A FRACTION OF A SECOND
Veronique Felix’s experience of grief after the sudden loss of her twin brother has taught her an important lesson in life.
Veronique (16) was born in Cape Town and grew up in Bonteheuwel.
“We were all staying in my mom’s house in Bonteheuwel. It was my parents, my eldest brother, my twin brother and myself.”
“Life was good then. I can remember the first day of primary school with my twin brother. He and I did everything together. That first day at break time we sat together and we met this one girl. When we told her that we were twins, she kept asking us questions about being twins because no one believed us. Maybe it’s because he looked a lot like my mom and I looked like my dad. He was the quiet one and I was the opposite.”
“My parents were a happy couple and they supported us at school meetings and sports competitions. My mother worked in an office as a secretary and my dad worked at an old age home in Malmesbury. He would stay over there for a day or two and then he would come back home. I think my dad was a cleaner and helped out with the elderly people because he wore blue overalls so I assumed that’s what he did. We were financially fine.”
Bonteheuwel has a high crime rate and Veronique’s parents were careful to keep her out of harm’s way.
“I had two friends that I can remember my mom only allowed me to play with. But we could only play at my house. I couldn’t go alone to the tuck shops* on the corner and my elder brother always had to go with me. I think because Bonteheuwel has a high crime rate my parents were being cautious and they did not want anything to happen to us. I remember hearing a few gunshots growing up. At that time when I couldn’t play outside, I felt restricted. Most of my friends would ask me why I didn’t come out of the house since they only saw me going to school or walking to the shop with my brother. But there was nothing I could do, my dad was very strict.”
Veronique’s grandmother fell ill when she was in Grade six and that prompted the family to move to Malmesbury.
“Initially my grandmother was living with my aunt who was also staying in Bonteheuwel. But my aunt had gone through a divorce with her husband and things weren’t going well in her house and then my dad made the decision for us to move with my sick grandmother to Malmesbury, which is where they are originally from. My parents also didn’t want to send her to an old age home. My mom once explained that she had a brain tumour and that she had to go for an operation and that’s all I can remember. I wouldn’t say I was excited about the move because I was so used to Bonteheuwel and I was anxious about attending a new school. I wasn’t sure I would fit in as well as I did in Bonteheuwel. At that time my grades were good, both my brother and I excelled at school. School was a good experience for me and was where I felt freer.”
Veronique and her twin brother were two peas in a pod.
“My twin brother and I were very close. Whenever my dad gave him a hiding, I would cry. It’s like I could feel the pain and it was vice versa. Because we were twins, whenever he felt bad I would feel it too. I know it sounds strange but, for example, if he was in a fight and he got hit then I would feel that something was not ok. It was like we had our own reality. Whatever we did we always had to do it together and we even wanted to dress alike.”
Veronique and her brother adapted to life in Malmesbury. Her eldest brother continued to live in Bonteheuwel since he was already working.
“The first few months at the new school were a bit strange because I didn’t fit in there. Whenever me and my brother would talk they said we were speaking Afrikaans slang. It took some time to make friends. But soon, we both became top positions in the class. My brother and I both did athletics and I also started playing netball.”
“We eventually started adapting to the environment and to the people there. My grandmother did get better and she is still alive. She got better during the time that we were there.”
Veronique and her twin brother started High school in Malmesbury.
“It was much easier to make friends in high school than in primary school. In high school, my twin brother and I began to develop our own individual interests and my brother found his friends and I found mine. I started doing poetry and he started playing rugby for the school. We were still close but we weren’t really known as the twins as everyone knew us at primary school. We still shared and we would confide in each other. We trusted each other and he even told me when he got his first kiss from a girl!”
Not long after their start in High school, tragedy struck.
“On this day, we woke up to go to school and my brother was not feeling so good. I remember he had a cough. My dad said that before he would drop me off at school he was going to take my brother to the doctor first. We got to the doctor’s room and my dad told my brother to wait while he takes me to school and then he would come back for him. School ended that day and I was waiting for my dad to pick me up from school and eventually he came. When I opened the door my twin brother was sitting in the back seat and then we started driving. My brother said that the doctor told him that he is fine and that he’ll be okay in a few days. He asked me how school was and if any of his friends were looking for him. I teased him that he was not that important!”
Next, Veronique’s father received a call while driving which he answered.
“As we were driving my dad received a call which he answered and as he answered I jumped up from the back seat and leaned forward to hear who he was talking to. It was around this time that my mom had reason to believe my dad was cheating on her but we weren’t sure. There was some tension between my parents at the time. They weren’t the same as they used to be and there was a kind of distance between them. One day my mom came into my room while I was doing homework and I asked her if everything was okay as I could see that she wasn’t herself. She asked me what I would do if my dad decided to leave us, I was shocked. I asked her why she would ask something like this. I felt like I knew my dad and that he wouldn’t leave us for someone else. We had that conversation maybe two or three weeks before the accident.”
“The day of the accident, when I jumped up to hear who my father was talking to, I could hear a woman’s voice but my dad immediately said that I should sit back, fasten my seatbelt and not do that again. My brother was also wearing a seatbelt. Then my dad apologised to the person on the other side of the phone. The call ended. My dad’s call sounded like it was work-related because that’s what he told me after he ended the call. I asked him who it was and he said it was a work colleague of his. I could feel that he was very angry because of what I did. There was like an awkwardness in the car at that moment. We continued driving and then we approached a red traffic light. I don’t know if my dad saw this but he jumped the traffic light and when we were almost halfway across I looked to my right side and there was a truck fast approaching. After that, it was all a blur because when I woke up, I was in the hospital.”
