09 September 2015

The World Keeps Turning

Waking up sucks so bad but at least I had a massage booked for 9am. My body is wracked with pain and that really is not cool when your heart is messed up too.

I cried my way through the massage. Thankfully my therapist is a very good friend and she just creates a safe space for me to come undone. My weekly massages may well be the key to a slow, gentle re-entry into my new life.

Aware that my day was going to hold many administrative challenges I decided to swallow my pride….and a tranquilizer ….. to get me through the horrors of red tape, long queues and 0860 phone calls. Phone calls that have me telling my sad story to people who don't actually care but have to tell you how sorry they are. And I have to be nice and say thank you for telling me how sorry you are.

Going out is still uber tough for me. It literally feels like I am walking around without skin on my body. I feel utterly raw, exposed and completely vulnerable. Simple things like noise, wind, voices or a stranger bumping into me causes a startlingly painful physical reaction. I know it sounds weird. In fact I googled it in case I was going nuts but apparently I still fall into the category of  'normal grief sufferer'. Normal is good. For now.

I started with a trip to the police station to get an affidavit to prove my residential address because I have nothing in my name and we all know how bloody fun FICA is nowadays.

Next up was the queue at the licensing department to renew my car license. Thankfully that went smoothly.

I then rushed to meet with my broker to discuss my financial future; true to form Russell took care of every detail and now it is up to me to take all the wisdom he shared with me over the years and make wise decisions for our tribe. This is a scary thing for a girl who never even had to check her own oil and water but he knew I could do it.

Tomorrow I will recover from today but still remembering that despite all the obstacles I got shit done. Yay me.

08 September 2015


People have been telling me for months how brave and amazing I am. This has never sat well with me. My retort was, without fail : ' I don't have a choice!'

I have come to believe that I was wrong about that statement. I did, I do have a choice. Each and every day I have a choice in how I approach what has unfolded in our lives.

I was running with a friend a couple of days ago and she was so upset by our circumstances and just venting about how messed up it all is. I agree. It is bloody messed up but in that moment I knew that I had to find meaning in all of this suffering. The alternative is not an option.

I have begun to read and research (as I do....!) the enigma that is grief, suffering and loss. The more I read the more I KNOW that there is a way to grow through this and not live in a place of bitterness and pain.

“I don't hold to the idea that God causes suffering and crisis. I just know that those things come along and God uses them. We think life should be a nice, clean ascending line. But inevitably something wanders onto the scene and creates havoc with the nice way we've arranged life to fall in place.”
Sue Monk Kidd (When the Heart Waits)

“In the secular view, suffering is never seen as a meaningful part of life but only as an interruption.” 

“Christianity teaches that, contra fatalism, suffering is overwhelming; contra Buddhism, suffering is real; contra karma, suffering is often unfair; but contra secularism, suffering is meaningful. There is a purpose to it, and if faced rightly, it can drive us like a nail deep into the love of God and into more stability and spiritual power than you can imagine.” 
Tim Keller (Walking with God through Pain and Suffering)

"...there is no map for the landscape of loss, no established itinerary, no cosmic checklist, where each item ticked off gets you closer to success. You cannot succeed in mourning your loved ones. You cannot fail. Nor is grief a malady, like the flu. You will not get over it. You will only come to integrate your loss,....... The death of a beloved is an amputation. You find a new center of gravity, but the limb does not grow back.  When someone you love very much dies, the sky falls. And so you walk around under a fallen sky."

"Tragedy and trauma are not guarantees for a transformational spiritual experience," writes Mirabai Starr, "but they are opportunities. They are invitations to sit in the fire and allow it to transfigure us."
Mirabai Starr (Caravan of No Despair)

Let me be clear. I don't want to sit in this fire and be transformed. I don't want to do the work with myself, with my kids.  I want Russell back here, next to me, to live out our golden years but that is not an option anymore. 

So I choose to find the best way forward. If not only for myself then for Russell to whom I made a promise. 

