Day 2 Survivor – Airports, Random Acts of Kindness and Some Answers.

The flight from Durban to Johannesburg is 1 hour. We are dropped off at the airport by Darryl and Julie and do our check in formalities. Glenda and I then go to the Bidvest Business Lounge that we both thankfully get free entry into with our banking packages. It’s a nice oasis with refreshments and light meals, WIFI and a bit of quiet. We walk in that morning and again are both desperately trying to avert eye contact with anyone and hoping we don’t see anyone we know. We both see Craig at the same time that he sees us. Craig is a mountain of a man and was Darren’s junior surf lifesaving coach 6 or 7 years before and we have always stayed in contact with him and his wife Sharon. He gets up and literally envelopes us in his huge arms and I think he mutters ‘So sorry’. We all cry, just as one, in the middle of the lounge. He releases us and we all nod at each other and wipe our tears. The expression ‘No words’ is one that is often used and is especially relevant at this time. He picks up his stuff and heads off to catch his flight I presume. Glennie and I put our overnight bags down and grab a cup of coffee and a few snacks to keep us going. We sit opposite each other and basically just stare at each other but not wanting to make too much eye contact as we don’t want to break down in a public place. We must look like death warmed up. We sit there for a while and are suddenly startled by someone talking to us. It is a man that has come out of the smoking lounge on his way to catch his plane. We have never set eyes on him before. He says ‘I don’t know what terrible stuff you two are going through but please know that it will get better and you will be fine’. I think we both try and answer him and tell him about Darren but most words don’t form and he gently squeezes both of our shoulders and smiles. ‘It will be ok. Good luck’. Then he is gone to catch his plane. Random acts of kindness cost nothing, but mean so much. Thank you Mr Smiling Caring Eyes Man. You did give us some fortitude.

The flight to Johannesburg must be so memorable that I actually remember a big fat zero. In OR Tambo airport in Johannesburg we have an hour or 2 lay over. Glenda’s folks and her niece Emrel stay not too far from there and we meet them in the Wimpy at the departures hall. There is not much conversation, just shaking of heads, deep despairing eyes and hugs and hand-holding. It does give Glennie and I some strength to face the hardest of the journey to Hoesdpruit where Darren was stationed and as far as we are aware that is where he is. Hoedspruit is about an hour flight from Johannesburg and is pretty much in the heart of the South African bushveld, safari and game lodges in and around the Kruger National Park. It is a small town, smaller than small actually, Darren used to love to tell us that it could take you 10 minutes to walk from one side of the CBD of Hoedspruit to the other side – and that was if you stopped at every shop along the way!!! Hahaha – he would tell us it could take 2 minutes without stopping.  We nearly miss our flight and as we are sprinting to the gate we can hear our names being called over the loud hailer. It is a stress but we just sneak in and manage to board the smallest commercial airplane I have ever been on. 22 seats (I think that included the pilot). Once we are in the air we see the pilot out of his cockpit handing out our snacks and refreshments. No hostess… Glennie has a mock freak out and says he must rather fly and we will serve… hahaha. Coming into land at Hoesdspruit is pretty cool – we are quite low and I have seen some elephants and other wildlife in a few places on our approach. It is really wild country here – just as Darren loved it. I can’t help wondering whether he had walked or driven in some of the places we had just skimmed over in the air.

By the time we land I have had at least 4 missed calls and an SMS from ‘Ang’ asking me to call her. Glennie has the same. It’s not a number either of us have saved and ‘Ang’ could be just about anyone wanting anything. As I am walking off the airplane my mobile rings and it is the same number. I take the call ‘Hello Kevin. This is Angie – Trysten’s Mom. I am so sorry to hear about Darren and I know that you are about to arrive in Hoedspruit. I need to help you transport anything and everything of Darren’s possessions and his car. Kevin, I am also registered and allowed to bring your boy back to Durban….’

Darren was at school with very special lads, 3 of them having the same name, different spelling – Tristen, Trysten and Tristan. This specific Trysten was at primary school with Darren and spent a lot of time in the Finegan madhouse. When the boys went to high school 150 km inland I was the taxi most of the time. I had a job where I was on the road looking after a sales force and my territory included the town where the boarding school was, Mooiriver, which is Afrikaans for Pretty River which we all have to admit wasn’t pretty much, however the river shaped a lot of their adolescent adventures and escapades. Angie, Trysten’s Mom, was a single Mom running a business and trying to do everything on her own. I fetched and carried Trysten and a few other Durban based lads for 5 years in high school. We had huge amounts of laughs and deep meaningful conversations in those many hours on the road. The older they got the more they slept most of the 1 and a half hour trip and the louder the music got. Angie told me often that she would pay me back for petrol etc. Who knew that today as I was arriving in Hoedspruit to try and piece together Darren’s final hours she would fall out of the sky like an angel, not offering but insisting on helping, at no cost and no hassle.

