Most journeys start at the beginning and sometimes that beginning is ‘THAT phone call’.
It is Sunday evening around 18h30 or so and I am lying on the sofa watching soccer – it is Manchester United playing and we are up 2-0 at the time. On the opposite sofa is my wife Glenda who is NOT watching soccer but is scrolling through Facebook or playing Sudoku to while the time away. Our lounge and dining room is open plan and at the dining room table is our 17 year old daughter Jasmine who is studying for her Matric trials exams starting in the morning. It is probably a typical Sunday scene.
My mobile rings and I do not recognize the number but answer it anyway. ‘Hello – is that Mr Finegan?’, yes I answer it is me, ‘This is Shane from Protrack’ ……long silence.. Yes? I ask with my heart in my mouth. ‘Sjoe this is so hard’ says Shane. ‘There has been a terrible accident’……….
Our son Darren at the time is 22 years old and working as an Anti–Poaching officer on Thornybush Private Reserve in Limpopo Province of South Africa. He has been doing this since October 2016 and has worked himself up well to where he is now the 2nd in Command Anti-Poaching on that Reserve. His employer is Protrack Anti-poaching. He works 16 days on and gets 4 days off in a cycle. He absolutely loves it and tells us often that he has found his life purpose and passion. He has wanted to be a game ranger since the age of 5. We are incredibly proud of him.
An accident????? What accident??? Is Darren ok? – my mind is racing, my gut is wrenching and every bell in my body is ringing. Glenda has now leapt off her sofa and is kneeling in front of me begging me to tell her that Darren is ok. Jasmine has now joined Glenda. Somewhere in my head I hear Shane finish his sentence by saying that Darren did not make it……… I am trying to ask questions – how , where , why , how , why, why …. Glenda is begging me to tell her but I am still on the call. She looks at me and says I must tell her that he is ok. I can’t do anything but shake my head………She erupts into what can only be described as a wail of No no no noooo and is now rolling around on the floor screaming and telling me to tell her it is not true.
I am still on the call with Shane (whom I had never met or spoken to prior to this) and trying to concentrate on what he is actually saying. ‘They were on a patrol in the vehicle and Darren somehow fell off the back of the truck’ … How? Why? Where? … I can’t really concentrate and am now starting to worry about comforting and trying to pacify Glenda who has now been joined on the lounge floor by Jasmine who is also screaming and sobbing. There is just too much going on to concentrate. Shane says something along the lines that the driver is too distraught to give then proper answers. There is no clear indication whether it was an accident or whether Darren has been shot and fallen. It is becoming so hard to hear and Glenda is begging me to tell her it is not true…WHAT HAPPENED? WHERE IS MY SON? WHAT HAVE THEY DONE TO HIM? I PRAYED EVERY SINGLE DAY FOR HIM TO BE SAFE!!!! She is screaming at me/at God/at Protrack. She is in so much despair and shock that she rips her sneakers off and throws them across the room (in retrospect now we laugh about it as it is pretty random). I end the call and collapse on the floor with my two angels. It is a bit of blur we are sobbing and screaming and all trying to talk and ask questions and, and, and… I am not sure how long we lie there trying to get air and process what has just happened. At some stage Jasmine has texted her best friend Paige and her boyfriend at the time, Callum, with the simple ‘My brother just died’.
We are almost snapped out of our haze/daze by a ringing mobile. It is Carol (mother of Paige and a very close friend of ours) who asks what has happened and then says she is on the way over. It sort of sparks me into action – I need to start telling people – I need to call my 2 sisters, Glenda’s folks, etc etc. First call is to my older sister Fran who lives about 40 minutes away. She answers pretty quickly and I just blurt out ‘Darren is dead’. She screams Nooooo- I can’t really remember much more of the conversation but she says she is coming over. I try and call my sister Terese in Australia. They are 8 hours ahead of us so it is dead of the night and she is not answering on FB Messneger or Whatsapp. Glenda and I mobiles’ are not set up for international dialing so I can’t call her landline. I am frantically sending messages. I don’t want her to wake up in the morning and read it on Facebook.
I call Glenda’s Dad, Peter, the phone rings and he answers ‘Hello my Boy’, again I just blurt out ‘Darren is dead’. There is dead silence and he just says ‘Shit. No’. I again can’t remember much of the conversation but I do ask him to let all of the other Chapman family know. Carol, Paige and Tayla have arrived. They are comforting Glenda and Jasmine and I am now in the garden pacing up and down trying to call my sister Terese. It has become an absolute must. I know that when news gets out it will travel far and wide and very quickly. Darren a.ka. Fini was an extremely popular young man. Almost everywhere we went in this country and even in Mozambique he would always be greeted somewhere, somehow – Fini!!!!! They would shout. He would always enthusiastically greet back, give a big bear hug and wear his most infectious radiant smile. It didn’t matter whether you were his junior, peer or one of his mate’s parents he would remember you and greet/handshake/hug you properly. When word got out it was going to be big news. Terese had to hear from me. I had to break the news to her.
