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Hansie’s story

To give you some insight into my life, I’ve decided to share ‘snapshots’ of my life with you … those milestone events that essentially make Hans Dreyer, Hans Dreyer. It’s never easy to look back and communicate these things with raw honesty; to peel back those protective layers that hide the pain … but it’s so important. Through this series I hope you’ll somehow be able to better relate to the man behind the advice … to understand that I’ve ‘been there’ and ‘done that’. Above all I hope that my struggles (and my victories) will encourage you to see that Bipolar Disorder can be a blessing if you understand it, and that you can learn how to live a successful, enriching life despite it. You CAN achieve amazing things, and it’s NEVER TOO LATE to embrace this truth! Bipolar Disorder needn’t be the terrible monster that ruins families, promising careers and lives.

Let me start by sharing the single most tragic event in my life … the death of our youngest son, Hansie.


Then you did it… that one thing that we were so afraid you’d do. It was one wintry Wednesday; a day that started like any other day… Paulina still made you tea when you came home from school that day; you weren’t feeling well, you told her. Then she heard you locking our bedroom door. She even heard the safe key ‘click’ as it unlocked. While she stood around, wondering what on earth she should do next, Paulina heard the shot that shattered our hearts into thousands of little pieces.

Panic-stricken, she ran into the street… it was exactly the time that moms picked up their Grade 1 and 2 kids from the Primary School across the road from our house. She ran up to the first mother she saw, hysterically clinging to her and begging her to come and help. They rushed into our house together. By this stage, blood had already begun to seep through the floorboards of the top story.

The telephone call I received, somewhat prepared your mom and I for what was to come. “You need to come home right away. There was a shooting accident. The bedroom door is locked, and there’s blood.”

On the way home, Mom and I prayed that it wouldn’t be serious… that you’d only managed to fire a shot through your arm or shoulder… that you’d still be with us. I dashed up the wooden staircase and kicked our bedroom door down. Mom stayed in the kitchen… her eyes transfixed on the blood seeping through. There was no way someone would still be alive after losing all that blood…

There you lay on the floor, with your pillow and duvet… on the spot that you and Mom still huddled together in front of the heater that morning… did you feel safe here? It was horrific… your face, blue… and the bullet wound in your head. The entry wound was on the right hand side, and Mom felt sick when she remembered a conversation she’d had with you a few weeks earlier. You had asked her professional opinion as a GP, whether it was true that the temporal bone was the thinnest part of the skull, and she’d confirmed that. The exit wound on the left hand side was where damage was clearly evident… where the blood had gushed out.

Mom ran upstairs, fell to her knees and held you… the paramedic said, “You can leave him, Ma’am, he’s already brain-dead.” But when she took your hand in hers, she could clearly feel a pulse… her hands instinctively moved to feel a pulse in the jugular vein… there was a strong pulse there! Our precious, gorgeous 14 year-old curly-haired, blue-eyed boy… Her anxious cry shook the indecisiveness right out of the paramedic. “My child’s heart is still beating… DO SOMETHING!!”

“Oxygen saturation of 60%,” he announced after pegging the meter to your thumb. “Sixty percent is not good enough… bring a respirator, quickly!”

The policeman at the scene had one objective: to get Mom away from you and out of the room, at all costs. I calmly held her and said, “My wife’s a doctor. You’re not going to get her out of the room like this.”

My calmness seemed to help calm Mom down somewhat, and it dawned on her that she was just trying to postpone the inevitable. She knew from that first moment that your brain would have been so damaged, that it would never be able to be reconciled with what we know as ‘life’… it would have been foolish to keep your body alive without any chance of your brain being able to function on its own… and yet, we still decided to have you taken by ambulance to H.F. Verwoerd Hospital (now known as Steve Biko Hospital). Meanwhile, news spread to our nearest and dearest… if I recall, it was your big sister Hanri who had the composure to make that first call.

Funny the things one remembers… I remember grasping at sips of tea through the tears… my mouth felt like cork. Where did everyone come from? They made more tea, they held us, they prayed with us and made more telephone calls… Was it half an hour? Maybe an hour… it felt like time stood still at that stage… we decided to leave to go to the hospital. Your best friends Henno and Christo accompanied us, as did Henriëtte, the girl who stole your heart. Eventually three cars were packed with the friends who used to come home with you after school, and a few of Mom’s and my close friends.

On the way, Mom and I read each other’s minds and hearts… we decided, almost with one breath, that your organs should be donated. It’s funny how, prior to that moment, the very notion of organ donation made me feel claustrophobic… when Hanri had still wanted to purchase a ‘Medic Alert’ bracelet in order to record her organ donor status… it was as if the idea had ripened in our subconscious minds.

