Carla spoke at one of the schools in the area and I listened intently to her story. It is a story of love and tragedy. Please take the time to read it and feel free to leave a comment for Carla at the end.
Lanthie asked me to write a guest post on her blog. For those of you who don’t know who I am, my name is Carla Tomson, and I will share some of my journey with you. I feel like I have lived a few different lives here on earth.
I was born in Johannesburg and moved to London with my family as a baby. My mother is South African (Austrian decent), a beautiful woman, and my Dad was from Liverpool and was my hero. My early memories of London are spotted, and were not terribly unusual. We lived in a double story Tudor style house, and there was a squirrel that lived in the oak tree at the bottom of our garden, where my older sister, Janette and I used to play. I went to a Catholic school where I was completely enchanted with the nuns and their rosary beads. On Sundays I was allowed to walk to the shop with Janette to choose a chocolate covered orange biscuit to eat at teatime, and I can still remember what the wrapper looks like. Janette and I shared a bedroom, and my Dad would tell us bedtime stories which he made-up and we always wanted more. I adored my big sister, Janette, who often gave in to me and had the sweeter nature of the two of us. We had a bond that sisters share, a closeness, keeping each others secrets like only sisters do. My little sister, Lee, was just a baby in those days and younger than us, and always remained the baby of the family. My other memories, although slightly fuzzy, are all very normal early childhood memories. That was lifetimes ago.
When I moved to Durban, (South Africa) with my parents and two sisters, it was then that I actually met my husband Shaun, as our family stayed with his family for a couple of weeks until we found a place to live. My husband’s mother, and my mother were friends before they were married, and although we were never childhood sweethearts we have the advantage of having a common culture and background.
I think back to my childhood, and I consider we were fortunate to have grown up in South Africa. Ours was the last nation to grow up without television. We were a generation that grew up listening to the radio, and it forced us to play creatively. I was imaginative and artistic growing up and was really quite indulged looking back. I participated in extra mural activities – dancing, piano, and modeling lessons, and my sisters and I were always dressed in the latest fashions. I rode horses competitively, and have always been an animal lover. Life was so carefree and easy for me in those days. I navigated my way through my teenage years with relative ease. I did test my parents like all teens, but there were never any serious issues only the typical family arguments. There were disputes over boys, curfew times, and my choices of boyfriends, clothing and hairstyles. I finished school and after doing a gap year enrolled to become a fashion designer.
While working for a large apparel manufacturer, I was invited to exhibit my designs at a Designer Show as an independent designer. I was still in my twenties and had a casual boyfriend at the time. During the intermission of the show I bumped into Shaun Tomson. We hadn’t seen each other for a few years and I really didn’t know him all that well. He had subsequently achieved enormous success with his surfing, becoming a world champion, and was on the professional surfing tour. He was in Durban for the Gunston 500 competition and was out on the town. We chatted for a few minutes and the next day he called to ask me out. I told him I was busy for a week. He tells the story of how he had never been turned down before, but really I had to do some juggling as I did have a boyfriend. I found out later that he had a girlfriend in the States (Tracy Austin the famous tennis player), that he told me he would turn down to simmer when he travelled – luckily for me! Truthfully, I didn’t know how much we would have in common. We certainly didn’t mix in the same circles, and surfers were not my usual type.
Shaun was still competing on the world tour and I was working, we dated long distance until we married nearly a year and half later. He was not my first love, but my true love. It was a fairytale.
Marrying the Surf King did not necessarily make me the Queen! Being wed to a sport celebrity came with its challenges, especially in our early years together. There were many women that came out from the woodwork wherever we went, and countless times when I’ve been pushed aside while Shaun is photographed with his arms around a pretty girl. Many private meals interrupted and stories I listen to patiently with grace and dignity from adoring fans and a past that a wife doesn’t always want to hear about.
Shaun and I started an apparel business together, and we were working under tremendous pressure. The violence in South Africa was escalating and our business grew at a rapid rate, but we were factoring our debt at 23% and it had become increasingly difficult to make money. A series of events led us to come the decision that it was time to reassess our lives. This was 1995 and Mathew was turning five and would be starting Kindergarten. We chose to emigrate to the United States. We moved to Santa Barbara, which is one of the most beautiful places in the world, although South Africa will always be in my blood.
Shaun and I founded another apparel company, called Solitude. Over the next seven years our business grew and we worked incredibly hard, and built the brand and sold our merchandise to the best stores in the United States.
