profound truths or insights, and the fact is it is hard and it hurts a LOT. But in both of these great loses of my life, I have been almost immediately very aware that they can either break you or strengthen you. And somehow being broken and to give up, doesn't seem like a good way to honour my children. I almost feel obligated to live on, to do well, and more-so to do GOOD, because they can't.

And I do think it's a choice. But it's not an easy choice & to some extent anyone who suffers such a loss is ‘broken’. However for me, I felt I had to live on and live well FOR them.

In dealing with Angelique's death, birthing became my passion. I learned everything I could about pregnancy and birth and for a better way to bring a child into the world. I studied to be a doula and started volunteering at Mowbray Maternity so I could to assist and empower the helpless and scared moms there to have better, less scary and traumatic births. I did this as a way to make Angelique's life matter and to try to ensure that no one else had to endure a traumatic and uncompassionate birthing experience.

After Natey died we also wanted to somehow do good. I adopted the hashtag #DoingItForNatey and also #LongDays - which came out of the customary Jewish greeting to mourners of 'I wish you long life'. The sentiment also seemed to inspire my broader circle of friends to do something that scared them or that pushed the boundaries of their capabilities, or to just get out there and LIVE. To make the most of each day!

It was used for a number of initiatives to raise money for charity. 

As an example. A wheelchair-bound friend of mine decided she had no excuse for being unfit and out of shape and so she started exercising and bought a recumbent bicycle and has been training to ride in the Argus next year. Another friend ran her first marathon and  another completed a Half Iron-Man. Others simply said yes when their children wanted to play with them, or went for that picnic on the beach, or had ice-cream for dinner... all #DoingItForNatey.

As for Andrew and I; we also challenged ourselves. We ran races, signed up for the Argus Cycle Tour, competed in the Platteklip Charity Challenge, always #DoingItForNatey.

We also asked people not to spend money on flowers and gifts for us, but rather to donate the money so it could do some good. In this way we all raised about R75 000 for the Red Cross Children’s Hospital and about R15 000 for other charities. 

The message is that life is short, you have no idea how much time you have here… And so you should live your life fully and appreciate what you have, and who you have, while you are here.

Again, I don't think we are special, remarkable, or inspirational (ok well maybe Andrew is, as his generosity of spirit, and capacity to forgive IS remarkable and very inspirational to me), but I think we just decided that we had to try, somehow to take the good, and to try to release the bad.

While losing a child is truly the most awful thing that can happen to you - and it is not something you get over or get better from - we have learned that no matter what, there always is a lot to be grateful for and:

- I am grateful for the immense, and continued love and care of our colleagues, friends and family - and notably this school community who really helped to carry us through those first dark and difficult early weeks.

 - I am grateful for the precious time we had with Natey and the lessons he taught us. To take delight in every day. To marvel and wonder at the smallest of things. To enjoy life's small pleasures. To love freely and with abandon.

- I am grateful for Benjamin. Who has certainly not replaced Natey, or filled the big Natey-shaped hole in our lives. He couldn't do that and shouldn’t. But he has created new hope, new purpose. New love and new inspiration. We are very aware that Benjamin wouldn't be here if Nathaniel hadn't died. It's hard not to feel grateful for that somehow.

In the end, I think it comes down to that while you don't get to choose what will happen to you in your life, you do get to choose how you'll respond, and how you move forward from what does happen. So I try to choose the positive. Not because it is the brave or easy thing to do, but because for me it just feels better that way.

Friday, 13 July 2018

I had a dream...

I have wanted to dream of Natey since he left us. Really wanted to. In fact I was pretty desperate to dream of him. I think I felt like it was a way to still be with him and feel like he was alive. But much as I wanted to, and actually tried to, it never really happened. Eventually I just stopped trying...

We are in the states right now, on a show-and-tell trip along the East Coast, to show off Benjamin to Andrew's family and friends. The big boys are with us too, for their first trip to the States also.