By this time Callum has arrived and jumped over the fence to get to us and comfort Jasmine. Fran and her 2 children Abigail and Mitchel have arrived. Glenda’s sister Charmaine has also arrived and is distraught. I have spoken at this stage to my best friend Pedro (who lost both of his brothers nearly 6 months prior) and is Darren’s god father. My phone is now starting to get busy. I can still not answer any questions as to where, how, why etc. ‘It was a freak accident’ I am telling people. Looks like he fell off the bakkie (truck) and hit his head. I phone Shane back and ask a few more questions but at that stage there were no answers. The only thing we knew was that Darren has died on the side of a road just outside the Kruger National Park.
My mobile rings again and it is my Aunt Kath from West Virginia, USA. We sob and I can’t give them answers. She hands the phone to Uncle Stewart and he asks what he can do. Funny you ask. I need you to call Terese in Australia on her land line. She must call me. Please. The house is pretty full and between Carol, Charmaine & Fran they are dispensing Rescue and other tranquilizers and offering drinks. Darin is there too but I cant actually remember his arrival. It is always amazing how there is always a few special people that just seem to arrive and take control when there is a crisis. This was not my first loss – my Dad, Mom and Gran have all departed (another series of Blogs coming) and every single time there are angels sent to assist us. At this time it was Carol, Charmaine and Fran. I am forever grateful for them taking charge. We were not in a rational state to be deemed in charge.
I am oscillating between making/taking calls pacing in the garden and coming in to comfort Glenda and Jasmine. I have lost track of time and my head is pounding, my gut is so sore – like I have been pinned against a wall and had some heavies punch me repeatedly in the stomach. I almost feel like I am leaving my body and watching the scene unfold in ‘third person’ – like watching a movie where I am just one the actors. It is sometimes hard to distinguish between reality and dream (nightmare). Somewhere I decide I should tell my boss Alan that I won’t be in at work tomorrow. I text him – ‘Hi Alan. I won’t be in tomorrow. My Son has just died’. I can’t remember whether I get an answer but I must have. He is a good man.
One of Darren’s best mates Tristen calls – we don’t really talk we just snort and sniff like a rhino just before it charges- no words form- they just catch in my throat and activate tears. Tristen always calls us Uncle Kev and Mommy Glen and he is our ‘other’ son. It is so hard. He has started telling the rest of the Weston lads (Darren went to Weston Agricultural College). They are like brothers. I do ask Tristen to ask everyone not to post on Facebook yet. I still haven’t spoken to Terese in Australia. Damn. I am so stressed.
My mobile rings again caller ID shows ‘T Australia’. Deep breath. ‘Hello T’. ‘What is going on Boet?’ I have messages to call you and Stewie called and woke me up from the States’. By this time the simple (almost crude) ‘Darren is dead’ is my only response. Terese screams ‘Noooooooo’, ‘Oh Boet’ Oh no. ‘How’? What? I can’t say much again I am just a snorting wheezing sniffing Rhino again. No words really come out as far as I can remember. I am feeling relief that we seem to have told all the closest family and friends. It’s a bit weird how I wanted almost to be the one to tell them as opposed to someone else. It would have been a crap load easier to delegate it. I am usually a good delegator. Not tonight. I am in charge (apparently).
Time to concentrate more on Glenda and Jasmine. Glenda looks like she has aged an eternity when I return to the lounge where she has been helped back onto the sofa at some stage by me or someone else (total blur on a few minutes, hours and in time it will be a blur for days and weeks). Her eyes have almost receded into her skull, they are looking so vacant, so desolate and every time she does focus and look at me it feels like she is pleading with me to tell her it is all an elaborate prank or a horrible nightmare and a kiss from her prince charming (a.k.a Kevin) will bring her back to reality and we will talk to Darren when he is off patrol. I am starting to feel very, very tired. My brain is fuzzy, my gut is getting more and more sore. The body blows are knocking the stuffing out of me. Putting pressure on my lungs now. It is the most surreal feeling. Why me? Why us? What the fuck have we done wrong? Our son was the most loved, spirited, likable person with most potential still. Why? Why take him? Why punish us? Most of all I am starting to really feel like Glenda is looking – desolate, empty, gutted and these nasty idiots are still punching me in the gut. Enough already.
I have lost track of time, I am ignoring my phone and am sitting with Glenda, Jasmine, Callum, Charmaine, Fran, Abigail, Mitch, Darin, Carol, Tayla and Paige. I honestly can’t remember the conversations but there was some laughter as that is what we sometimes do to make light of bad situations. At some stage we have ushered out everyone else and thanked them for coming round and comforting us. We have some special people in our life. We lie and tell them that we will be o.k.
We dose Jasmine up a bit more on sedatives to help her sleep. Offer her the option of sleeping in our bed so she isn’t alone tonight. She declines and assures us that she will be fine. At some stage in the night Jasmine says that she is not going to go away next year and study. She is never going to leave us again. It is all emotion and we will deal with it some other time. We tuck her into bed and go get into our bed.
Glenda and I lie in the middle of our bed and just hold each other. There are no real words just us crying and sobbing and holding each other. Disbelief, heartbroken and desolation is how we fall ‘asleep’ still in each other’s arms. I dream of Darren. I can’t remember the actual dream however I do recall that he won’t look at me. I want to see his smiling face and the deep blue happy eyes. He won’t look at me. He won’t tell me what happened. He is hiding something. I think I drift off to sleep again. Tomorrow is official Day 1 Survivor Darren. We need our strength. Hopefully it will all be a bad dream and tomorrow morning everything will be fine. We can only hope.