“When I woke up, my mom told me that I had been in a coma for two weeks. When I woke up the first person I was looking for was my twin brother but then my mom started calming me down and telling me that it’s going to be alright. When she did that I immediately knew that something was wrong and that something had happened. My mom began crying and she told me that my brother was no more. I was laying in the bed and I turned to the one side because I just wanted to be alone. I started crying. I asked God why he took my brother and not me. I stayed for one more week in the hospital. I had broken ribs and a broken arm. My dad who was in the same hospital had a bad cut on his body and his leg was broken.”
Veronique’s mother visited her in hospital every day.
“Whenever I saw my mom I would get emotional all over again. She was closer to my brother. It was like I was more of a daddy’s girl and my twin brother was a mommy’s boy. My mom told me that it’s going to be hard living without my brother but she reassured me that everything will be fine and that everything will get better. I was emotional the whole time I was in hospital. I couldn’t stop thinking about him.”
When Veronique was discharged from hospital her mother broke the news that she was moving back to Cape Town.
“The day I was discharged from hospital my mom told me that she decided to move back to Cape Town again. My dad was discharged two days after I was discharged. The family was waiting for me and my dad to be discharged so that we could bury my brother. My mom said that she would stay two months more in Malmesbury for me to recover then we would move back to Cape Town.”
Veronique recalls that her family was bereft.
“We buried my brother. The funeral was hard for me. It was very emotional for me because he was my best friend from day one and now we were separated in such a bad way. After his funeral things started going downhill between my parents. They were arguing on a daily basis. My mom blamed my dad for the accident and my brother’s death. I had told her that my dad was on a call. I didn’t tell her that I heard a woman’s voice. Whenever they argued I would go into my room and shut my door and just stay there. My granny would always comfort me and she would say everything is going to be fine and that it is just a phase that our family is going through and eventually this will all pass. After the funeral, I didn’t go to school for the whole week and I just stayed indoors in my room and locked myself up. When I did go back to school, it was hard. Everyone was saying that they were sorry for my loss. My friends said that now that my brother is not at school anymore, that they would be there to protect me.”
Veronique’s grief was overwhelming.
“At such a young age I didn’t expect to lose my brother. Two months after the accident, my mom moved back to Cape Town alone. After my mom moved out, my dad and I were distant. There was not much conversation between the two of us. Maybe it was because he blamed himself for the accident. I also felt guilty in a way, I felt guilty for the both of us.”
“Weeks passed and I could feel like I wasn’t myself anymore. I didn’t want to be around people and I just wanted to be alone. That’s when my dad decided that I should see a therapist. It was my first time really opening up to someone about what really happened. It helped me. I passed that year at school. Even when I told my best friend to stay away she still checked up on me every day to see how I’m doing. I realised she was a big help on my journey getting through this.”
Veronique remained in telephonic contact with her mother.
“My mom never visited and I continued to stay with my dad. But we were in contact, she’d always asked how I was. After a year or so, my dad got sick and suffered three consecutive strokes. He went to hospital and was there for two weeks. Whenever we went to visit him in hospital he would say that it was a punishment from God for the accident. My grandmother would always say he shouldn’t blame himself because it wasn’t his fault for what happened. When he was discharged he could no longer work. The left side of his body couldn’t work properly. We had to depend on my granny’s pension money.”
“I continued going to school, but when I was at school I was always eager to get back home to check on my dad and help him with whatever he needed help with. Before the strokes, my dad could always do things on his own so it was hard to see him in that condition. He couldn’t eat properly. At the same time, he softened as a person and he wasn’t so harsh anymore which is something that he admitted to himself. It was during this time that we really bonded. Now that I’m the only child of his, he even protects and loves me more and he doesn’t want anything to happen to me.”
But things changed again for Veronique.
“My mom decided I could no longer be with my dad because of his condition. On my birthday, my mom and eldest brother came to get me. I was trying to fight it, I didn’t want to leave my dad. My mom was worried about who would take care of me. I was crying and my dad was also crying. To see him crying broke my heart because we just found each other and now we were separated again.”
“I was angry at my mom. I explained why I didn’t want to leave my dad and it seemed like my opinion didn’t count. Back in Bonteheuwel at school, I didn’t want to be with other children. I wouldn’t even try to make new friends. One day, I was sitting in class and my English teacher told me that if I continue doing my work as well as I did, then I could be the top learner. That motivated me. I tried to forget all the negative stuff around me. Whatever I did, I remembered the conversation with my dad about not dwelling on my problems and that one day I will be successful.”
Veronique did become the top learner in Grade 10 at her school.
“I accepted that my parents would never get back together again and that the bond between them is gone. In grade 11, I started making new friends at school and my life regained a bit of normality. I have only seen my dad once since I left but we are in touch. My mom and I have a normal mother-daughter relationship but we do have disagreements.”
Veronique shares some of her wisdom and insights from her life.
“The biggest lesson that I’ve learned is that one never know when things are going to change. It takes a fraction of a second for your life to change 360degress. It is not worthy to carry problems/disagreements with you, let them go fast and live life in the present moment.”
“If we knew that we or the person in front of us could die in the next second, how different would our choices be at that moment. This has become my personal motto and I can proudly say it makes me a better person in any given situation.”
Veronique is a Leaders’ Quest participant.