A promise to continue the amazing work he started in the lives of our family; a promise to use our story to encourage and inspire others to begin to see the eternal nature of our lives. 

A promise to never, ever give up.

06 September 2015

Beware the flares

I took the kids to the mall this morning. This is akin to me running a half marathon.
This simple act requires determination and a fitness of mind that defies description.
I took time deliberately to get dressed properly - each moment carefully and purposefully executed.

1. find your jeans Mel. find jeans that actually fit properly.
2. find a shirt, feel the fabric, tell yourself what that fabric feels like. breathe
3. shoes. you need shoes. not any shoes. find cool shoes. like your converse.
4. brush your hair. brush your teeth. at least attempt to fix your face and hide the dark circles.
5. breathe.
6. dont cry.
7. you CAN do this.

I took the kids to breakfast at the Mugg and Bean. A simple act that almost had me completely undone as I noticed that we now fitted a standard table for four. No more dragging an extra chair.

That. THAT is now my life. Moments that completely explode before me without any warning. Moments that have the potential to destroy me.

I did not cry. I did not even let my kids see the flare that ripped my heart in two.

I had breakfast. Or rather they had breakfast, I had coffee.

And they squabbled and I moaned at them.


It carries on regardless of the fact that on the inside I have already died just a little bit.

10 August 2015

Live Well ~ Die Well

Yesterday was horrific. Russ refused to eat, drink, get out of bed or communicate.  I cried most of the day.

This morning as I turned over in our bed, my heart in my throat, I found him awake and alert.

I could sense today was not going to be an ordinary day. I was right.

'Babe I am so sorry about yesterday. I just checked out. 
I may be sinking into depression. I am just so tired. I don't know if I can do this.
I am so sorry.'

Instant tears leapt from my eyes as I saw my once strong man, now bedridden, crumble in agony at his admission. I took his hand, reminded him of our conversation three months ago, where we agreed that when he felt his fight was over that it would be OKAY.

The assurance fell from my lips as I promised that, until his last breath, I would fight on his behalf. The rest of us will fight but he does not have to live up to our expectations. He can rest in the freedom of knowing others have got his back.

He reached across and wiped the tears from my face and said the words that tore my heart in two.

'But I don't want to leave you.'

I reminded him, come what may, I will see him again soon. We will run those perfect trails in the New Earth. The ones where I won't get tired or be scared of snakes. We would be together again. No pain, no suffering and no running injuries!

And he smiled.

I promised him I would take care of our kids,  I would make sure his legacy was tangible every single day of our lives. I promised him that while we hold our faith firmly until the end we can still plan for a glorious exit.

There will be no defeat in this thing we call death but only unexpected victory.

08 August 2015

The Bottom Line

It has been four months.

Four months of unabated hardship.  (woe is me)
There have been silver linings;
moments of sweetness but only because we have truly sought them. If I look back, in wordly terms, we have had a pretty kak time.

At every turn worst case scenario has bitten us.  I cannot tell you how many times I have heard a doctor say these words in the last few months; in a variety of contexts :

"Unfortunately this can happen, it's unusual but it can happen. I am so sorry."

I have long ago given up asking the infuriating WHY question. All this did was make me angry, bitter, confused and ultimately completely unsatisfied. I have simply had to settle for the HOW.

How do I get up today?
How do I make it through this hour? 
How do I know if this pain will ever stop?
How do I make sure I survive and am enough to take care of the emotional needs of my kids?
How do I tackle the horrors of admin, banks, lawyers, home affairs and SARS in the face of death?
How do I care for myself, my man and my kids?
How do I reconcile my future to what I have known in the past?
How do I make it through the night listening to his laboured breathing without screaming in anguish?
How do I live another day with the knowledge that my person is leaving me? 
How do I deal with the fact that grieving is already a daily occurrence and yet there is still so much more to come?

I have seen so much in the last four months. Scripture, inspirational quotes, learned people, youtube clips, testimonies, books.... so much  has found its way into my orbit but ultimately the answer to life is not very complicated. In fact it is very, very simple.

