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Never forgotten…

While other moms might be looking forward to a day filled with Mother’s Day spoils, mommy Minette Janse van Rensburg is reminded of the gnawing emptiness that came with the passing of her only son.

No parent is ever prepared for a child’s death. But, when Minette Janse van Rensburg lost her son, Cornel Bekker, around half a decade ago, she had no other option but to make peace with her new reality. Something that still feels rather impossible.

“He was only 18 years old when he, and his best friend Raymond Olivier had suffocated due to carbon monoxide poisoning in their camping tent. My life was turned upside down … parents aren’t supposed to bury their child. So many of the dreams and aspirations I had for my son’s future, were just gone, in an instance.

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“I never got to witness him graduate high school or university, start his first job, get married or have children. He never got to experience the joys and challenges of life.”

And so this mom’s child had taken with him her passions, joys and zest for life. The living room where she once loved to entertain guests had gone quiet, the sewing machine she used to make her own clothes dusty and, Cornel’s favourite dessert never made again.

“As a mother, you develop a certain identity, but when it’s suddenly taken away from you, you ask yourself the question … who am I, without my child? You are forced to start again, from scratch to find yourself, and your place in the world.”

As a clinical psychologist, Minette acknowledges that a mom so desperately wants to cling to that identity. And so a bereaved mommy might tend to continuously relive those memories, since it’s the only place she still gets to be a mother – if she doesn’t have other children, that is.

While she deems it important to honour your child often by delving into your fondest memories of them, she warns that it’s also easy to fade away into the person you once were. Becoming reluctant to grow and move on. Although easier said than done, she encourages mothers in the same shoes to at least try, to still focus on their own healing and growth.

“Even though it’s different when you still have other children, it doesn’t make it hurt less. It’s often compared to a nail being pulled out of your finger. Just because you still have nine fingernails left, doesn’t make it any less painful … and people need to understand that.”

While highlighting the importance of looking after yourself, she adds that, taking the time to rest and recover is an absolute must.

“I remember just staying at home, in my bedroom, for weeks. Which is all right, too. I just wasn’t able to go to work because I was just so exhausted, and couldn’t even think straight. And that’s the thing with feelings. You can’t avoid them … you simply have to sit with them, and let them pass.

“In this time, I also discovered the benefits of the regulated use of anti-depressants. It doesn’t take away the pain, it just takes off the edge. Even if it’s just to help you get out of bed some days. The truth is, you never really heal fully from the death of a child, but you do learn to cope with it better. So, remember to give yourself time, and don’t be too hard on yourself.”

Slowly by surely Minette started using her pain for good. Having always had a passion for children, she opened the Cornel Bekker Self-Development Centre in Krugersdorp for both school-going children and parents wanting to better their parenting techniques.

Another way she fondly honours her son is through a Facebook page dedicated to keeping his legacy alive. She frequently posts pictures and memories of Cornel, and admits that this has helped tremendously with her healing process.

She also had two memorial benches erected … one at the dam where he had died, and another at his favourite holiday destination, which friends and family visit each year on New Years Eve.

“There are many ways to remember our deceased loved ones. But what I found is most important is simply to talk about them. You have to be able to share your thoughts and memories with someone who truly listens. For instance, I will always want to talk about how neat Cornel was, his good manners and how close we were right up until the end.

“I am still so thankful for having had the opportunity to raise a child and give him everything a mother is supposed to give her child. It really was just wonderful. And I wouldn’t have had it any other way.”

Since Mother’s Day can make any bereaved mother feel like her chest’s too heavy to carry, Minette would like to encourage all these mommies to be extra good to themselves on that particular day.

“Do something that’s good for you! If you want to stay in your room and read a book, so be it. If you want to watch a specific film, eat certain foods or visit a certain place, just do it! Just because your child isn’t there anymore, doesn’t make you any less of a mother or less worthy of Mother’s Day spoils. And, if you’re lucky enough to still have children, celebrate the day with them … be present and just appreciate life with them.”

Details: Follow Cornel Bekker Selfontwikkelingsentrum on Facebook.

Special ways to honour your child:
• Set up a memory corner in your home, with pictures and special belongings of your child. You can even add some gifts he or she may have given or made for you. Anything that sparks those cherished memories.
• Get together with family and friends on special days such as their birthday, and enjoy some of their favourite meals. But, remember to keep it personal. For instance, if they enjoyed spending time at a dam, you can make a special floating wreath, and release it on the water.
• Erect a memory bench, if there was a specific place they really enjoyed spending their time. Finish it off with a plaque that includes their names, surnames and a short message.
• Create a social media platform to share photos and memories, and have loved ones share theirs as well.
• Donate a granite slab to your child’s school so that each child’s name who’s passed on can be engraved on it, and remembered by the teachers and learners.
• Talk about your child! When something reminds you of him or her, say it aloud. Ask your friends and family to respect this need, and join in the conversation.
• Light a candle and let their light continue to shine. This can be every day, once a week, month or for every special occasion.

The do’s and don’ts when comforting a grieving parent:

• When visiting, bring something to eat. Even if it’s just a small snack. Serving guests is the last thing on the family’s mind … make it easier for them so they don’t have additional stress to cope with. They might also not be emotionally capable of preparing a meal or completing other household tasks for that matter. Your meal or snack will go a long way!
• Ask questions. Ask about what had happened to the deceased child or family member. Ask how the parents are feeling and what they’re going through. Don’t be scared to talk about these things.
• Really listen. To actively listen, is the biggest gift you can give a grieving mom, or dad.
• Consider gifting the bereaved mom a book about how to deal and cope with a child’s death. But don’t expect her to read it right away. She will open it when she’s ready.
• Say the deceased person’s name. There’s nothing more beautiful for a parent than their son’s or daughter’s name.

• Don’t take over the household. Be mindful of the mourning family’s privacy.
• Don’t talk about your own annoyances, or family members who have passed away.
• Don’t give advice and don’t tell the grieving parents how to mourn. It’s a very personal process and varies from person to person.
• Never tell the parents they have to put the past behind them and move on with on with their lives. You are not in their shoes.


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