WATERBOY DEALS WITH A MOTHER’S LOSS OF A SON WHO COULDN’T HOLD ON TO A MEANINGFUL LIFE

One reads books for different reasons and mostly these are very personal and deal with taste, where you are at that specific time or how you wish to engage with the world. Glynis Horning’s heart wrenching lament dealing with the suicide of her eldest son is one that caught my attention, because I knew what the quality of the writing would be and while this would not be easy to read, it would contribute to life’s lessons learnt, which makes us grow.  ̶  DIANE DE BEER

Waterboy  ̶   Making sense of my son’s suicide by Glynis Horning (Bookstorm):

Perhaps it doesn’t make sense that I asked to read this book because I don’t have any children of my own.

But I have been a fan of Glynis Horning’s writing for a long time. We were young journalists together, she in Durban and I in Pretoria and I’m not even sure we met. I think so and that that’s where my interest began.

I have always know she is an amazing writer and this is what prompted me to request this book for reviewing. That and possibly also because I have read previous memoirs in honour of lost loved ones that have left their mark. Perhaps the most obvious is Joan Didion’s lament when her husband and daughter died in short succession.

And while Horning’s loss is still recent, the two-year mark looming (which, some note, brings some relief), the rawness of her grief, the way she tries to keep afloat amidst the lives that haven’t stopped, is quite breath-taking.

It felt throughout the read that I was holding my breath for some kind of revelation, some message of redemption for those left behind.

I have always felt that the worst loss must be for parents who lose their children  ̶  even without having my own. It just seems to hold such a darkness that descends on parents and siblings when that happens. And then for it to be suicide just seems so devastating.

That’s why I could understand Horning’s search for some kind of truth with her attempts to hold on to her precious boy. What could she have done? What signs did she miss? Can she bring him back or turn back that clock?

At the time when both my parents were at that stage where I knew we wouldn’t have them for much longer, Rachelle Greeff wrote a play titled Die Naaimasjien. In that she  writes: “Die dood is soos iemand wat sy rug op jou draai.” (Death is like someone turning his back on you). And because I felt directly impacted by what was going to happen, it was as if she had captured the inevitable permanence when someone dies so majestically.

Even the image of someone disappearing into the distance is captured in that poetic yet painful phrase.

That is what is captured so hauntingly in Horning’s search for something she knows is not attainable – ever again. And even though she hasn’t yet reached that point where one feels she is moving on, she is changed and more in control of her emotions. I felt it is in the writing that she has found an escape, an unravelling, a making sense and perhaps a sharing with both her closest and even those of us who in different circumstances might have to deal with something that feels as if it has ripped the life out of you.

Being the journalist she is, she methodically works her way through this difficult time  ̶  and then of course Covid-19 leaps into our lives ripping the rest of the world apart. Perhaps through doing her work as a journalist  ̶  editing and writing   ̶   which didn’t let up during even the beginning of mourning, she found a way to make her expertise (as one of our top health journalists) work for her.

She knew how to do research, which roads to travel and how to find specialists to explain the inexplicable to help her struggle her way through something she didn’t have a roadmap for. Life is like that. It constantly challenges you both in the worst and best ways and you’re not always able to pick and choose. It often seems random and what you make of it is what determines your life.

But because of who she is, she has resilience but also a fighting circle of people around her to help keep her upright. Her husband and second son have their own battles and the three of them worked together and apart to deal with their own grief. There’s also a triage of lifelong friends who simply never let go of their friend, offering constant comfort. And just being there.

Their words of wisdom, chatter and intimate knowledge of their friend allowed them to be constant warriors in this raging personal war. They were not going to allow her to slip away.

There are many reasons to read this book. Many people feel Covid is just about all we can deal with in this time. The rest should all be slightly mindless and happy, and certainly we need loads of that.

But what a book like this of Horning’s shows, even to someone who doesn’t have similar circumstances, is just what being human really means. How we all fall apart at times, overwhelmed by what life has dealt us unexpectedly. But that there’s always a way out, a light that shines somewhere down the road, something to look forward to, other people who need to hold your hand or rely on you for your particular guidance.

Horning keeps the memory of her lost boy alive with the extraordinary memory of a life lived, sometimes excruciatingly, and shows how we can never judge the lives of others. This allows every reader to walk, if even for a few seconds, in those shoes. If this doesn’t encourage empathy in a world that is more difficult to navigate for some than for others, nothing will.

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