Life is hard. Accept that you have no control. Surrender. Now go get on with it.

29 July 2015

Trusting aint for Sissies

God and I have always had an issue with the concept of trust.
I am not secure that His plans are better than mine.
The latest turn of events have pretty much made my case.

Russ and I have plans. We have amazing, long-held plans that were about to be executed in June. We have worked towards this goal for many years. We were waiting for Levi to be 9.  We are poised; the kids all happily home-schooled. Russ with plenty of contract work available overseas. Many other little things all PERFECTLY lined up for our PERFECT plan to work/travel for 2 years abroad and show our kids the world.

And then everything in our world just went bat-shit crazy.

What kind of a God thinks this plan is superior to ours?
Particularly a God that claims to love us and to be able to FIX stuff like this in a heartbeat?
Bloody hell, it's a bitter pill to swallow.

I have 30 years of history with Jesus. I know that even as I type this He is still in control.
I know that I can trust Him. I know that even though I am so angry, sad, heartbroken, disappointed and utterly devastated that one day this will make sense. That our time here is just a nanosecond in the face of eternity


I have kids who do not have the security of a long history with Christ. I have kids who are looking to me; watching me and taking their lead from my behaviour in this situation. (which has been a bit all over the place)

I have had to try to communicate to the kids that our faith is in God. Our faith is not only in His ability to heal. Our faith has to be in the God that can heal but perhaps, for reasons we cannot grasp, will not heal Russell.

How can I impart this to my children when I am still wrestling with it myself?

All I know is that we have today.

I have to take the opportunities as they arise and trust for the right words at the right time.

25 July 2015

Chased by Grace?

Chased by grace. That phrase found me early in this messy journey.

Frankly the last few weeks have felt utterly graceless. I have felt abandoned, betrayed and pissed off but that will have to be a story for another day.

Instead I will write about today.

Russell is pretty much bedridden, although, with some help, he can do the basics. He sleeps most of the day. Apart from that he chills in bed and occasionally parks off in a chair in our room. We chat when he is up to it. We don't stare longingly into each others eyes, sobbing over our situation. We tend to shoot the breeze and we laugh over dumb things. He doesn't read or watch tv. Going downstairs is a chore and it's way too noisy and chaotic.

I share this randomness with you so you can understand the following conversation I had with him today. (bear in mind I haven't been anywhere with my kids in weeks)

Me: Babe, I am going to take the kids out to lunch okay? My mom is here if you need her.
Him : Wait! Let me come with you.
Me: (raised eyebrow) Dude. Seriously? If you can make it up and dressed I can take you along for sure....But seriously?
Him: Huh? You mean I cant come?
Me: Babe! You are too weak, I cant possibly take you to the mall!
Him : (with a lopsided grin) Well, that's a bit disastrous isn't it!?

And then he dropped off back to sleep.

This is a true story. And there are quite a few more stories like this that many members of my family can attest to. I could be alarmed, disturbed and a bit freaked out but I have chosen to look at these exchanges and see a real blessing in them.

1. Russell is not experiencing any pain whatsoever.
2. Even though his condition is worsening in terms of weakness and lucidity he is completely upbeat and amusing when he is lucid. He speaks of the future and is seemingly unaware of the gravity of the situation.

A few weeks back, while he was in hospital having a transfusion, we cleared the decks. We spoke of our lives together, our mistakes and our hopes.

We spoke of our kids; we said all we needed to say. We did it in a time of strength; when it was easy and eternity wasn't knocking too hard. I am forever grateful for that day. I do not need to say anything more. He does not need to say anything more.

Sometimes grace displays itself in the most unlikely ways.

Seeing my husband gently slip away pain-free and positive is grace personified.

10 June 2015


Two-fer (twofer, two fer, 2-fer, etc.) is short for "two for one." It can refer to: Buy one, get one free, a discount sales promotion offering two items for the price ...