I was pretty gob-smacked to say the least and quite frankly we hadn’t actually given transport of anything any thought. I asked Ang for a bit of time to see what was needed and promised to call her back as soon as I had any sort of idea. The airport terminal at Hoedspruit is possibly smaller than most 3 bedroomed houses in South African suburbia and it felt like we were the only locals as all we could hear was foreign tour groups. We luckily managed to meet Shane from Protrack and he loaded us into his Landcruiser and took us to a wildlife housing estate where they were putting us up for the night. ‘Mr and Mrs Finegan, there has been some new evidence and revelations today about the circumstances of Darren’s accident. Let’s wait until we are inside and in a place where we can have a quiet chat’. The 15 minute drive seems like an eternity. ‘The driver of the Landcruiser has told us that he and Darren were on a presence patrol on the tar road that leads to the Orpen Gate of Kruger National Park (KNP). In the last 4 or so weeks the fences between KNP, Timbavati Private Reserve and Thornybush Private Reserve have been taken down to allow free flow of wildlife. This means that they were effectively patrolling the western border of the KNP. The presence patrol is more a show of force to poachers and a deterrent. On Sunday though, on patrol they came across a poaching dog (an Afrikanus) and Darren took aim and shot it dead. They are really hard to shoot and they are hardy, so Darren was naturally very pumped up that he shot it first time. They carried on their patrol and Darren remained on the back of the vehicle after shooting the dog. The sunset was awesome and they were pumped – shouting about being the saviours of the Western Realm, and generally being boisterous young men. Darren should never have been on the back of the Landcruiser as it against Protrack rules for safety. The driver admits that he was also driving a bit recklessly and weaving a bit. He says he never saw Darren fall, but heard him hit the ground with a sickening thud. I am sorry Mr and Mrs Finegan but Darren died on impact and as I have told you before the doctor says there would have been zero pain’…

Darren, oh, Darren, what have you done? Why? You were doing so well. Why act like a stupid dick and do this to yourself???? That’s why you didn’t look at me in the dreams I have had about you in the last couple of nights. You know you were silly. Glennie and I have collapsed again, this time on an unfamiliar couch in a beautiful bushveld setting, ironically in a place that Darren loved so much. Shane has left us alone for a while but has come back into the house. He has a few kitbags and says that these are Darren’s possessions from the HQ at Thornybush where he was stationed. I ask him to put it down and we will have to go through it later. It is about 3pm I guess and he asks if we can drop him at Protrack HQ which is about 5km away and then we can use the Landcruiser for the evening. Tomorrow we will all go together to the morgue in Phalaborwa, which is about 100km away. Darren is there. On the way to HQ I ask Shane if we can perhaps have a drink with Darren’s Protrack colleagues. He is agreeable and suggests a small memorial including braai (BBQ) and bonfire at the training grounds of Protrack where Darren trained, and where we attended his passing out parade 10 months before. We drop him off at HQ and agree to meet at the training grounds around 18h00.

Back to our accommodation. Glenda is exhausted and heads off for a nap. I decide to go through Darren’s kitbags. I am trying to be as practical as I can. Everything smells earthy and dusty and distinctly Darren. There are clothes that look so familiar. Some of his school stuff that he loved so much, Protrack stuff, some camo fatigues, a pair of boots, his berets (one being his black one he earned for passing basic training and the purple one he got on appointment to Thornybush APU). There are T-shirts and a few jerseys that he wore all the time and we have so many memories of. There is also a heap of clothes that hold no emotional attachment at all. A lot of these are in good condition and I decide to try and get them to a charity here in Hoedspruit. I have taken out a plastic shopping bag from the side of the one kitbag. It feels like it has clothes in it but is tied shut. As I open the bag all I smell is the ratchet smell of dirty stinky socks as only my son Darren could brew. Man, these socks could have completed a 25km route march all by themselves, they were so stiff and dirty!!!!!!!! Hahahahaha – this is so Darren. I decide to seal the bag again and put it straight into the outside trash to minimize the stench. Darren was a whole bunch of lovely and crazy but his feet were terrible and I must admit he got that from me. My mother-in-law once kicked me out of her house because my feet smelled so badly… hahahaha. Its ok Ma, still love you and I deserved it.