A pleasant, upbeat young doctor met us in the Trauma Ward and took us to you. “But Auntie Mariëtte, he’s still breathing – look how his chest is still moving rhythmically!” Henriëtte got this short-lived flash of hope in her eyes. “No my love, it’s the machine that’s doing his breathing for him… he can’t do it on his own anymore,” Mom explained.

We stood there with our hands on your chest … tears crashing down mercilessly … your hand was still warm to the touch, just like that of any patient who was being kept alive against the odds. I think you were already in heaven, my boy… it was your body lying there… the bullet wound didn’t look so horrific any more… it was covered with some gauze and plaster… looked so ordinary.

We surrounded your bed and I prayed… not that you’d carry on living, but that the Lord would give us strength and serenity.

After all of us said our goodbyes, the Head of the Organ Donor Team was standing to the side, waiting to brace the topic. Fortunately, we were prepared for this… the signatures were a mere formality.

At 11 o’clock that night, you were officially declared dead, with the cause of death recorded as ‘heart failure whilst under unaesthetic’. Despite it being a time of intense pain and mourning, we were warmly wrapped in the comfort of those who cared about us.

Your pals lay around on our lawn and spoke, just like they used to, most days after school… except they were gutted … the wind had been knocked right out of them… especially young Dewan… another member of your inner circle, who only found out about the tragedy at Rugby practice that afternoon.

I had always wondered what it would be like to stand at the deathbed of a child… would I cry hysterically? Would I remain in control and try and ‘fix’ the situation? When you and your siblings were small, mom still had such a fear of something happening to one of you. We were a wonderful family… Hanri aged 23, Tom aged 22, 16-year-old Tiaan, and you, my special one, you who were only 14. You had an incredible connection with each other… so much so that people actually remarked on the unique bond.

Back in the early days I prayed and asked God please to protect you children… and even though I ended my prayer with, “Lord, your will be done”, I still had this underlying angst… I used to wonder what if God were to call one of you home early. Until one day. Up to this point I felt as if I was wrestling with God about this… and on that particular day, it was as if the Lord said to me, “My child, if it must happen, I’ll give you the strength and the grace you need, to deal with it.” That peace thankfully stayed with me for years… the realisation that I couldn’t look after each of you, 24/7, eventually set me free. I realised that only God could be with you all, round the clock.

The day after the tragedy, our friend Judith came to us with a scripture… Genesis 15:6: “… and he believed the Lord, and He credited it to him as righteousness…”
This was a huge comfort to me. Although I knew beyond a shudder of a doubt that you had accepted Jesus as your saviour, I asked God if He would please send someone along our path, with a verse, just for us.

Then another friend came with this verse from Job 14:5: “Man’s days are determined; You have decreed the number of his months and have set limits he cannot exceed…”

This was the beginning of a new perspective on your death. God established the days of your life as well. When Mom was pregnant with you, it was almost as if God didn’t want any of her planning in the scheme of things. While her other two pregnancies involved fertility treatment, it hadn’t been so with your conception. Even though we wanted a family with four children, God did it HIS way when it came to you. You were the only little one that Mom was able to breastfeed, and she kept thinking, “Hansie, I’m raising you for myself.” Mom always went on about the other three kids being nuts about me, and that she’d dearly wanted a child who was just crazy about her! (I protested profusely, but we all know how moms can be sensitive about this sort of thing, right?!)

According to mom, this was not to be! You were the one who crept even deeper in my heart, my special boy. Always ready for a hug or a kiss, right up to just before that fateful day. You were the sensitive one, especially when it came to Mom’s and my feelings. You never wanted us to be sad or worried about anything. Is this why you hid your Depression so well? So that we wouldn’t worry more?

I remember when you were in Grade 7 (Standard 5 in those days). You were so depressed and filled with anxiety that winter… you just wanted to hide away… Mom recalls you burying your head under her arm if you’d go to the mall. When spring arrived, you seemed to feel better. Then, in Grade 8, (Standard 6) there was the time that you fired a shot into the ceiling… the barrel of the pistol still seared your cheek…

After three weeks of treatment in the adolescent unit of a psychiatric clinic, everything seemed to go better. Yet now, in retrospect, we sadly recall little things you said, which we didn’t realise at the time were pointing to the fact that that black helplessness called Depression was encroaching on you yet again. You most certainly planned the end, even though there was no note. The safe key was returned to its place; the furniture was repositioned in front of the safe… almost as if you were trying to tell us that this wasn’t an impulsive decision, an accident… it was a deliberate act that you definitely didn’t want to have anyone intercept… and so you locked our bedroom door just to make sure…

Suddenly, so many puzzle pieces fell into place, in respect of the patients we’d counselled for Depression. I suppose I’ve become resigned to the fact that some people, who are in such a dark place where their mood and emotional state are so disturbed, experience a complete annihilation of their survival instinct. In its place, an urge to self-destruct takes over. If one suicide attempt isn’t successful, they try until they get it right.

