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My empathy with David Cameron on his terrible loss

Conservative Party leader David Cameron’s son, Ivan, an epilepsy and cerebral palsy sufferer, passed away at St Mary’s Hospital in London yesterday. According to the Independent (click on link) there was a sudden illness which occasioned the six-year-old being rushed to hospital where he later died.

There are no words that really offer comfort to any parent who has lost a child and even less, I would imagine, in the case of a child who has special needs. These children, as I’m sure the Camerons know only too well, require supervision all day, every day and come to mould your life into a shape that those who have never experienced this, can’t even begin to imagine. As such their passing, and the gaping hole it has to leave, can only be felt far more keenly than any other individual loss a person might suffer.

I have three sons, the second oldest of which has been diagnosed as autistic. While many of you might have heard of autism, come into contact with someone who has this illness or perhaps even read about it, until you actually experience the day-to-day reality that is bringing up a child with this condition you cannot really begin to comprehend what it entails.

Gabriel is now 18 years of age and to date has never spoken a complete sentence or even used many of the words that most 4-year-olds include in their daily vocabulary. As such he has always gone to special “schools” but has lived with us his entire life. This will continue indefinitely unless a breakthrough is achieved in this area because there is no way that Robyn, my wife, or I would ever contemplate putting him into a home.

Gabriel is part of the family and it is difficult to imagine even a single day without him. He wakes us up at around 06h30 and from then until he hits the sack after 20h30 it’s non-stop running. If he is not at his special school he is being monitored around the clock because you take your eye off these guys at your peril. If they aren’t throwing things out the windows they are putting their hands through it — even when it’s closed.

As you can imagine even a day with Gabriel would exhaust anyone no matter how physically fit you are or mentally tough you imagine yourself to be.

In Robyn’s case it was very hard at first, particularly as having a handicapped child was her biggest fear when she was growing up. Accordingly when Gabe was almost 2 years old and something just didn’t seem to be quite right, she had him around at doctor after doctor all of whom told her that there was nothing wrong with him. One even called me up and told me that my wife was neurotic. Nope the wife was spot on, it was the doctor who was just not up to the task I’m afraid. Although in his defence I have to point out that this is a very tricky diagnosis to make.

It is impossible for me to explain to those who haven’t lived with someone who has these special needs just how much is involved and the commitment that is expected of you. What I can do is bring home the enormity of the task and the impact it has on the daily lives of those concerned.

In the case of the Camerons, Ivan was a full-time parental exercise with very little time to themselves. Though I would imagine that in their case they had assistance in looking after him this would still have taken up a lot of their day and an enormous amount of emotional capital. This is what makes Ivan’s passing that much harder to bear and not, as I’m sure many are thinking but wouldn’t dream of saying, a relief from a very heavy burden.

The enormous gap — the shape that your life took on which is now completely out of sync; mind-numbing emptiness where familiar chaos used to be.

My deepest sympathy and condolences to the Cameron family.


  • Mike Trapido is a criminal attorney and publicist having also worked as an editor and journalist. He was born in Johannesburg and attended HA Jack and Highlands North High Schools. He married Robyn in 1984 (Mrs Traps, aka "the government") and has three sons (who all look suspiciously like her ex-boss). He was a counsellor on the JCCI for a year around 1992. His passions include Derby County, Blue Bulls, Orlando Pirates, Proteas and Springboks. He takes Valium in order to cope with Bafana Bafana's results. Practice Michael Trapido Attorney (civil and criminal) 011 022 7332 Facebook


  1. Oscar Oscar 26 February 2009

    We are in a similar situation, with a CP son. You have eloquently expressed the way life changes, as well as the joy and sadness of having such a child. Thank you.

  2. Izak de Vries Izak de Vries 26 February 2009

    I lift my hat to you and your wife. I know a number of autistic children and their parents.

  3. grant montgomery grant montgomery 26 February 2009

    On BBC they said little Ivan was in constant pain and was unable to comunicate. That was not a life it was an unjust ordeal which is thankfully over.

  4. Lisa Lisa 27 February 2009

    I am sorry for Cameron’s loss. But Ivan’s time had come.
    I am also very sympathetic to your daily burdens with an autistic child. I am blessed to have three kids. All healthy, thank G-d. And even caring for three small kids is sometimes an overwhelming burden. I wish you and Robyn continued strength and inner peace in dealing with your daily lives.

  5. Michael Trapido Michael Trapido Post author | 27 February 2009

    Thanks guys. It’s not easy but every child is a blessing and Gabriel is just such a wonderful character that he really does fill our lives with joy.

  6. Benzol Benzol 28 February 2009

    Through my partner I have had the opportunity to meet many parents and teachers who take care of “special needs” children, physically or mentally affected.
    I have seen a passionate love and care for these children despite adverse conditions resulting from the tardy implementation of White Paper 6 (inclusion) by government.

    I have seen school performances by these kids that could pass the test for a semi professional label. The amount of time and patience from parents and teachers to get this done must have been amazing.

    Loosing one of these children might seem a blessing in disguise for the cynics but is indeed a terrible loss for the parents.

  7. Rose Morrow Rose Morrow 28 February 2009

    Probably one of the most inspiring movies I have ever seen was a documentary about a couple who had an autistic son – it’s called “A miracle of Love” -really a recommended movie for anyone with an autistic child. Have you seen it Michael? Thanks so much for sharing your special story with us.
    Rose Morrow

  8. Rory Short Rory Short 1 March 2009

    Thanks for sharing Michael.

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