Today can only be described as a 'twofer'.

Russ has had a very rough week but yesterday saw him far more clear-headed and able to eat. He managed to take a short walk into the garden and made a few business calls. Great. Really good.

We had every confidence that this morning he would be even stronger. Today we faced a long car ride to Plattekloof to see Dr Spies for a 2 hour intensive assessment. The ride was uneventful; no traffic and Russ felt fine.

The appointment was inspiring, educational - everything we could have hoped for short of 'the magic bullet'.

The journey home was not good. Russ became increasingly nauseous and uncomfortable. I had to pull over and the unfolding events were traumatic and left us both panicked and fearful. Thankfully I was only 10 minutes from home at the time.

The afternoon was awful for him. Awful for us to see him struggle.

Tears. Our tears, the kids tears. My folks and the tribe all gathered to pray for him.

My prayers - messy, desparate and mildly rebellious.

My mom's prayer - strong and searching.

There was tenderness in the trauma.

Within minutes Russ was relieved of his pain. His vomiting stopped. His nausea dissipated. By this evening he was animated and 'eating like a bird' but eating something nonetheless.

And so the ride continues.

Up and down.

Joy and sorrow.

Two sides of the same coin.


02 June 2015

The Real Deal

Things became very messy on a recent car trip. Or just very real.

The kids and I were on our way to the hospital to see Russell last week. There was some Christian cd playing and the lyrics (that normally are so encouraging and faith-building) just set my brain on FIRE. And not in a good way.

I turned the music off and began a rant of note at God. Seriously, He and I had words. Serious words. No holding back from my side whatsoever. Tired, I was. Tired of all the platitudes and endless songs full of hope, joy, mercy and unfailing love.

My three kids sat in stunned silence. I turned the music back on and carried on driving. Within seconds I was compelled to turn it off once again.

'Any of you kids have anything you would like to say to God right about now?'


'You sure? He knows what you're thinking anyway.'

*shaking of heads*


I reach to turn the music back on.

'Wait! I have something to stay to Him!'

'Sure, buddy - go ahead - say what you feel.'

"Stop it!"
"Is this what we deserve?"

I did not even try to answer any of his questions.

This is my son who I catch with silent tears running down his cheeks.
My son who will not allow me to hold him when he is sad.
My son who insists he is FINE when he is hurting.

Finally he is opening up his heart to me and to God to ask these hard questions. He didn't even need me to answer them.

He just needed to vent to the only One who can graciously take our pain and give us the strength to keep going regardless of whether we ever find the answers.

31 May 2015

How are YOU doing?

So many have asked me this question.  I don't have the answer. Examining my feelings is really not helpful to me at all. I just allow them to happen to me which means I cry in public places nowadays.

This is not a 'ra-ra' victory post about how everything happens for a reason....or about how this is such a growth experience for us.... or any of those (possibly true) pontifications.

Millions of people are in my position. I am not alone or unique in my pain but somehow that fails to comfort me in any way whatsoever.

Faith summed it up recently:

'It is like my heart opened one day and all the light, love and joy walked out and now it is full of pain, darkness and despair.'

I have to agree....I liken it to a slow bleed. I can only pray that it stops before it completely destroys me.

This will eventually end and perhaps I will find joy and happiness again one day but until then I have to work extremely hard to cultivate those moments and even harder to keep fear and despair firmly at bay.

I am extremely mindful of and grateful for, unending support from my family, my friends and my community. There is no end to my gratitude to those who so selflessly give to us in our time of need in so many areas.

12 May 2015

How are the kids doing?

This is a question I have been asked countless times. The answer is not an easy one as each child responds completely differently in such traumatic circumstances.

Telling the children was the single most painful experience of my life.

Our prayer has always been that God would place an age-appropriate veil over each of the kids hearts and minds, that they would only hear and absorb what was necessary in that moment. Each of the kids have had conversations with me (and shed many tears) that show they have faced their worse fears.  They are aware of the severity of the situation but they understand that we hold a hope and a real faith that Russell will be restored.