Over the next seven years our business grew and we worked incredibly hard, and built the brand and sold our merchandise to the best stores in the United States.
In 2005 we sold our apparel company to Oxford, a publicly traded billion-dollar company on the NY stock exchange. They kept Shaun and I on a 3-year employment contract. During those past several years I had wanted to spend more time at home with Mathew who was left alone way too much. I had no longer wanted to work those long days.
Mathew had grown into an exceptionally handsome teenager, with beautiful big blue eyes with long lashes. He had fair hair that he wore long and had a unique sense of style. He was creative and sensitive but at the same time was an adventurer. He was what is called an old soul. He touched the hearts of people he met and brought joy to their lives with the big smile on his sweet face. He had a happy disposition and a contagious laugh, and was always the champion of the underdog. He was a typical boy and wickedly funny. As his mother, he was the best part of me. He was now in 10th grade in high school and his grades were suffering. He was in a big school with big classes and he was falling through the cracks. He needed me and I wanted desperately to spend more time with him. He was young and innocent for his age, and it was time to evaluate my priorities.
We decided to have Mathew attend Shaun’s old school, Clifton College in Durban and I would live there with him until he could get his grades up. Oxford agreed to let me work remotely from South Africa and we said goodbye to Shaun for the time being.
In the States, kids don’t wear uniforms or have to have haircuts. There are very few rules or regulations. I dropped Mathew at school everyday at 7:30 a.m. in the morning in his new school uniform, with his short back and sides where he soon adjusted to the structured environment, and thrived at his new school with the small classes. I would go to work until I picked him up at 2:30 p.m. in the afternoon when my whole attention was devoted to him.
He was selected for the water polo team and excelled at academics, art and drama. He made friends fast and his handsome looks, easy charm and great sense of humor made him popular with girls and boys, children and adults alike. At the end of his semester he achieved all A’s and a C for Math. We knew we had made the right decision – he was excelling at school and were so proud of him.
Rugby isn’t a sport that is played where we live, but Mathew was fantastically enthusiastic about this new sport when he arrived in Durban and trained hard and was picked for the under 16-rugby team and was going to play against a visiting Australian school.
We had so much fun together. We had a special connection. Our relationship was close like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle with the pieces just clicking into place. I was the best mother I knew how to be. I thought I knew everything about my beautiful boy.
On this particular day we stopped at the studio where I worked, as I had a brief 3-way conference call scheduled with the NY office and Shaun, who was still in California. This was unusual and Mathew was anxious to get going. Shaun called in first and Mathew answered the phone. He had written an excellent essay for English in school that day. He was so proud of it and he wanted to read it for his Dad. The essay was titled “Becoming a Man”. Although Mathew’s real passion was Mountain Biking he loved to surf with Shaun, and the essay was about the spiritual experience of surfing. I would like to share with you just the first paragraph of the essay.
“ Becoming a Man” by Mathew Tomson
Deep inside the barrel, completely in tune with my inner self, nothing else matters, the hard wind and spit shooting past me from behind, my hand dragging along the wall, the light shines ahead. My long hair carried by the wind. My feet are in perfect placement on the board. As I lean forward I feel myself speeding up getting faster and faster as the barrel starts to close. I crouch down until my legs burn and I then pull out to the whole line up cheering. My body tingles with joy and happiness.The first game against the Australian Rugby team was the next day and we had agreed to host one or two of the boys from the visiting team and have them stay with us for a night. There had been a mix up with the times, and we were then scheduled for the following night instead. Mathew was terribly disappointed and we left to go home. We were living in an extremely secure townhouse in a lovely gated community in a very safe neighborhood. I left Mathew to do his homework while I popped out for 20 minutes. When I returned and opened the door I saw the unspeakable!
I was unable to save my beautiful 15-year-old boy. My life was destroyed in a heartbeat and the horrifying tragedy was something I never imagined could ever happen to me. After being unable to revive my child, I lay holding him in my arms for the last time. What happened from the time the paramedics came is a blur. Shaun flew out from the States and my sorrow and pain overcame everything. I had lost the best part of myself. For a while I lost my will to live. I then tormented myself looking for answers. I felt like I was going insane. My mind would play tricks on me and I would see Mathew everywhere. My heart wanted to believe that it was all a bad dream.
Finally, many months later I had to accept there are no answers. I know his death was an accident. I believe he was playing something called “the choking game”, and thought he could stand up at any time.