This is why we know that suicide isn’t that ‘unforgivable sin’… that moment when your death precedes your logistical ability to ask for pardon… Suicide is the most serious symptom of a seriously sick individual. It’s the final symptom in the build-up of a disease… as impossible to prevent in some people as it is to prevent the rupture of an artery, resulting in a stroke, in other people with hypertension.

Mom’s sister-in-law Christine coined it in her note of sympathy after that terrible night: “At the end of the day, Hansie… holding his big-man cigarette, with his taut rugby physique, was just a scared, sick little boy who was standing up against this broken world, and the outrageous demands it makes on our children.”

How low you must have felt… at least, now, you are finally free from that prison of despair, my boy. You’re sitting with your Father in Heaven, never again to be assessed by worldly standards that only caused you pain and disillusionment. How comforting to know that you passed the most important exam on earth, with flying colours… the test of true love. Even your youngest cousin could recall your expressions of affection, and your patience with the little ones!

Never again will anyone complain about your ‘illegible handwriting’ or your hair that’s half a centimetre longer than it should be, according to those school rules!

Cousin Thomas clearly remembered your conversation with him, just a few days before your death, about organ donation. Thomas said there was NO way he’d be an organ donor… that it paints the most horrific mental pictures for him… and yet you returned to this topic several times that day, stressing that ‘It would be cool to donate one’s organs to someone who needs them!’ Do you know how relieved we were when Thomas told us this?

When we heard that you had been declared dead during the anesthesia, we were wondering whether you had died before your organs could be harvested successfully, as you had wished… but later on, a friend told us that a man in her home meeting group had been pushed into theatre at 10 p.m. that very night, with kidney failure. He had undergone dialysis three times a week, and that night, your kidney saved his life, my boy! Your other kidney was donated to a man who had been waiting for a suitable donor, for 16 years.

I believe that, since the time you were born, God planned that you’d be the ‘match’ that would save those two people’s lives. The corneas in those gorgeous blue eyes of yours were donated to a woman who was so short-sighted, she was due to receive a guide dog the following week… thanks to you, she can see today! Even your strong, fit, healthy heart is beating in someone else’s ribcage today.

These realisations left us comforted… even excited, knowing that your death wasn’t in vain… your story made such an impact on certain people that it was the beginning of a whole new adventure with their Heavenly Father for them.

Rest in Peace, my boy… and know that I am at peace, because you are finally at peace, enjoying the sheer glory or heaven alongside your dear Mom who passed away unexpectedly, many years after you. Love you forever, Hansie.

On getting rid of negative thoughts …

A depressed young man sat down next to the grey-haired, stooped figure of his elderly grandfather.

Why are you looking so sad and sorrowful?” the old man asked.

Grandpa, I feel like I can’t find any rest, day or night. I feel utterly useless; that I’m a disappointment to all the people I once loved. I feel like I’ve messed up my whole life. When I’m around other people, I make them feel sad. I doubt if there’s anyone out there that still loves me,” the young man explained. It’s as if my conscience is constantly accusing me of being useless and disappointing my parents and friends.”

The grandpa sat quite still for some time, pondering over his grandson’s dilemma, stroking his grey beard and deeply in thought.

You must learn to correctly identify the voices talking to you and accusing you” the old man gently whispered.

Let me tell you an age-old tale; a story that was carried on from one decade to the next one, as a story told by the wise old men from the tribe, to the children when the nights are cold and they huddle together around a small cooking fire,” he continued …

There was an old man who felt sad and useless; the love of his life could not give him a son for future generations. She remained barren despite the two of them trying everything they knew of, to conceive. They also fervently prayed for a miracle.

In total despair his wife told him, “Please take my slave girl for yourself; take her to bed and let her conceive your child. Her child will be my child, as our ancient customs dictate, under such circumstances.

The slave girl fell pregnant and gave birth to a son. But the she didn’t react subserviently as the custom dictates. She believed she was superior to her barren mistress, and mocked her. The mistress was deeply hurt, and got very angry. She banished the haughty slave girl, sending her into the desert. An Angel appeared to her and urged her to go back and to submit.

Years later the mistress fell pregnant as well; this was nothing short of a miracle. When her young son reached the age of about four, the family had a weaning festival as tradition required.

There were already hard feelings between the banished slave girl who had borne the husband’s first child, and her mistress; and this negative feeling spilled over into the older son’s attitude. He started mocking his younger (half) brother incessantly, and never let up.

