On August 3 our daughter, Helen, died from a riding accident at Hartford House in Mooi River. She was 37.
We saw God’s hand at every corner through an outpouring of loving prayers and personal concern from strangers, to patients and staff at the Medi-Clinic in Pietermaritzburg, to all those affiliated with the coroner’s office and investigations, a priest and professor who will reside in my heart forever and employees enveloping us in a cocoon at Hilton Country Inn.
The pups there were healing, as Helen had a passion for dogs and their rescue.
There were those in the coroner’s office I realised were there for the same reason as I, so in turning my feelings outward, we prayed together for all our loved ones.
Looking outward began my journey toward healing and understanding that we humans have perverted death.
It is a gift.
There are far worse things in life than dying when one is young and far worse ways to die than with the peace Helen embraced after 10 days in the hospital.
I have seen revelations and at least one miracle, all signs of a higher hand guiding us through the waters.
When Helen’s father received the call of Helen’s accident, he was at the only international Gideon conference he had attended.
Standing beside him was the one person he had met from South Africa – whose son is an anesthesiologist living in Pietermaritzburg and practising in Durban.
He met us at the airport, arranged for me to stay with her constantly, visited daily, helped with difficult decisions and was waiting at the airport when we departed your beautiful country. And that, my friends, is but one of a continuing list.
These things do not happen in isolation. We would all move toward a peace that passes understanding if we were to disengage ourselves from the words, “luck” and “coincidence”.But let me hope that another good comes from Helen’s story.
Contrary to the Hartford House spokesperson in an article shared with us, Helen was not an experienced rider.
She rode horses for the first time during two years of college and had not been on one since 1995.
While their guide gave Helen and her fiance helmets, her chin strap was broken. Naively, she said it was rather snug, that she would let the straps hang down.
The helmet apparently flew off before or during Helen’s fall.
I believe that either the horses Edward and Helen were given were retired race horses or those used in training, as at the moment Edward’s horse saw the track, he bolted uncontrollably toward it.
Helen’s horse followed suit.
The last thing Edward heard from Helen was, “Edward, you have to stop your horse.” When he looked back to see if she had missed some scrub trees, her saddle was empty.
Helen’s medical tests indicated the cause of injury was extensive brain damage suffered from the fall.
Despite hastily signed disclaimers that are ultimately meaningless, it is my hope that all such riding facilities require secure-fitting helmets and that they, as well as riders, confirm the experiences of the horses used, as well as the experience of their riders.
At the close of Helen’s obituary, I wrote, via my friend the professor: “There is an African word, ubuntu: ‘We exist because of others; I am because of you.’ As much as she opened hearts, Helen opened eyes. And we are grateful.”
I am grateful to South Africans.
And I trust that good will continue to unfold from Helen’s life, that eyes and hearts will be opened. It is how God works.