 We have been learning TOGETHER, as a family, to live in a place of uncertainty.

 Initially we all almost suffocated within the confines of our fear and pain but TOGETHER we are making small inroads .... Knitting uncertainty, gratitude and intentionality into the fabric of our lives.

This conversation between myself and Rachel sums up how the kids are doing:

Rachel: Mom! The songwriting workshop is amazing! I loved every minute of it even though it was a bit like a therapy session.

Me: What? What do you mean?

Rach: Well, part of writing songs is learning to tap into your own emotions so we did that and lots of the kids shared stuff that's happening in their lives. It was pretty hectic - everyone cried!

Me : Did you share your story at all?

Rach : Nope. But their stories were far worse.

Me: (gobsmacked) Really?? Can you tell me anything?

She proceeds to tell me stories of divorce, bad child/parent relationships , blended families etc

Rach : Our story is pretty sad Mom, but at least we all in it TOGETHER.

Thankfully I was wearing large dark glasses  as I could barely see through the tears as I marvelled at the miracle of these words of wisdom from our brave, courageous

10 May 2015

Take Me Back to Egypt

*Chemo weekends suck eggs.

Seeing Russell literally devoid of all energy for 3-4 days has taken some adjustment.
The first time it happened I fell apart. This weekend I fell apart a tiny bit less.

I have to confess to having some intense moments of self pity this past week.

It's not fair!
How can this happen?
In my head I know that cancer does not play favourites. It has no demographic but SERIOUSLY?
And then the lights went out. Loadshedding. We were all sitting in the lounge, subdued and heavy-hearted.  I found myself reaching for a book called The Story by Max Lucado. I purchased it a year ago and it has been sitting neatly on our school shelf, untouched.
We read, by torchlight, for two hours. We covered Moses' birth until he took the moaning, ungrateful Israelites out of Egypt. We read about the incredible way  God provided and cared for his people and yet they STILL wanted to go back to Egypt where they lived as slaves.
Faith was horrified that the Israelites could be so faithless; how they could not see that God had rescued them and that he daily provided their immediate needs; that He had a great plan for them.
It hit me right between the eyes.
I am a miserable Israelite.

Yes, my life **BC was pretty incredible but now I am in the desert. I cannot change this but I can choose my response to the experience.

Our faith is being tested in unimaginable ways;  it is really easy to be a Christ-follower when life is dandy and your biggest problem is where to go on holiday.  Facing a future where you cant even plan a holiday takes a special kind of courage - one that comes from a special kind of faith.
I am not going to lie. Egypt still looks pretty damn good to me but I have to confess that in our desert ramblings God has been faithful each day. 
The 'each day' bit is crucial to this plot. I have explicit instructions to not look at tomorrow or next week or next month. Consequences of my trying to look further ahead involve me coming apart at the core of my being.
Instead we attempt to look at today; to trust for financial, emotional and physical provision and He has not failed us.
It is important to note that I am NOT saying God made Russell sick to teach us some great, spiritual lesson. I don't understand it - all I know is that bad stuff happens in this world but God is good.
*Weekend after chemo
**Before Cancer

05 May 2015

A Jarring Return

Here I am 7 months later and our lives are  looking very different. I once again have to write, to process and ultimately share our everyday life which is now anything but ordinary.

Russell was diagnosed with cancer a month ago. A shocking diagnosis that has left us breathless.
In an instant our world has changed forever.

My immediate instinct was to batten our hatches and keep everything close to home. I did not want to see  or talk to anyone. Ever again. I had my immediate family and some very close friends who were my safe space and they sheltered me from the world. Questions flooded my phone, each one piercing my  broken heart as I had to relive the horror of our situation. Ultimately my sister set up a fb page and whatsapp group for us to post relevant updates.