We started in Washington D.C, then drove to the Jersey Shore (Long Beach Island) via Philadelphia, and then we went to New York City. We are now in Westborough (outside of Boston). Then we go on to Florida (near West Palm Beach) and then Chicago.

While in NYC on the last night, I was in those few hours in the summertime between daylight and wake-up time, when you wake-up and realise with relish that you still have time to sleep despite the lightness outside and snuggle down to sleep again.

Anyway, so I drifted off into dream-sleep and in my dream I was trying to go out for a run. I seemed to be on a farm or somewhere like that. It was very dry and dusty, especially further away from what must have been the homesteads. There were paths, and fenced enclosures with dusty ground and short dry grasses or hay. I knew I was trying to head out for a run, but I was missing something and didn't feel ready, I was walking around the paths trying to get organised...

Then I looked into the enclosure alongside where I was and it was filled with little farm animals (little goats maybe) and 'tribal'* children. They were all playing and scampering around. It was equally sweet and sad, because of how dry and desolate it all was. But they seemed happy. Then I noticed the one little boy had curly hair and seemed different to the other children. His skin was lighter and his hair was dusty brown and in big loose curls. And then I saw his hair was actually golden.

It was Natey!!! He was giggling and running and playing, as he would. He was about the same age and size as when he left...

I was so excited to see him, and to know he was ALIVE! And then almost immediately I felt sad and conflicted. My first thought was to grab him and 'rescue' him and smother him in hugs and kisses. But then I thought about how happy and carefree he seemed. Would he even know who I was? If I grabbed him would I scare him? Would it be better to leave him undisturbed? I didn't know what to do. It was such a happy-sad, joyous-conflicted feeling.

And then I woke up. I felt really weird and anxious when I woke up. But just overall 'seeing' him alive, playing carefree and happy with animals and children was somehow heartwarming.

Thank-you for visiting my dreams sweet boy with the unmistakable unruly curls.

* Think little dusty, mostly naked, skinny bushmen children in loin-cloths.

Thursday, 14 June 2018

The Crows

From when Natey left us, I started noticing crows, constantly.
They reminded me of him and brought me comfort. Making me smile each time I saw one. They became my 'thing'. Natey's memorial tattoo included 2 crows and I have been gifted 2 beautiful crow necklaces.
The crows seemed to be my constant companions in my journey of trying to navigate life without Natey... But the during the second half of my pregnancy with Benjamin they seemed to be leaving me. I was seeing fewer and fewer. It felt like they were gone.

But now that Benjamin has been born (and I find myself pleasantly distracted and no longer searching the sky for my crow friends) they seem to be back, and quite persistent. I will now frequently have a crow fly right over me as I walk or drive around, and they usually caw loudly as they pass over me...
I can't help but smile and feel like Natey is saying hello to us. Hello my beautiful boy. We love you as much as ever, and still miss you dearly. But we feel less desperately sad and alone now.

Love Mommy.

Tuesday, 12 June 2018

Benjamin's Bris as a Photo Video

Benjamin had his bris/brit milah on Sunday 6 May 2018.

"The brit milah (Hebrew: בְּרִית מִילָה‬, pronounced [bʁit miˈla]; Ashkenazi pronunciation: [bʁis ˈmilə], "covenant of circumcision"; Yiddish pronunciation: bris [bʀɪs]) is a Jewish religious male circumcision ceremony performed by a mohel ("circumciser") on the eighth day of the infant's life."

Benjamin's bris was actually held on the 12th day, since the chosen doctor was not available before that.*

Andrew is Jewish, I am not. I am also not really in favour of circumcisions, and this is one of the very few things Andrew and I really disagree on. However, since this was important to Andrew, and he has been so very very supportive, gracious to, and forgiving of me through thick and thin, conceding to his request that Benjamin also have a Jewish bris was really the least I could do.

The bris comprises of 2 main parts, the circumcision (performed by the mohel) and the naming ceremony where the child is presented to the community formally and his name revealed for the first time. We had of course already shared both him and his name (in detail) all over social media*, but his Hebrew names** had not yet been revealed.