We head off to the Protrack training grounds and as we arrive it is pretty dark already. Standing waiting for us as we park is one of Darren’s fellow rangers. He has the box and the invoice for Darren’s camera, as they were due to drive the one hour or so to Nelspruit Makro to hand it in as the shutter had jammed and the camera was still under warranty. The plan had been to go next week when they were both off. I have the camera. As he leaves another figure steps out of the shadows and into the very dim light we are in. The young man is shivering and shaking and in total despair. ‘Hi Mr and Mrs Finegan, I am Dave and am so sorry for what I have done to Darren. I don’t know what to say, please forgive me…..’ This is Darren’s Sergeant and they were together on the ill-fated patrol. We are pretty much taken aback and sort of weren’t expecting to see him. It’s not like we didn’t want to, but hadn’t really given it any thought. Until now. ‘Dave, from what I have heard you were both acting like reckless assholes and one of you is dead. We cannot possibly blame you for Darren’s death and in all reality Darren is responsible mostly for his own death’. The three of us are just standing sobbing at each other. I grab Dave and give him a hug and hold him. Glenda is drawn in. All I can feel is this young man trembling and shaking so badly. Again we reassure him that we are not blaming him but he will have to live with this for a while. What he won’t have to live with is our resentment. He has enough to deal with.

We leave Dave in the ‘car park’ as it were and walk into the Boma. Shane is there to greet us and introduce us to some Rangers. Not sure how many there are but they are all in uniform. There is also the admin staff from Protrack and then Nicky who works for Thornybush and was one of Darren’s mates prior to him joining Protrack. Small world, we learn. We are approached and greeted at various stages of the evening by a handful of young men who tell us how Darren impacted their lives – the funny stories on patrol, the always helpful, always listening and engaging and the deep meaningful conversations under the spectacular stars and into the sunrise. Nicky tells us how Darren used to sneak around the back of the kitchen and she would get ice and the occasional food smuggled to them. We meet ‘Chappy’ who is a very large man and the brother of one of our famous Sharks/Springbok players Marcel Coetzee. Chappy tells us that he first met Darren in George a few years back when he was playing rugby there. Darren and his mates convinced him to come and have one drink with them post match and they would let him go back to his team mates. What could go wrong? Well they only dropped him back at the hotel the next morning on their way to lectures… hahaha. He said every time he heard Darren shout ‘Chappy’ thereafter his liver started to pain, as he knew it would be a rough one. Fast forward 2 years later and he thought he had recognized the one young recruit, but when he knew Darren, he had a huge mop of hair, and on training they were shaved. One day Darren saw him and shouted ‘Chappy’ and they rekindled their friendship. Chappy was part of the task team and told us that night that Darren had been approved to join them in 2 months’ time. This decision was taken 2 weeks before his death. It would have quadrupled his salary and had much better prospects. Damn – the unfulfilled potential of a great young man.

We got a very passionate and emotional eulogy from Sergeant Wilhelm  who was (and is) the drill Sergeant, and who took Darren and his group through the extremely tough training for them to be able to patrol through a Big 5 reserve on foot and track and engage armed poachers, almost by themselves. Darren left his mark there, not only as the most positive person, but the clown in some respects that made light of situations, started songs and led the war-cry every time. He also won the final day hike and long run (the run alone was 25 km) and all Serg Wilhelm could remember was how proud he was when he saw the red cross-trainers come around the last corner in first place. Glenda and I left that very inspiring gathering seeing big grown ass men twice my size and men that fought hand to hand combat with the best of them, standing weeping unashamedly about our Son, Darren Michael Finegan. Again such mixed emotions – pride of his legacy and absolute desolation at his passing way, way, too young. We make it back to our accommodation and collapse into bed, with messages of condolences still pouring in.

Glennie has received a link from a friend L’eanne about grief. It resonates and goes something like this (I have posted the link further on if you need the exact words) – A man posts on an online forum and asks the question as to whether he will ever get over losing his brother. An older man responds and says he may never get over it but he will get through it. He says picture yourself in a rough ocean, your ship has just sunk/being torpedoed and has sunk. The ship is your loved one and has gone. There is some debris floating and you may hang onto it to keep yourself afloat. The waves are 10 meters tall and are hitting you every 10 seconds. Every time a wave hits you it feels like you can’t breathe and are struggling for air. You manage to cough and splutter and breathe a bit and then the next wave hits and then the next etc. You honestly feel like you cannot survive but you do. At some stage the waves get further apart and you have more time to breathe but they keep coming. At some stage they become a few minutes apart and then a few hours. In time you think you have got ‘over it’ but you get caught with freak waves – triggered by a smell, a song, an anniversary date etc. That one wave can knock you and the next minute you are back in the high seas struggling to breathe again. https://wokesloth.com/old-man-advice-about-dealing-with-death-anthony-bourdain-kate-spade/distributor/

Tomorrow is going to be tough. Tomorrow, we tell ourselves, is the day we say goodbye to the physical body of our Son. We lie to ourselves and convince ourselves that it is just the physical body and we will be alright. The waves of grief keep coming.

