Sun | Oct 17, 2021

Michael Abrahams | Burying your child

Published:Monday | January 21, 2019 | 12:00 AM

Among the educators who have taught my daughter, both at preparatory and at high-school levels, Catherine* is one of my favourites. In addition to teaching her at a formal educational institution, she also taught her extra lessons when she was in fourth form and did a great job. 

But Catherine did not just teach my daughter, she took an interest in her well-being, too. I would take my daughter to her home for classes, initially in a group setting, but later for one-on-one tutoring. Sometimes after class, she would voice concerns about my firstborn, such as children she perceived to be negative influences on her at school.

Catherine also had two daughters of her own. One in the grade below my daughter, attending the same school, the other older and married. We all became friends, with her older daughter becoming my patient as well.

On Wednesday evening, I received a call from Catherine. I had not heard from her for several months and was glad to hear her voice, as usual. “Catherine! I’m so happy to hear from you. How are you?” I excitedly enquired. She replied sombrely, “Not good. My baby is brain-dead.” 

She explained that her younger daughter, 19 years of age, fell ill three days earlier, and that her condition deteriorated, and she was now in the intensive care unit of a hospital: brain-dead. In other words, her heart was beating, albeit weakly, but there was complete loss of brain function - an irreversible condition. 

Her comment caught my totally off-guard, and there was a subsequent moment of silence. I did not know what to say. I was numb. I told her that I was sorry to hear and asked her to keep in touch and inform me of further developments. 

About 6 o’clock the following morning, as I was preparing to go to work, my phone rang. I looked at the screen. It was Catherine. I knew what she was going to tell me, that she now had one fewer child. And I was right. The numbness returned.

I am a parent, the father of a daughter and two sons. I love my children, and they know it. I do not fear death, but the mere thought of having to bury any of my children distresses me greatly. It is one of the few fears I have. 

We expect to our children to outlive us, not the other way around. We often make remarks to our children such as “When I die …” or “When I am gone …”, not realising that they may very well leave the planet before we do.

For those of us who have children, it is important to spend as much quality time with them as we can. We must not only love them, but tell them and show it by our actions. We must affirm them and hug them and show them affection. They need it in order to thrive. When they grow up, of if they die, you cannot get that precious time back.

For those who plan to have children, it would be wise to carefully examine your motives. If it is to have someone to look after you when you get old, or for your ‘old-age pension’, it may not be such a wise idea. There is no guarantee that they will be around.

I empathise deeply with anyone who has been through such an ordeal. Catherine’s daughter was a wonderful child. She had a chronic illness, but on meeting her, you would never know. She was always smiling. She was very smart, living on the honour roll at school, and also volunteered with a charity devoted to caring for sick children. 

She was a child any parent would have been proud of. I grieve for her as I would for my own child, and while I try to cope with the heartache I feel, I cannot begin to imagine what her mother and sister must be going through. I knew her for five years, but they knew her from she was moving around in her mother’s tummy.

Love your children. Cherish them. You never know when their time will come.

- Michael Abrahams is a gynaecologist and obstetrician, comedian and poet. Email feedback to and, or tweet @mikeyabrahams. 

*Name changed