It was my faith, the outpouring of love of family and friends, and the love and support of my husband that helped me discover the capacity to be resilient, when faced with life’s greatest adversity and challenges. People say that many marriages don’t survive the loss of a child, which goes against the natural order of life. It does change a person and couple forever. It isn’t easy. Shaun is my rock. He held me up when I was falling down. We have just celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary last month and I love my husband more deeply now than when I met him. We are closer having been through the heartbreak and loss and having each other to lean on.
The support, compassionate gestures and acts of kindness from both close friends and strangers were a powerful part of our healing and gave us the strength to find the daily courage to face a new life that did not include our son but still had much to offer. The nurturing and encouragement from a remarkable community where we live made Shaun and I realize how we are loved.
I had been admitted to hospital and Shaun and my mother were in the room sitting by my bedside with me when a close friend came to visit that had just seen a Swami who communicates with the dead. He stood in front of the window on what was a clear night, and said, “I have a message for you from Mathew. He made a mistake. He wants you to know he’s so sorry. What he did was an accident.” As he spoke, there was a bolt of lightning that hit the hospital window, followed by a loud clap of thunder from a completely cloudless sky! There was no more lightening or thunder for the rest of that evening!
Since Mathew’s death I have learnt so much.
I know the greatest gift we can give our children is our time.
Plans may never be realized, as we don’t know what the future brings or what dreams may be broken.
Life is short and fragile. It’s important to focus on today and live in the moment.
Tell your children how much you love them. Kiss them. Hug them. Talk to them.
Tell your husband and people you love while they are still here, how you feel about them. Appreciate them.
Sometimes teenagers may think they’re invincible but we know they are not.
It’s important to create boundaries for our children.
When our children talk to us, we don’t always listen because they don’t always talk to us, as we want them to. Perhaps listening differently would provide us with more understanding.
Our children often teach us more than we teach them.
If children can’t talk to their parents, it’s critical that they have someone they feel they can talk to. A teacher. A counselor. A friend. A relative.
Stop and make more time for yourself and hopefully this peace and serenity will improve your life and make for a better, happier parent or person.
As parents we are not always aware of what our children are doing. It’s our responsibility to guide and educate them of the threats, and to monitor them in this ever-complex world.
The Internet provides a wonderful world of learning and unlimited knowledge but at the same time kids are exposed to risk and danger. It’s important to be aware of what they are doing on the Internet and to keep them safe online. We can’t police our children but we can guide them.
I have learnt to never underestimate the power of prayer.
Just over three years ago when we landed in LA after returning from South Africa, I received a phone call that changed our lives forever! The night before, just before midnight, a baby was born – were we interested in adopting? This baby boy was due on Mathew's birthday (25th September). I knew immediately this was a sign from God. He was born a month premature on 24th August, and the birth mother was unable to keep him. The name she was going to call him was Mathew! I believe this was another clear sign. I knew this baby had chosen us!
In an open adoption in the United States the birth mother gets to choose the adoptive parents and as we were not contactable she had already been given over 12 other profiles of prospective families to look at. We quickly submitted our profile and after reading it she requested a photograph of Mathew. She made her decision before she could even see the photo of Mathew and had chosen us ... or should I say, our baby had chosen us! Our prayers had been answered! Miracles happen to those who believe in them, and I believe in miracles! I never questioned for a minute that this was my baby just as if I had given birth to him.
We went and met the beautiful woman who gave us this amazing gift of life. We walked in the room and she was lying in bed like an angel and the energy was magical. We held each other and cried. We spoke softly for a while, and she asked about our baby. She asked what we wanted to name him because she wanted for our name to go directly on the birth certificate, which isn’t usual for an adoption, and wanted to know if he was beautiful, as she hadn’t seen him. (He had been a C-Section birth).
As we left Shaun immediately commented on how much she looked like me. She could have been my sister! I had made the same observation. The resemblance was uncanny. This was a third sign, which proved to me that this was a divine intervention and our baby had been sent to us from a higher power!
On the drive home the name Luke came to me and instantly felt perfect to Shaun too. I wanted to check the meaning of the name before putting it on the birth certificate. Mathew’s name meant, “Gift from God.”
Luke means, “Healer - Light, or Bringer of Light”
Our baby boy is our bringer of light.
There is a truth to the fact that love is a powerful healer.
As Mathew said in his essay – The light shines Ahead.
Our prayers have been answered. Life is sweet.
I would like to thank Carla for telling her story on my blog and am truly honored to have her as a guest.