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.