In Memory of…

In Memory of…

A very close friend of mine recently asked me to speak on behalf of the family at her mom’s memorial service. My immediate thought was that there was no way I could ever do that. To be honest, I really didn’t want to do it but I didn’t know how to refuse.

Being physically dependent on other people, my friends have been exceptionally good to me – often stretching the boundaries of friendship beyond what would be normally acceptable. Being fiercely independent in nature this often leaves me feeling forever indebted and guilty.

I answered her SMS plea with a simple “Ok”.

You see, Henda isn’t just a close friend – she quickly became family, along with her two beautiful daughters and her husband. She came into my life as a complete stranger at a time when I was probably at my lowest point after my accident and subsequent divorce.

Henda is a strong, independent, talented and feisty extrovert with a heart of gold. She literally took over the reins – taking charge of renovations to my house to make it more wheelchair friendly, landscaping my garden and decorating the interior of my house transforming it into a home I can be proud of. She campaigned, garnering the support of the community and she worked tirelessly – and unselfishly – and continues to do so – to help my friends and family pick up the pieces of my shattered life enabling me to rebuild a new life in a new body.

Nothing I can ever do can ever repay her.

So, how could I possibly refuse?

Speaking at Jeannette Esterhuizen’s memorial service was probably one of the more difficult things I’ve ever had to do in my life.

Some will argue that since I am an inspirational speaker I should be used to speaking in public. I have shared the intimate details of my life with thousands of people across the country but somehow, speaking to an audience of strangers is far easier to cope with emotionally than baring one’s soul in front of close friends and family in a church.

The situation was made worse by the fact that Henda’s dad – Leon Esterhuizen – had died just 22 days earlier. Henda had lost both her parents, to illness, three weeks apart. Emotions were raw and were already stretched to their limit. The family had barely begun to mourn the loss of their dad and grandfather.

Now this!

Seeing my friend, someone whom I love and care for deeply so shattered, so overcome with grief, was extremely tough to deal with. All I wanted to do was to take her pain away. All I wanted to do was to wrap my arms around her and sob with her – not only with her and for her, but for me.

You see, I was dealing with my own little crisis – my own pain in my heart. That very same morning I lost my little dog, Zoe, who had been a part of my life for nearly 8 years. Two days prior she had had a stroke and sadly, she didn’t make it.

Instead, I had to be brave. I had to be strong. I had to speak. I had a long list of “thank-yous” to get through.

I was reminded again of the incredible strength and power of the mind. I’m almost afraid to admit that I felt as if I had an out-of-body experience that morning in the church – for fear that you may think I’m a freak for real. But, it was amazing how my mind took over my heart that day and I simply did what I had to do. It wasn’t that I didn’t feel the emotion – I did! I just couldn’t allow myself to feel it right then at that moment.

I remember that silence – as I was maneuvering my wheelchair into position preparing to speak – it was deafening. I was aware of Henda’s eldest daughter, Monet (17) standing next to me (sniffing) holding the microphone – there was no stand. I looked up, into a sea of grief stricken faces – red, teary eyes. I refused, initially, to look in Henda’s direction and she was literally sitting right in front of me. It was as if someone had pulled a plug – I switched off. I was close to the end of my list when I became aware of where I was and what I was doing. I almost lost it. I took a deep breath and finished…

That night in the darkness, security and comfort of my own bed a lone tear trickled down my cheek. That was the end. I sobbed for a long, long time.

A day or so later I realised what an incredible gift Henda had (unintentionally) given me by trusting me enough to speak at the memorial service of the most important person in her life. She had given me the privilege to be HER friend for a change. This was something I could do for her. I was able to do something for her that no one else (close to her) had the courage to do.

Indirectly, it was also a chance for me to prove (again) that not being able to move my arms and legs did not make me DIS-abled in any way. The sense of joy and pride I felt was unbelievable.

I am extremely fortunate to have the support of many amazing friends – friends  who are genuine and loyal – friends who would drop everything at a moment’s notice to assist me both physically and emotionally at any time of the day or night.

However, I have come to realise that human beings are selfish by nature. They will not continue to put time and energy into a relationship unless they are benefiting as well.  Thus, I know now that friendship is not measured by the physical acts people perform for one another but that it certainly goes much deeper.

I have also learnt that we need to take the time to listen to others especially in their time of need. Fortunately, for my friends, I am a captive audience because of my circumstances and therefore a good listener.

I’ve learned that I still have the ability to be a good friend even though I am paralysed from my neck down. Most people don’t have the time to listen to one another. Some don’t bother to make the time – sadly. Often communication is broken down which can be to the detriment of some relationships.

Fortunately for my friends, time is a gift that I now have!

In memory of…

Leon Esterhuizen (2 July 1934 - 14 December 2009)

Jeannette Esterhuizen (22 August 1938 - 5 January 2010)

About Tracy Todd (Brave Lotus Flower)

Author of Brave Lotus Flower Rides the Dragon – an intimate and inspiring memoir of a quadriplegic. Inspirational Speaker. Teacher. Counsellor. Wife. Mother. Animal lover. Although I need a wheelchair to get around, it is most certainly not what defines me.
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4 Responses to In Memory of…

  1. Bill Watson says:

    Tracy – having done many funerals I can understand some of your feelings about being asked to speak. I also know the honor of such a moment. You were already close to the family. I became close and included quickly. I always felt the tear in my eye.

  2. Raymond says:

    Thank you Tracy for your deeply moving account of your struggle and bravery in speaking at Henda’s moms funeral.
    God has given you such a special gift to communicate so beatuifully. I too shed some tears and was aware how grateful I am for all I have. Your writing is gifted and profound.

  3. Chris Yelland says:

    Tracy, I so appreciated your latest blog post “In Memory of…” because I have been so self absorbed with the recent death of my friend Rapha Pretorius, and his wife asked me to speak at his memorial service, and only now I get to understand what you were going through at the time. You write simply and beautifully and the emotions come accross so clearly. Yes I shed tears… and also smiled.

    • Millie van Heerden says:

      Hi Chris…my name is Millie van Heerden…I am a friend and was also Rapha’s assistant when he owned the company PowerPlan and then Rapha Pretorius & Associates. I reside in the USA for the last 20 years, and over the years have always thought of Rapha, but have been involved with my Mom who had Parkinson (has since died) and my husband who is battling cancer.
      This last week, I decided to look up Rapha as i have been thinking of him quite a lot. A couple of days ago, I decided to look up Rapha and to my dismay, saw the posting that he died in 2009.
      I was so shocked and could not believe it. I know that it is almost even years ago, but am wondering how his daughters and son are doing. His family must have been devastated.
      I am hoping that you will respond and perhaps give me a little more information on how his family is doing. So sad, such a brilliant man to have died this way. Thank you for the fund that you established…I hope that his wife and children are keeping well.

      Kind regards,

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