The following roles were performed by the listed special people:
  • Rabbi: Rabbi Greg Alexander
  • Kvatter (person who carries the baby from the parent to the sandek): Paul Rackstraw
  • Sandek (person who receives the baby from the Kvatter): Ian Fraser (my father)
  • Mohel (performs the circumcision surgery): Dr Gideon Mareski (plastic surgeon)
  • Kiddish (prayer over wine): Gary Palmer
  • Ha-Motzi (prayer over bread): Mike Cohen
The bris was attended by an array of very special (nearby) friends and family who have been supportive and caring to us over the past few years. We were very grateful for their support on this special, meaningful and very emotional occasion.

I have to say that having witnessed 2 bris ceremonies now, that if you are going to do a circumcision, that this is a very special and meaningful way to do it. I was particularly emotional during this one as we stood watching the same way we'd watched Nathaniel's Bris, with memories of him all around us. I was quite overwhelmed with emotion.

I hope you enjoy the video.

(Photography in the video by Samantha Squire-Howe of Twinkle Star Photography and Leigh Page.)

We tend to break traditions a lot!
* I wrote about his Hebrew names here.

Friday, 1 June 2018

Benjamin's First Hours as a photo video

This is a photo video of Benjamin's first couple of hours after birth - the 'golden hours' of bonding - where we welcomed him into our lives and had a first chance to explore each other.


I feel so blessed to have this little boy in our lives now and to have the opportunity to love and cherish him. If I have learned nothing else in the past 18 months it is to savour every moment, and appreciate what you have, while you have it. As you never know what tomorrow will bring.

Thank-you for renewing my purpose Benjamin and giving me a new good reason to get out of bed in the morning.


Thursday, 31 May 2018

Benjamin's Birth Story as a photo video

TMI Notice. This is a birth story, with images of birth. View at your own discretion and only if you are comfortable with images of birth.

I created this photo video of Benjamin's birth.

My wish is to normalise and demystify birth. To show that while birth is indeed intense and pretty hard work - which you do need to prepare well for - it does not need to be scary, traumatic, or overly medically managed*. I hope you enjoy it.

I feel so lucky to have been able to experience the wonderful births I have. They have each been special, powerful and empowering to me.

And in my own words:
"Giving birth should be your greatest achievement, not your greatest fear"**


* If there is no need for it to be, and/or you don't want it to be. There are of course cases where this kind of birth is not possible and some people just wouldn't want to do this anyway! I 100% support all informed birth choices. All birth choices and outcomes are valid and special! Even if it didn't go as you originally planned or thought.

**I had no idea at the time that I wrote those words as the tag-line for my own doula site, that they would resonate so strongly with others too

Tuesday, 8 May 2018

Benjamin's Hebrew Names

Benjamin had his Bris, or Brit Milah on Sunday May 6, 2018. I will make a separate post about that once I have the photographs.

In the mean time I wanted to share the welcome message and Hebrew names given to Benjamin by his daddy, Andrew, at his bris.

Welcome & Pre-Amble:
Jane and I would like to thank you for coming to welcome Benjamin into the world, give him his Hebrew name, and undertake an ancient tradition of Brit Millah (Bris) which connects Benjamin to nearly 6000 years of the cultural continuity of Judaism.  Children, it’s said, need to be part of something larger than themselves -- to have roots and be connected to them… to have an anchor: And this ceremony is part of that belonging.

It’s a physical act, something fathers do to their sons – in fact, part of the ceremony is my abdicating the role and appointing Dr. Maresky as my agent to peform the actual surgery.  But it’s not easy for parents – which is probably why it’s traditional for the father to have a whiskey!

