Thinking & Feeling

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

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.


  1. Jane, you and Andrew are both incredibly inspirational. I love your talk

  2. I just sat in my office and cried and cried. There is not a day that I don't think about you (and Andrew and the boys) I don't know how you do it. I do (in a very very small way) understand that you are "brave" when you have no other choice. Your decision to handle it the way you have is an inspiration. To me as well. I had days with this cancer that I felt it is unfair, too much but then I thought of Natey and you and I am thankful it's ME going through this and I still have my children. I know it's not the same but in a way it always pulled me up on bad days. You are an inspiration. It's so unfair that Natey is no longer with us. Nothing could ever make it okay. He didn't leave without leaving a huge mark though.

    1. Thanks Melany. They way you (and your mom) have fought cancer has been so inspirational to me. The way you have tackled it all on head on and proactively, and so bravely and fiercely. Really grabbing it all by the horns unashamedly, is so courageous. I am grateful that ou have shared so openly as you have taught me so much about the journey, and while I have no doubt that nothing about it is fun or glamourous, you (both) made the very most of it and both shone with such bright spirits, strength and beauty. The brave and bold way you showed your head was really phenomenal, and honestly you have never looked more beautiful and ALIVE.

      I am glad little Natey was able to help you through the difficult days and times, and I think you are right, it is that bit easier to deal with stuff ourselves, it's harder when someone we love or worse our children are suffering.

  3. I love your talk, brought me to tears, u r an inspiration, sending you love and light. U r a courageous woman.