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Beware How You Break the News of a Family Death to a Child

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When I was little, May 31 was a nationwide holiday in South Africa, and a great day for all manner of sports. On one fateful day – soon after I had turned six – my sister, 10 years older than I, went down to the high school to play netball, and I was taken to my school in order to participate in running, sack races, and other competitions there, before my father (considered quite a hotshot golfer and expected to win the “Hine” cup for the second time that day) went off to the golf course. I would actually have preferred to have gone with him, because I had my own little golf bag and clubs, and had frequently been taken with him to practice the “rudiments,” but this was a day for “serious” golf!

The sports were fun, though. I won two races (but was disgusted when I was awarded a measly box of embroidered handkerchiefs for each!) and all too soon it was time to go home, which meant just crossing the street.

As I opened our front gate I subconsciously noted the unusual number of cars parked in front of it; yet, strangely, upon entering the otherwise silent house, I was able to hear the sound of a kettle boiling as I approached the kitche, which was strange because judging by the cars outside, there must have been quite a number of people in the house. What was more surprising was that my sister, already home, came to meet me in the passage with a finger to her lips as though to warn me against being too boisterous. That was the day I first heard the expression “Heart attack!”

Two nights later I was rudely woken by our next door neighbor who, after turning on the light, came and sat down on my bed and said in a solemn voice, “Marie, your daddy has gone on long journey.”

The Onset of Paranoia

Would that well-meaning woman ever know how she all but ruined my life? I was accustomed to my father having to go away on “long journeys,” but then he always came back! The mental agony stemming from the fact that this time he did not intend to do so virtually crippled me psychologically. “He doesn’t love us any more!” was my immediate conclusion, and from that day I dreaded anyone I loved going too far away from me, in case he or she did not return.

Many years later, having fallen in love and married, I felt always the apprehension – nay, terror – when my husband was out of my sight, that he would not come home; and as he worked for an airline and had to go on frequent trips, my paranoia inevitably affected my children. We lived close enough to the airport to hear the welcome sound of the engines after deployment of the “reverse thrust,” as returning aircraft landed; and if my husband was expected home, anyone who was with me and knew me well would inevitably say to me, “It’s okay… Now you can breathe again!”

Growing Contempt for Golf and Golfers

Blessedly my husband’s forte was swimming, which meant that I could go with him to watch. Strangely I did not mind his playing tennis, either. Tennis was safe – but GOLF KILLED PEOPLE! I played in his dance band with him for 30 years, which was good because from my seat at the piano I could watch and see that no harm came to him (and his fans did not get too close!). However there still remained the problem of the frequent flights.

But No One Lives Forever

No matter how badly I wanted him to live forever, or how hard I tried to help him fight a genetic disorder called hemochromatosis, the day came when I had to face the fact that the time had come to let go; nothing could save him. He was ready to go, and I became a housebound semi-invalid with nothing to do but write stories and watch television.

In time, I moved close to Vancouver, where I somehow became such an ardent ice hockey fan that some of my very amused friends clubbed together and bought me a Canucks jersey. Watching hockey soon became such an integral part of my daily routine that, while knowing full well that the season had ended, I still scrolled all the way down my TV directory on a regular basis, in the vain hope of seeing the familiar emerald-green area that denoted “Sport” among the list of programs – hoping for news of “my” team.

Such is Life!

Then, one day, I had no sooner tuned in when my attention was caught by the voice of golfer Ernie Els, who spoke with the same accent as my own, and ironically it transpired that I had somehow tuned in to GOLF! (“Ernie” Els is a South African golfer who has been one of the top professional players in the world since the mid-1990s.)

Instantly I was mesmerized and I could not even blink my eyes for fear of missing a second of the game. Memories of happy days spent following my father swept over me; I could still interpret the terminology as though the clock had been turned back; and now, following the Masters ranks high among my favorite pastimes!

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About Marie Warder

Born in South Africa, became a journalist and later trained as a teacher before establishing my own school - "Windsor House Academy, of which I remained the principal until I emigrated to Canada. Love to write, and have published 27 books. Played the piano in my husband's dance band for 33years. Founder and President Emerita of the the Canadian, South African and in International Association of Hemochromatosis Societies, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marie_Warder
  • Gillian Marsh

    Having read every book this writer has published, and, more than once, “The Bronze “Killer” for which she was awarded a Medal of Honor and a Lifetime Achievement award, I think I have come to know a bit about her background. I also enjoy her articles and I am always pleased to see a new one on the list; but I must confess that I can hardly use the word “enjoy” in connection with this one.
    What I would rather use to describe it is: “Thought-provoking.” It made me wonder to what extent my own childhood experiences have molded me, and how careful one has to be about saying or doing anything to a child. What also came to me was a comforting thought that God somehow puts things right in the end.
    At the same time I smiled at the picture of a elderly South African lady in a Canadian Canucks jersey, and I wish her many happy hours of watching both hockey — and golf!

  • Marie Warder

    Thank you for your comment. I certainly isn’t the most glowing I have ever received, but it taught me a lesson: “Don’t write when you’re sick or down-in-the-dumps!”
    However, your closing statement gave me a good laugh and cheered me immensely!

  • Val Armstrong

    I am also a Canucks fan (a fanatic, in fact — but I had to buy my own jersey!) Strangely I am also watching golf now, and am a great admirer of Ernie Els.No wonder he is known as the “Big Easy!”

  • Marie Warder

    Needless to say, I am delighted that Ernie won the British Open today. And you may be sure that I did a lot of praying!
    a few seconds ago · Like

  • Janet Dent

    Marie what an interesting story.I enjoyed it very much.It made me think about my own experiences consering death,and explaining painful occurances to my own children.I think you make a great canucks fan too.