Eventually the younger son was ready to explode with frustration. He ran to his mom and said, “My older brother keeps on belittling me in front of all the visitors, he keeps on mocking me, please help me,” he cried. “I can’t take it anymore!”

The old man’s love of his youth ran to him pleading, “Please tell your older son and his mother to leave us! Their attitudes are absolutely uncalled for! They’re turning our son’s life into a misery!”

The old man looked at her with astonishment. “You know I can’t do that! She is my wife by law! You told her I should take her and conceive a child with her! Her son is my own son … in fact, according to tradition he is your son, and I can’t send them away into the desert!”

This explanation did nothing to placate his real wife. She kept nagging and nagging as only a woman could do. “Send them away! Send them away! Tell them to go!”

When he couldn’t stand it any longer, in total despair he relented. “Alright then! If you keep on, and on, and on, pressurising me to send them away, why don’t we go and pray and ask God what we should do. Then you will hear God telling us that I can’t send them away; they are my family according to our tradition, and I have a legal responsibility towards them.”

So they went to a quiet place to seek God’s presence and to pray.


It can’t be true, we must be mistaken, listen what God is saying” the old man cried. “God said, ‘Send them away, the son of this slave girl may not inherit anything from all your riches! There is not enough for both of them; only your real wife’s son may inherit.’ “

But Grandpa, what are you trying to tell me through this age old story?” the depressed grandson was confused. What is the connection between this story and my terrible fight with my conscience accusing me?”


The slave girl and her son represent laws made by men to live by. According to the teachers of that era 2000 years ago, living by certain rules was the only way to attain inner peace and peace with God,” the grandpa goes on to explain.

But these man-made rules are harsh and almost impossible to adhere to. Consequently, it is almost impossible to achieve that sought-after peace of mind, and peace with God.”

The younger son, borne years later by the old man’s first love, symbolises something totally different,” he continues. “The last-born son stands for the fact that we can resist the accusations brought on us by man-made traditions (the older son, whom the slave girl gave birth to). We have the assurance that God allows us … wait, no; he actually orders us, to send that ‘older son’ and his accusations packing! He gives us freedom. He sets us free from all the mockery of the ‘older son’.”

The grandpa turns to his grandson. “You see, this ‘son’ and his mockery of you, is pretending to be your conscience. He wants you to believe that it is your conscience that accuses you of not being good enough; of being a failure. Of being someone you should be ashamed of being. But this is not true. This ancient fable reveals what God wants you to do when you’re faced with all these inner accusations and self-doubt: ‘SEND THEM AWAY! BANISH THEM!’ It’s not your conscience condemning you. It’s man-made rules and traditions that condemn you and bring you down!”

The younger son of the old man’s first love, represents the freedom that God gives us. There is not enough energy in you to listen to both these voices, they will totally and utterly exhaust you. Distinguish which one is the voice of the evil one. The one who pretends to be your conscience. Chase him away tell him to keep quiet! Tell him that God gave you a new direction… to not listen to that voice, to banish him! Turn around. Listen to the other voice, telling you that the accusations are false … telling you that you are free, that you have endless value in God’s eyes, and that is all that really matters.”

Ponder on this, my boy. It’s not your conscience accusing you, it is the evil who pretends to be your conscience. Send him away with the authority that God gives you. Instead listen to the other voice telling you how precious you are to God, and how much he values you, and that is all that matters. There is nothing of any higher value than God’s evaluation of you. Believe that. Keep telling yourself that, and you will be free!”

The young man rose from his grandpa’s porch chair, and straightened up for the first time in a long time. For the first time in many months, he had hope in his eyes. Against all odds, he decided to listen to the wise old man. To shut out the negative accusations. To embrace the freedom that was his; and by God’s grace, to live life seeing God’s worth of him.


Author’s note: This article was inspired by Dr Caroline Leaf, author of ‘The Perfect You’. In her book, she explains that the thinking of toxic thoughts can change gene expression in just the same way that exposure to chemicals and pollution does. Our DNA is developed to react to the language of our thoughts and the words following these thoughts. Recent neuro-scientific studies have shown that oxytocin, secreted by the brain, can literally ‘melt away’ negative thought bundles, thereby facilitating the ‘re-wiring’ of new non-toxic pathways. Dopamine works with the oxytocin to achieve this melting down of the negative thought bundles. We know that endorphin release makes us feel good, and also helps to ‘detox’ the brain. When we do good things, and when we reach out to others in love, endorphins are released, making us feel better. Broadly speaking, these findings collectively communicate the fact that our mind influences our brain. I encourage you to read this profound author’s work.


Author: Caroline Leaf

Year published: 2017

Book title: The perfect you

Publisher: Grand Rapids Division of Baker Publishing Company