Little by little I felt God breaking down my defences and preparing me to share our story. Initially I felt sick at the thought - sharing our struggles and pain felt indulgent and garish. I did not ever want to be perceived as a victim. I did  not want to become the poster child for inspiring people. I just want to be Mel. I know the real me; I am not brave and courageous. I am scared all the time.

But herein lies the secret -  the Person in whom I have faith makes me look good. In my weakness He makes me strong.

He is where I take my pain and my fear.

I trust Him.

I have relented.

I will write.

22 October 2014


Rachel's hair has become a separate person in this house. It has a personality all of its own. It is making us poor trying to find out exactly what it needs to keep it from running a-mock!

I have great sympathy for her as I have never had tricky hair. It has always been a wash 'n wear affair for me. To see her constant battle (and often MY BATTLE!) has been quite a journey.

From time to time I have been taking her to the salon to have it professionally blown out - it lasts beautifully for a week. More recently I have become aware that my bank balance is not going to support this luxury which means I need to add 'professional blowdryer' to my portfolio.

It took me a good hour to get her hair to look like this. It is by NO MEANS perfection but it was free! We will trundle along but one day she is going to have to learn to do this herself as I think this luxurious, untamed head of curls is here to stay!

Talking about hair --- I did have some fun with Faiths this week -- doing a sideways wrap around the head vibe plait. Pretty advanced for someone like me who is still challenged by a french braid!

Levi. No hair issues there so lets take a look at his warrior project instead. He worked diligently on this project and watched the full Shaka series on Youtube.

He also read many books on different warriors before choosing the three he wanted to showcase.

 It is his first completed project since being at home and he is very proud of the work he did!

21 October 2014

A month in races

The past four weeks have seen Russ and I do races every Sunday. Not something we have done since the Summer Trail Series in early 2013. A while ago I felt I needed to give my running a Vit B jab. I was feeling blah and bored and unmotivated. I knew I had to do something drastic. I sat down one quiet Sunday afternoon and logged onto the Runners World calendar. I booked 6 races there and then. Boom.

To be honest I didn't think we would do them all! I felt pretty sure I would have bailed on at least one by now …..this past Sunday was a close call. After a month of 0530 Sunday rises I really felt entitled to sleep in …and the howling gale outside seemed to agree with me. Luckily I have a secret weapon….Russell! He relentlessly gets me up and out the door as he knows full well I will thank him later.

Below are the four races we have done to date. The Chappies Challenge was my favourite by far - the scenery and my time were both largely to blame for topping my fav list. A close second was the 14k trail run purely because I LOVE offroad running and I did enjoy the less frenetic pace. Trail 'racing' is never really a race - not to me anyway.

The Gun Run was okay, I ran this one alone (wanted Russ to be able to run his own race for a change!) I became bored and annoyed. I think I started too fast and a stitch plagued me from 6kms which really hacked me off. To add insult to injury Russ somehow missed my finish, despite coming in 10 minutes before me! We ended up searching for one another for ages in the 8000 strong crowd. (he refuses to run with a phone)

The Cape Town Peace run was really well organized and a great race but it was my first race in a long time and I had some teething issues. The most revolting being I thought the finish was within 500m so did my thing of going 'balls to the wall' only to realize that I still had a kilometre to go. I was not amused. :-/

I have never been a fan of 10k races, always felt it is a bit of a waste of time, energy and money to get up and race only 10kms but I have since changed my mind. Racing is fun, its social and it keeps you motivated. Ten kilometers is an easy distance, not real need to do extra training or to get stressed if you get sick and miss a week. It is the kind of distance you can just run and enjoy anytime. I will certainly do more 21's in the future but for right now I am happy to throw down 10-15k and just have fun!

We have found this time really special - this thing that we do together. Despite Russ being away from home regularly we know that Sundays we spend together doing something we both love. There is simple ceremony in doing these races together from the way we get ready, to the run to post run celebrations and recovery.

I am thankful for the kids that are so accommodating. They stay home and potter on until we get home. They allow us the time and have not once complained.

Our next race is a family run and I am really looking forward to all five of us getting out there again.