How we got here?  We are here to celebrate Benjamin’s new life, but it would be false to deny or avoid how we got here – and as we stand here in our house, you see reminders of our Nathaniel everywhere: His pictures, drawings of him by friends, some of his toys, his ashes, and more. We have not sought to hide Natey away or remove his memory.  Everyone here today has been a friend and supporter during our happy times with Nathaniel, the dark time of his death, and now – again -- the happy time of Benjamin’s new journey.  All of your (and many others’) compassion and patience have been great supports to our family during this tumultuous period:  Maybe to understand compassion one has to suffer – and the past 16 months has taught us a lot about compassion: How the sharing of sorrow, the recognition and understanding of each others’ sorrow, connects us and helps us carry the load.  Compassion is the sense of knowing “you are not alone”.  That learning experience was part of the inspiration for the name Bodhi.

In dealing with Natey’s death there have been a range of survival strategies – but amongst those has been embarking on the journey of parenthood again (for me, having a vision of my own future life).  It may be mere rationalization – or a form of acceptance – but we have also sought the elusive state of “appreciating what we had while we had it”… to remember Natey with the less pain and sorrow and with more happiness.  And, possibly another coping strategy – but very tangible -- Jane wisely observed last week in her birth story that if Natey had not died then Benjamin would not be here.

We should not – cannot - imbue Benjamin with our prior hopes or expectations for Nathaniel: Benjamin will have his own full life, he will be his own person.  But Jane and I cannot deny the experiences that led us here haven’t changed us: Without regard to whatever fears we have, healing we have to do, our goal will be raise him with all the security, love, and opportunity as we can – to make his life fun, free, full of adventure and learning.

Thank you again for joining us for this particular occasion, but also for joining us in the celebration of the continuation of life – for all of us, and particularly for little Benjamin.

 The father recites the blessing,
"Baruch atah A-donay, Elo-heinu Melech Ha’Olam, asherkideshanu bemitzvotav vetzivanu le-hach-ni-soh bivrito shel Avraham Avinu", “Blessed are You, L‑rd our G‑d, King of the universe, Who has sanctified us with His commandments and commanded us to enter him into5 the Covenant of Abraham our father.”6

The Naming:
English name: Benjamin Bodhi Achilles Canter
Hebrew name: Binyamin Meir Mordecai ben Avraham Chayim

Binyamin was the youngest son of Jacob, and the progenitor of 12th tribe of Israel.  The name translates as “Son of the my right hand”, “Son of the south” (an allusion to his birth in Cape Town) or “Son of my old age” (an allusion to… well you figure it out).

Meir translates as “Bringer of Light” or one who “shines” or “enlightens”.  The historical 1stc Rabbi Meir was a teacher and scholar.  The name is not a perfect match for “Bodhi” – which might have been Uri (“enlightened”) or Rachamim (“compassionate”) – but Meir is my father’s middle name and he has given his permission for Binyamin to use it.  Thus, it captures the idea of bringing light to others, and also connects generations of my family.

His third Hebrew name is Mordecai which literally translates as “warrior”.  As with “Achilles” we wanted to capture the warrior spirit, and while there were some famous Jewish warriors, we quite liked the name Mordecai.  Notably, the historical Mordecai was not a warrior, but a bureaucrat in the Persian court and one of the heroes of the Purim story in the book of Esther.  For Binyamin’s purpose – the name implies the power of a warrior, and the wisdom and stature of a leader.  

Like his English name, Binyamin’s Hebrew name connects him to his tribal roots, history and culture… and hints at the struggle in life to constantly find the right balance between enlightenment and power.  There are times in life to “let go” and be compassionate, but there are also times to undertake heedless battle.  As has been said “It’s hard to be a Buddhist when the barbarians are at the gate.”

And finally, in Jewish tradition the Hebrew name finishes with the father’s name: “ben” – son of – “Avraham” (Abraham) “Chayim” (Life).
Binyamin Meir Mordecai ben Avraham Chayim
Anglicized it reads as: Benjamin Bodhi Achilles son of Andrew Charles.

Welcome to the world and your tribe #Baby BenjaminBodhiAchilles