Darren the passionate team player leading the war cry
Darren on patrol in front of a herd of Buffalo. Pure bliss

Day 1 – Survivor Darren

Twenty odd years ago when my Dad died I remember getting so incredibly angry the morning after. Outside in our street and on the main road there were cars driving, people walking, kids going to school. Did they not know that Patrick Finegan ,MY DAD had died? Did they have no respect and were merrily just going on with their lives? I wanted to get a loudhailer and run outside screaming at them all to grieve, to be sad with us. My world had been totally blown to pieces less than 24 hours before. The reality is that life does go on and we have to start to face the cold hard facts.

The morning after Darren died I wasn’t angry with the world. I understood that the world moves on relentlessly in spite of our devastation. Somewhere during the night Glenda had crawled into Jasmine’s bed and was comforting her. I got up and made us coffee. We then were all in our bed and huddled together, we made a promise that we were all in this together. I can’t remember the exact words but we agreed that we couldn’t do this on our own and that the bond of three is so much stronger than 3 individuals facing the storm alone. Glenda and I assured Jasmine that although this was all about Darren we loved them both equally.

I switched on my phone and it started going crazy. Messages and messages. Facebook was awash with tributes to Darren. It was only about 7 am – this was going to be a long day. My mobile rings and it is a colleague and friend Jason. He tries to say he is so Sorry but most words don’t form and there we are the snorting wheezing Rhino once again. There will be so many more calls but to be honest I cannot recall most of them, if not all.  It’s about 7h30 and we need to start doing some admin. I call Jasmine’s school and speak to Mrs Van Leeuwen. She is the class teacher and tells us that we mustn’t worry about the exams that are about to start in 20 minutes. We can chat during the week or so but Jasmine won’t have to write exams. I touch base with my manager Alan and he tells me to take as much time as I need.

Admin also includes me going down to the shops. We seem to have run out of milk and there will possibly be a lot of people in and out today, so I buy cooldrinks and biscuits etc. The walk into the shop from my car and back is stressful. I desperately want to avoid anyone I know. I don’t trust myself and how I would react. I wear a baseball cap and almost pull it down so I look like some dodge character and I avert all eye contact. It seems to work and I am in and out without having to say more than ‘Hello’ and ‘Thank you’ to the cashier. No dramas here. I do take a call as I get back in my car from Glenda’s Mom. She is devastated and sobbing. I manage to drive home okay. When I get home all hell has broken loose. Our domestic helper, Zandile, has arrived for work and is now lying shaking and mumbling on the kitchen floor. Jasmine has been trying to console her and Glenda has just stepped outside to take a call from Terese in Australia. Zandile has been with us for 12 years at that stage and views our kids as her kids. She has told us many times that she doesn’t like the dangerous work Darren is doing. Our friend Angie arrives at the same time. She is visitor number one for the day. She asks what she can do to help and we ask her to take Zandile, who is clearly in shock and is asking for a doctor, up to the Gateway Hospital 3 km away. We feel bad that we can’t take her but we are just about all in the same place as Zandile and need to try and sort ourselves out. Angie takes Zandile and comes back to our place minus Zandile about half an hour or so later.

Doorbell, dogs barking, delivery vans, cars and motorbikes. It’s a seemingly constant and never-ending stream of people. In between conversations, hugs, sobbing and crying there are a few quiet moments. Our phones are going crazy. It is a beautiful day with blue sky and mild temperatures. Durban is great in winter. We sit outside a lot at our firepit. It seats quite a few and is very social. It is always amazing to see people together that know us but we are in different circles and yet they often all know each other. I am trying not to go into Facebook but it is almost like a car crash – you don’t want to look but you can’t help yourself. There are so many tributes from all over the world. We knew we had a special Son but we also know that we are biased as he is OUR Son. On FB we see that he has left such an incredible legacy – it is not just about the crazy, likeable, always smiling, always hugging and greeting, always up for a party Darren. We read incredible recollections of Darren the ultimate friend, Darren the counsellor, Darren the deep meaningful talker/philosopher. He loved having conversations with everyone and was quite happy to dispense advice. Reading the posts fill me with such mixed emotions – my chest almost swells with pride as to the Man he was and the countless lives he impacted. My heart is so sore with a life ended way to soon.

