The Hopeless and the How

Guest Post Time! Recently I wrote about refusing to stop. I got an intriguing response from friend, author and blue-haired South African beauty Marlene Nash-McKay. She wrote that everyone faces something that could take down their dreams—and that she would like to think it propels us forward to wrangle those dreams all the more.

I asked Marlene to elaborate and got one of the most honest and brutally moving guest posts I have ever seen. I’ll let Marlene take it from here!


For the longest time, I viewed my own life from the outside in. I went through the motions, did the things I thought I was meant to do. Went to school, found a job, got married, had children, bought a house. It was safe: a victim’s haven. Because, you see, when you are not living, really living, your own life you are under no obligation to take responsibility for it. I drifted from one good situation to other very bad situations, often bobbing on the open sea of uncertain questions like: who am I, what do I want, where am I going and, most frighteningly of all, how did I get here? I wanted to be everything and I wanted to be nothing at the very same time.

On the 19th of October 2004 my life changed, in a split second, and what followed was a slow, painful, agonising, turning point. Today, I am in the grateful position to know who I really am. I sometimes find myself wondering whether the price I paid for my awakening was worth it.  Honestly, I really don’t know and in all probability never will. What I do know, for certain, is that I am a most definitely in a better place for it.

Photo credit: "Black Pines" by Eric Vondy


What started as an idyllic new life in the countryside turned to a nightmare when my husband and I were awoken on the night of the 17th by the sound and smell of a fiercely burning fire. Even as a writer I find it difficult to properly put into words the range of emotions one goes through on realising that your children are in mortal danger. I won’t try because I know that I will not do those particular feelings any justice. After struggling for what seemed like an eternity to free our 9 year old green eyed, red haired, freckle faced, full of life son from a burning caravan we stood watching in disbelief as everything we owned burnt to the ground. Thirty six hours later his lungs collapsed, and after an emergency tracheotomy, he was dead. To say that it was incomprehensible is an understatement of epic proportions. To say that it was unbelievable is closer to the truth. To say that we were devastated, disillusioned and destroyed is possibly the best way to put it. When the first dull thud of earth hit the coffin I loaded my dreams, aspirations, realities and beliefs on the shovel, with the dirt, and buried them. Then I went off the rails.


I became terrified of everything: of flying, of driving in a car, of being in a crowd of people, of entering a full restaurant on my own, of lighting, of thunder and, most of all, of sleeping. I trawled the house night after night standing vigil against fires, fiends and foes, just in case another monster managed to sneak through the door, under cover of darkness, and whisk our daughter to the same unknown place of no return. The insanity crept up on me, slowly at first, and then it gained momentum. I tried silencing its haunting melody with alcohol and when that didn’t work I tried with drugs. I considered hanging a handwritten sign, on a piece of string, around my neck that read: I am dead, but I am still walking, but I didn’t have the strength to look for string, so I left it. The world carried on turning, the mound of dirt on his grave settled, his school friends forgot about him and carried on with their little lives, our friends started disappearing, unwilling or unable to deal with the aftershock. The light disappeared from my eyes, then my husband’s and eventually from our daughter’s.

Photo credit: "Fire Angel" by Terriko

The Why and the How

He who has a ‘why’ to live for can bear with almost any how.

– Friedrich Nietzche.

I started keeping a journal, erratically, as I still do to this day: random ramblings of hurt, disappointment and despair interspersed with fragments of hope. I read hundreds of books about grief and coping with the loss of a child, some useful others not worth the paper they were written on. I sat down, opened my laptop, and started pouring my pain onto reams and reams of paper. Before long I had enough substance to submit to agents. I selected ten or so and shot off my query and sample chapters of the book on ‘how to overcome grief’, even though I myself hadn’t even scraped the tip of the iceberg. I waited, without any real conviction and received only one reply. It came from a leading London-based agent and it was possibly the catalyst that changed my life. Personally written, it read: Your writing has potential but your book is not commercially sustainable. I am very sorry for your loss and hope that, through writing this manuscript, you have been able to deal with your pain to some extent. The penny dropped: I have to deal with it in whatever way I can. Through writing, through talking, through praying, through crying, through cursing or ranting but most importantly through living!

I systematically started putting my life back. I dug deep into my own psyche in an effort to figure out who I am, with the hurt or without the hurt. I searched for signs of hope everywhere, finding it in little things like a decent night’s sleep or extended periods of sobriety. I wrote my life story down, the hard way, by hand and with a fountain pen, and discovered what I believe in and what I don’t.

Today, I write every single day of my life even though I now hide who I am in fiction, by building characters that climb out of the abyss of hopelessness into a life ultimately filled with hope. Individuals who, like I, take the time to get to know themselves in order to better understand that life is worth living only if you know where you have come from. Then, and only then, does it become evident that the end is really only the beginning of another journey.

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