By Helen du Plessis
Tel: (012) 667 2326
ii) The Reality of Pain and Loss
iii) Dealing with the Devastation
iv) The Miracle of Healing
In order to live we have to commit ourselves daily to unknown hopes and act on insufficient knowledge. We
cannot borrow wisdom or understanding from people who have lived longer and experienced more than we
have for each of us is a peculiar being – an individual treading his own path. Yet, in spite of being different
and separate we all share a common life and maybe that is one of the reasons we sometimes need to peep
behind the drawn curtains of other people’s lives. Life demands that we commit ourselves emotionally,
spiritually and intellectually to an unknown future without any knowledge of the detail or the conclusion of our
Notwithstanding different events and circumstances, my story is your story because we share a common life
and whatever takes place in my life may also take place in yours and what happened to you may also
happen to me.
In the year 1624 John Donne immortalised these famous words in his “Devotions Upon Emergent
“No man is an island, entire of itself;
Every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main;
If a clod be washed away by the sea Europe is the less.
Any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind.
And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls;
It tolls for thee.”
However, faith in God and a personal relationship with Jesus Christ has made me less reluctant to commit
my uncertain feet to an unknown road. Faith in God has removed much of the fear of the future the moment
I realised that God has not given anyone a letter of exemption in which it is stated that our children will not
commit suicide or die of cancer or whatever other disagreeable things happen daily in our lives or the lives of
our loved ones. I do not pretend to know why some have to go through the fires of sorrow and others live
long and uneventful lives. I do not have the answers to any of the painful questions of life, but I know a few
more things today and I see a few things differently than before.
When I took the first steps on the treadmill of torment, I fled to God in blind faith and committed myself to His
grace and to the tender comfort of the Holy Spirit, although in my shocked and confused state I felt more like
fleeing away from Him in anger and distrust. But I had no one else to turn to, and like a bird with a broken
wing, I just lay motionless in the hand of my Maker.
ii) THE REALITY OF PAIN AND LOSS
Death does not make appointments nor does it ask permission to act. On that sad day in the life of our
family, the 23rd August, 1989 our eldest son committed suicide. At the tender age of 15 years and 7 months
our loving, sensitive, tender-hearted son made this major decision without consulting with us, his parents.
And for the first time I realised that it was possible for our children to make such decisions and that we are
powerless to reverse the consequences, unable to prevent the devastation of such an act because we did
not know what was going on in his mind and therefore did not anticipate the possibility of such an event in
the least. We knew he was not feeling well. He was battling with a very bad flu and was already taking a
second course of antibiotics and not feeling any better and he was in the middle of important exams.
When you live a comparatively uncomplicated life and you are suddenly confronted with the awful reality of
death, and the fact that your child can do a thing like taking his own life, you feel completely unable to deal
with this truth. The blow of the reality of death is the worst but only the first of such blows that you have to
face in the immediate future. And you stand trembling and utterly bewildered in the presence of such an
unmerciful enemy. And a cloud hides the sun for a long, long time. 2
You feel numb with shock and helpless in the turmoil of a multitude of unpleasant emotions which overwhelm
you and you feel desolate and forsaken, unable to take control of your mind, unable to stop the swirling fury
and worst of all the throbbing of the pain where your beloved child was so cruelly uprooted. No words can
ever describe the misery of such a loss. You pass through stages of grieving and you simply go on living
because you are still breathing and the yearning for your child pulls you apart with unbearable pain. You feel
out of touch with anything that used to be normal. And you are forced to face the fact that death is part of
iii) DEALING WITH THE DEVASTATION
Fortunately, there comes a day when the numbness grows less and gradually you gain control of your
mental processes again and you realise you have not lost your mind. Taking inventory though, you become
aware that you are battle-scared and weary. Your self-image is badly affected. You feel so guilty and
personally responsible for what has happened, a failure as a parent and you do not know how to deal with
these destructive feelings. The human part of me felt rejected. I rebelled and responded with anger as if my
entire worth and self-esteem revolved around my child’s well being. Yet, in spite of the turmoil and
perplexity, deep down, in the middle of the storm there was peace – I still depended on God. When people
comforted me and I saw their tears and anguish on my behalf, I consoled them instead and though it was
impossible for me to pray coherently at that stage the wonderful words of comfort in the Word of God that
was hidden in my heart and in my spirit started flowing out in spite of my brokenness. Suddenly I started
remembering the wonderful words of comfort and I knew that I was not alone, nor was I forsaken. Especially
the words in Isaiah 43:2 and further was of great comfort to me where it says: “When you pass through the
waters I will be with you and when you pass through the rivers they will not sweep over you; when you walk
through the fire you will not be burned … because I love you … Do not be afraid for I am with you…” I
realise today that the support of an everlasting arm was already firmly beneath me and the healing power of
heaven was already at work to sustain me in the bitter pain of the crucible.
iv) THE MIRACLE OF HEALING
I realised that, in a certain sense, I would have to rebuild my personality and I had to decide on what basis to
do that. I have seen people who, after a similar loss, lived out of their grief with such fear of the future and
with so much insecurity and I have seen them harm or destroy the relationships that ought to have been their
support systems in the healing process.
To prevent this I have had to make a couple of tough decisions and come to grips with a few very unpleasant
truths. I watched other people who had suffered loss and decided that I would rather not cling to my grief
and live in perpetual sadness.
Bruce Thompson once said: “Sadness relates to an unresolved love-deficit in your life and you can go on
wearing a garment of mourning and this becomes a tremendous handicap. You can be overwhelmed and
overcome by a spirit of mourning. This is born of a deep-seated feeling of rejection.”
One of the very basic necessities in life is that which we experience in giving and receiving love and much of
our health and well being revolves around this fact. But if in your confusion you fail to realise that the child
you have lost was not the sole recipient of all your love and that he was not the only source of love in your
life, your loved ones who are still with you may feel rejected and come to the conclusion, however
mistakenly, that you loved only that child and that they are of no significance to you whatsoever.
But I thank God this tragedy has brought our family closer together and Lemmer, my husband and Lourens,
my other son held me in their arms and allowed me to weep and we comforted each other without hiding our
feelings. And I am so grateful that I can stand here today as a living testimony to the sustaining grace of
God and that I am able to say that I firmly believe God always answers our prayers in the best way. Not just
sometimes, but always. Not always in the way we have in mind, but according to what He has in mind for us.
And in spite of the devastation, it was possible for us to build a new life on the basis of our stronger faith in
God and to put the pain behind us. Although the memory of that day will always be with us, the sweetness
of the beautiful memories of our son is stronger.
We decided not to live out of the destruction and to redefine many of our naive ideas and vague beliefs and
face the fact that Christians are not unwoundable or exempt from negative emotions and their effects. We
had to take a firm decision to resolutely let go of the pain of the past and deliberately commit ourselves to be
whole and well again and to find a place in the sunshine once more. I had to decide not to be bitter because
I realised if I let bitterness pull me into a hole, I would pull my loved ones with me. And I decided to go on
serving God and to love Him with all my heart and trust Him completely in spite of having received no
answers to my questions and that was one of the best decisions I have ever made. 3
God bless you!