On Christmas Eve 2019, the Groenewald family from Middelburg, Mpumalanga, had gone to bed early in anticipation of Christmas Day.
But for mom Shannon Christmas 2019 will forever be etched in her memory as the day her 18-month-old baby, Brian, passed away.
Brian was born with a neural condition called bilateral polymicrogyria, which is an abnormal development of the brain in the womb. He suffered from cerebral palsy and epilepsy as a result.
In a heart-rending letter, Shannon describes her son’s last hours:
“24 December, Christmas Eve. You were calm.
“You ate your favourite food and swam with Daddy. You were breathing well and only needed oxygen for an hour after you woke up. The oxygen tubes and plasters used to irritate you – you’d move your head to try to get rid of it. You were never able to touch your angel face with your little hands.
“After the swim Mommy bathed you at 4.30pm and, like every day, gave you your medicine. Then you had your bottle and went to sleep at 6.30pm.
“You always slept between me and Daddy in our room.
“At 8pm I gave your baby brother his bottle and both of you were sleeping peacefully. A short while later we went to bed so we could get up early on Christmas morning.
“Mommy was restless and struggled to sleep. I lay awake and listened to your breathing – it was just after 1am. I heard you struggling a bit and thought I should give you your milk and switch on your oxygen machine.
“Suddenly, there was just silence. A silence like that Mommy has never heard in our room.
“I woke Daddy up and said something’s wrong. When we switched on the light, you were lying next to us, your body curled up. You were blue, your tongue stuck out.
“We did everything in our power to try to save you. Daddy gave you CPR and you started breathing again. You were okay. Thank you, dear Lord. Daddy saved your life. God decided it wasn’t your time.
“We put you on oxygen immediately and minutes later you and Daddy went to hospital in the ambulance.
“I was on my way but before I got to the hospital, you stopped breathing twice. The doctors helped you, my angel, and you were stable. You were taken up to ICU. You were stable. Thank you, Jesus, Brian is okay.
“They put you on a ventilator and tried keeping your cold little body warm. You had colour in your beautiful face again. You lips were red again and the blue was gone. You looked so peaceful. You were okay. Everything was okay. Our beloved Brian fought once more and he was going to make it. Thank you, Jesus.
“You slept peacefully and you were okay. That was 2.30am. The doctor said he’d come and see you at 5am. The nurse told us we could be there only during visiting hours and we had to go home. They’d call us if they needed to.
“We said we’d come back at 5am when the doctor returned. We kissed you and held your hands. ‘Bye, my love, Jesus will watch over you and heal you. We love you, my angel. We’ll see you soon, our big boy.’
“I kissed your head and held your hands.
“We went home. Picked up the kids from our neighbours. Made coffee.
“We’d just finished drinking it when the hospital called at 3.45am and told us to come. It’s not looking good. Daddy sped to you. I took the kids back to the neighbours’ and sped after him.
“We arrived there at the same time. When we opened the ICU doors, your curtains were drawn. We opened them and saw the doctor.
“ ‘I’m sorry, he didn’t make it. His heart stopped again twice and we did everything we could to try to help him.’
“Your little body was blue, your long lashes and soft little hands . . . We broke down. We didn’t want to accept it. He’d been okay. He’d fought and everything would be okay.
“At 4.20am on Christmas morning Jesus came to fetch you, Boeta. You’d fought and kept hanging on so we could say goodbye and you could get one more kiss from me and Daddy. We hadn’t known, my love. If only I could get one more kiss from you. If only we could hold you one more time and see you smile again.
“You hadn’t had a chance to open your gifts. You and your baby brother had the same Christmas gift. It was your second Christmas, my angel, and your baby brother’s first.
“I wish I hadn’t come home. I wish I’d just stayed with you, my love. I wish we’d stayed with you and kept praying by your side.
“You were the strongest person we’ve ever known. Your little body had been through so much since birth. I think when you heard the machines again, you didn’t want that anymore, my love.
“Rest now in Jesus’ arms. We love you and would’ve protected you with everything in us, my angel child. You were so precious to us. It was a privilege to be your mommy and daddy.”
– Shannon Groenewald