Our angel Carol is back and has bought platters of food from her canteen at work. She is a god-send and we smash a few sandwiches and are able to offer to the multitude of people that have come to pay their respects and offer condolences. We still have no answers to the questions that we have about Darren’s death. How, where, why etc. There is no real new info except that Darren appears to have fallen off the back of the truck and landed on his head. Shane assures us that the doctor says that Darren more than likely felt no pain and his brain would have shut down instantly and thereafter the rest of his body. An inquest docket has been opened by the South African Police Services and we will now have to wait on results of that and the autopsy. Shane confirms that there is no bullet wound so that theory is put to bed. The driver is still not making any coherent statements and is a wreck.

For those who have never had to do the ‘admin’ that goes on after a death it is something like this – a funeral needs to be arranged – is it a funeral or a memorial? Where can we have it (we are not members of a church so that logical plan is out), when do we have it , how do we go about it, who will preside over the formalities, who will speak, what music do we play and what photos do we show? What about flowers, decorations, accommodation for people traveling in? There is so much to organise and do and it is what I throw myself into to give me something to do, other than just sitting crying and feeling helpless. It is a distraction, however don’t get into the habit of using it to numb or ignore your pain, but rather to defer it a bit with the promise that you will face and succumb to it. Succumbing and facing my pain is something I never allowed myself post my Dad and I have promised Glenda that I will not do the same again.

Hoedspruit where Darren was working is 825 km from here and the road is not a proper highway in most parts. When we drove up there for his passing out parade it took us a good 11 hours to get there. We decide that we need to book flights to go there and sort out his possessions and we need to identify his body. Onto Google we jump at some stage and manage to book flights. There is no direct flight from here so we book to fly to Johannesburg and then connect to Hoedspruit. The tickets are crazy expensive but we have no real choice. Shane agrees to collect us from the airport. It is Monday and we fly tomorrow morning. Our mates, Darryl and Julie are visiting and offer to help so we ask them if they can drop us at the airport. We then decide to submit to the other offers of help and Charmaine and Fran agree to help find a venue for the memorial. Tomorrow, when Glenda and I fly to Hoedspruit, they will between them look after Jasmine.

As a collective we agree that we would prefer the coming Saturday or Sunday to allow as many people to attend from as far afield as possible. Darren went to high school 150 km inland in Mooi River, went to University in George (which is 1406 km down the East Coast of South Africa) and we have a lot of family in Gauteng which is 600 km away. We need to find something fast as we need to advertise and communicate.

At some stage Glenda’s boss, Jeff, and George the CEO from Johannesburg, arrived. They have just done a pitch for a new account and it went well. Glenda was supposed to be doing the pitch. They land the account soon after. Carey and Dean pop in and have brought us a yummy mince and pasta dish for supper. They decline to stay for supper, but the rest of us eat it greedily. We then decide that there are so many snacks and food left here and we are not here for a few days so Fran and Charmaine take for their families. No use in wasting stuff.

Again I have no real clue what time we went to bed and even how I slept. We were on autopilot. Tomorrow was a big day. We have no real idea what awaits us in the bush.

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Darren – photo credit Lisa Van Wyk

THAT phone call

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.

Introduction to the Blogger

My name is Kevin Finegan. I am 49 years old and am very happily married to Glenda and have a beautiful 18 year old daughter Jasmine. We live in Durban , South Africa.

My Blog is to articulate my experiences on my very unexpected Grief journey following the death of our Son, Darren, on 13 August 2017. It is written for my sanity, to express myself and hopefully heal and process my thoughts/feelings.

One thing my journey is teaching me is that Men and grief are complex companions. There are countless support groups for parents that have lost a child however I am yet to find one that has any men actually attending. My Dad committed suicide in 1996 and I really struggled post that to deal with it. I was told to be strong, I was the head of the house etc. As a 26 year old I saw that as not crying, not showing emotion, looking after the  ‘fragile ladies’ in my family. I bottled up most of my feelings until it nearly cost me my career and most frightening was it nearly cost me my marriage. I am hoping with Blog to help anyone on their journey realize we never get over it but we can get through it day by day together.

Love and light.