In Simone’s words: On the afternoon of 15 September 2015 our lives changed forever. Our beautiful, perfect daughter Isabella, 7 ½ months old, died tragically. “Belsie” asphyxiated on her own vomit in her cot and help was too late to bring her back. On the morning of 4 May 2016, our son Thomas was born prematurely at 26 weeks and 3 days. We had much hope for his survival but he only lived for a few hours before joining his sister in heaven.
I’m not sure how to even preface one of the strongest and most remarkable women I’ve ever interviewed on this blog. I went to school with Simone and have wanted to feature her story and writing here for a while now, so was very pleased she agreed to be featured in my Meet a Mom series. Simone’s wisdom and incredible strength shines through every word she writes – leaving a legacy that will not only help and comfort others, but remain a shining example forever for her beloved children. Over to her…
1. Tell us about yourself.
I live in the Southern Suburbs of Cape Town with my husband James and our darling little boy Murray. I am COO of a boutique asset manager and while I love my work, I also adore being a mom.
Answering the question of how many children I have should be an easy one but it isn’t. While one of our children lives with us on this earth, two of our children are in heaven. I lost my mom at the age of eight when she was in a car accident, so grief and death are not new to me. But the loss of a child is something one can never prepare for and it has forever changed who I am.
2. Why do you think there is such a taboo in our society around death?
Talking about death is difficult right? It’s something that makes almost everybody feel hugely uncomfortable. Also, with the growth of social media, we generally only portray the good things about our life, creating the picture of what we want our life to look like – rather than how it really is. So to think and talk about death is so contrary to everyday life, plus people have generally not been equipped with the tools to do so.
I think that the death of a child is particularly taboo: it is every parent’s worst nightmare and something nobody wants to think about. But unfortunately, death is the one certainty of life and we need to talk about it. Not in a morbid, awful, woe-is-me way, but in a practical way that helps equip people with better tools to deal with grief.
3. How are you hoping that your blog will help change that?
Just after our precious Belsie died, James came home and told me he had started a blog. I had a freak out – how could he be making our tragedy so public? However, what I’ve come to realise is that our blog has become one of the most powerful tools in both the processing of our own grief, as well as helping others know how to deal with us.
What has also become extremely powerful is how our blog is being used to help others who have experienced loss, specifically that of a child. If we can use our blog to help others and to empower those close to them to support them better, then somehow our children’s loss doesn’t seem so in vain. It also allows their lives and names to live on beyond their time on this earth. We have tried to give both insights, as well as practical tools that help.
4. How has your attitude to life, love and loss changed since losing Belsie and Thomas?
I think it’s changed in a positive way mostly, and maybe that will sound strange to some.
I have really discovered the power of community. The way our community has pulled around us has been truly remarkable and has carried us through. I have also been amazed by the kindness we have received from strangers and acquaintances, which has been so uplifting.
I also try not to spread myself as thin as I used to before, but rather really give to those things and people I love and care about. It’s also highlighted to me the importance of being gentle, kind and extra patient, especially with James, who often gets the worst of me.
I also try to be more authentic with people. Before our children died, if someone asked me how I was I would always give the standard “I am fine” answer. Initially after they died, I would also give this answer, even when I was the furthest thing from okay. What I realised was that by answering truthfully, and being authentic about having a tough time, it put people at ease to be able to be real with me in return.
The whole experience of losing not one, but two children, hasn’t made me jaded or negative or made me feel sorry for myself (most of the time). If anything, it has made me so incredibly grateful for everything I do have, for the privilege that life is every day.
5. More specifically, how has your parenting changed?
It’s changed a lot! Mainly in just appreciating every single moment for what it is because you never know when it might be your last with them. Being a mom is hard, we all know this: those darling angels of ours can test us more than anything else ever has! But I wouldn’t give up a single part of it.
I try to be more present in my time with Murray. Putting down my phone, not worrying about what time supper will be ready or what the house looks like. Taking him on outings, seeing the world through his eyes, jumping on the trampoline with him as soon as I get home from work, when all I actually want to do is sit on the couch and have five minutes to breathe. Not minding when he wakes me up in the middle of the night, because how lucky am I that I have him to wake me up in the first place.
Of course, its sometimes tough to control the paranoia around Murray and to let him just be the rough and tough little boy that he is. But I know that being an overprotective parent won’t help him, and so I swallow the urge to wrap him in cotton wool.
I have also learnt to try and answer all of Murray’s questions as honestly as I can and not to be cryptic about it. In the beginning we told him that Belsie had gone to heaven but what I realised is that a 2-year-old has no idea what heaven is or means. And so I had to tell him that his sissie was dead and that she wasn’t coming back, in as plain language as that. He thought about it for a while, asked me a few questions, and then went on with his day.
6. What would your advice be for those trying to support those who have experienced a similar bereavement?
There is so much advice but the key things would be:
- Be there, in the months and years ahead, not just in the early days.
- Don’t ask what you can do to help, because generally thinking about things that might help you is impossible. Just do it, without fearing overstepping the mark. Meals are always a great help!
- Rather say something and risk saying the wrong thing than say nothing at all. Don’t be the person who crosses the road to avoid having to see the person. The biggest gift you can give is just to acknowledge their loss and all you have to say are three very simple words: “I am sorry.”
- Understand that your loved one will be forever changed. Nurture them, love them, envelop them in kindness and patience. They may seem completely wrapped up in their own world and unavailable. Remember that for them every day is a struggle and the best thing you can do is just be there.
And if you are that parent that has lost a child, I am so so sorry. Breathe: just one breath at a time, one moment at a time. You are stronger than you think, you will not drown. You need to make the choice to wake up every morning and to face the day. You have the privilege of life that your child was robbed of, and you need to make them so very proud of you.
You get to decide what your life is going to look like going forward. Make this a life worth living, if for nobody else but them.
You can read more from Simone on her blog, which is an excellent resource and also wonderfully written.