Deané de Kock

2 Feb 2021 - 28 Jan 2022

Tonight I am holding my kids a little tighter, cuddling a little longer, watching them a little closer … I fall in love all over again with Mikha’s lashes as she sleeps, memorising the curves of her lips and the shape of her cheek as she lies next to me on the bed. Tonight my kids can do anything they want as long as I can have them with me. It is probably the worst way to parent and I will say no to them next week when they want to eat sweets all day and jump off the roof of the house… but tonight, they get to do whatever they want. I am making play dough for Ziya in three different colours and letting her carry it all over the house. I make her cereal at ungodly hours of the night and I don’t chase her to bed. All because my house is full of laughter and toddler feet and a tiny baby growing in my belly.  

On Wednesday we had walked into the hospital on our way to the maternity ward and was nicely surprised to find Maritza at the reception desk. She had her baby girl with her and admission forms next to the diaper bag on the chair. She was laughing joyfully and joked about how dreadfully unprepared she was for an admission to hospital since she wasn’t packed for an overnight stay. She took Deané to the paediatrician after a bout of diarrhea and had expected to be sent home with some medicine and maybe a followup appointment. Instead the blue eyed baby girl was admitted and the doctor suspected she had Rotavirus and wanted to put her on IV fluids. We sympathised with Maritza about having a sick child and said that she will probably be out of hospital in a day or two as soon as the meds start doing their magic. We worked with their paediatrician regularly and he is an incredibly capable specialist with a brilliant mind and a quick hand. They would be receiving the best care. Before we moved on we chatted casually about my pregnancy and Maritza’s desire for another baby. Getting pregnant with Deané had come at a high price with injections every day and IVF treatments. Having another baby would again put them through the rollercoaster of emotions, injections, hormones, disappointments and doctor’s bills with no guarantee of a positive end result. Charlotte and I walked away to do our job and didn’t think much of the encounter until I received a message 2 days later with an update about Deané. She had tested positive for Adenovirus - which often leads to a cold or other common illnesses in my understanding - but her liver was enlarged and she was transferred to the intensive care unit. An hour later her mother was sent outside - never a good sign. Just after one in the afternoon Deané was put on a ventilator. 10 minutes to ten that night I received a text… Deané had passed away 15 minute earlier. 

My whole being trembled with the terrible news. I pictured Maritza in the hospital first, receiving the devastating news that her baby was gone, crumpling to the floor and screaming hollow cries that echo in the long hallways… I could see her walking into their house in the darkness of the night…Toys and bottles would all over the place. Kids have a way of making themselves seen and felt in smears on the floor and sticky hand prints on the mirror. There are dirty clothes in the laundry bag that still smell like Deané. There are leftover meals in the fridge that she will never finish… and there is a deafening silence where her laugh used to be. Even at my darkest, most fearful imagined moment I still couldn’t skim the surface of the grief she is feeling tonight. No parent wants to imagine the horror of moments like this. It is easier to look away, to not feel the tears or to hear the heartbreak and it is definitely much more comfortable to imagine that such a tragedy would never happen to us. The death of a child is much too close to home for our fragile lives to handle, because secretly we all believe that if we were to be tested in the same way, we woud falter.  

There is no easy way to get through grief, despite all the literature about the different stages of grief: denial… bargaining…. anger… depression… acceptance. It seems so deceivingly simple when it is laid out like a get-rich-quick scheme or a fast fad diet promising magnified results with minimal effort. The reality of grief is so much more messy and murderous to the soul. It doesn’t come in 5 quick successive steps, neatly packaged and presented after pauses for rest in between phases… it comes all at once with overwhelming force and debilitating chaos that knocks you off your feet at your most unprepared moment. It is a tornado of questions with no answers that threaten to leave you sprawled on the floor with no chance of getting up… It leaves you exhausted and unrecognisable to yourself, making your insides feel alien in your skin and your outside a ghostly shell of who you once were. Grief is a black hole in space that sucks everything in until only the darkness remains… no wonder we want to avoid it at all cost… but just like night, is doesn’t last. Even the most starless night has to give way to the dawn of a new day. Winter may freeze everything in it’s path until it seems that everything has withered and died, but Spring is biding its time and in its season winter will lose all its power. 

“Weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning.” Ps 30:5

There is hope, as small as a seed, buried under all the pain.  

I don’t have to plan a funeral this week instead of a first birthday party. I am selfishly grateful that it is not me who has to live tomorrow and the day after that without the baby girl that I had loved and knitted to myself in the last year… I have no idea what is like to have to wait for heaven to see my child again, and I am thankful for it. This is one black hole I want to avoid just like every other parent on this earth, but the events of the last 24 hours have changed everything, even for an outsider like me. I have been shaken to my core and I am looking at my kids with new eyes. 

Charlotte and I cried over warm mugs of coffee early this morning, talking about the depth and width of this family’s grief as we carefully and unsuccessfully attempted to steer clear of comparing it to our own lives and how we would feel if we were in their shoes. Both of us have lost people we loved, but it seems frivolous compared to Maritza’s grief.  

We had a kitchen tea to document and new babies will be born in the coming week. Everywhere life is going on, but their’s came to a screeching halt, the momentrum ripping the fabric of their lives to pieces.  

We will stand in theatre to document the first breath of several newborn babies this week, photographing the tears and excitement of their parents as they meet their baby for the first time - just like we did at Deané’s birth less than a year ago. Meanwhile her family will pick flowers for the funeral as they say goodbye.

Both my dad and my father-in-law are pastors and I attended an unknown number of funerals throughout my life. A passage I have heard over and over again at these funerals come from 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 where it says:

“we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope.  For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him.” It continues on saying that we will be reunited with our loved ones at the the return of Jesus and how that will look. 

Right there a tiny root grows from the seed of hope buried under the pain.  

A friend of mine lost her little girl many years ago and I remember the family crying together in my living room, huddled over a box of tissues as they missed their daughter and sister. They poured over photos of her and grieved, but they didn’t despair as I have seen others do. They were hurting but they had hope. Paul, my friend’s husband, said that he imagined her finding all kinds of hiding places in heaven since she loved playing hide and seek. Heaven is suddenly a real place when you know someone there.

We always say we believe in Jesus and in heaven and we steer our lives according to our beliefs, but those beliefs suddenly come into focus when we stand in a hospital hall, hearing the whaling cries of a mother with empty arms. It is even more tested when I am that mother. I have seen friends have an other-worldly peace about them during times like this… I expected them to fall apart, never to recover - maybe like I believe I would if I was in their shoes - only to see them rise from the ashes in beautiful strength and courage, facing the world bravely with their loss. I admire them. They have loved and lost and they lived through it. They are battered and scarred and their emotional skin has third degree burns, but they are still alive and in time they laugh again. The winter thaws and melts into spring and although the landscape of their life has changed, it is beautiful to see the sprouts of hope and joy as it bursts through the snow until it fills their life again with the smells of flowers, the sounds of new life and hope of a better tomorrow.  

Maritza will have her daughter’s birthday funeral this week, celebrating her short life and mourning their loss. She will wash laundry and fold the tiny clothes, not knowing what to do with them. She will cry over baby formula and leftover meals, hold soft toys to her chest and smell the pillow that has the last scents of her baby girl. It will be a hard week… it will be a hard year… but it will bloom again into something beautiful, because she has the hope that comes with faith. I don’t know how to help her through this. I am not sure I really can do anything that will make this better. I am faced with my own fears when I fly too close to her grief, but I know this, if I were in her shoes I would not want my friends to look away because they didn’t know what to say. I would prefer having people say all the wrong things but still be there. The silence in the house is loud enough, we don’t need it in our friends as well. So I will cry with her and sit with her… and then we will wait for Spring.  

Until our next adventure - we will miss you Deané


Charlotte and Lizelle