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When all else falls away

Michelle McGrane

Click on the book cover to buy!
Buy now!When All Else Falls Away
Nigel Fairhead's Story

Authors (s): Nigel Fairhead with Marianne Thamm
Publisher: Penguin
ISBN 0143024728
Normal price: R110
Special price on (for a limited time): R88

All roads have an end and thus all journeys upon them will some day end. Find the universe within you and you may journey forever. - Maharaji

In January 2000, Nigel Fairhead's wife Brenda and his 11-year-old daughter Kia were abducted, brutally raped and murdered by three men while they were fishing in Nature's Valley on the Eastern Cape coast. The murders made shock headlines around South Africa and internationally.

When All Else Falls Away is the life story of one man's journey towards learning acceptance of life's lessons, overcoming adversity and continuing to find love, peace and happiness in the beauty of the world around him.

Can we learn to change our destiny by releasing the hurts of the past, while still embracing our fragility and ultimate mortality? In the introduction to his book Fairhead writes, "My journey to date has been one of extremes, sometimes fraught with intense pain, suffering and difficulty and at others with such joy, happiness and clarity."

The first devastating loss in Fairhead's life occurred when he was five years old and his mother died. The book traces his journey through a painful childhood, his father's remarriage to "an unhappy and difficult woman", boarding school and nine months' conscription in the South African Defence Force.

In 1967, when Pink Floyd released their seminal album Piper at the Gates of Dawn, the "Summer of Love" was in full swing. Young Nigel bought a one-way ticket to London. "London was clearly awash with drugs. Hash, marijuana, speed, cocaine, methedrine, Physeptone and heroin …"

Hardcore heroin addicts slept rough on the streets and used the tube station toilets to spike or shoot up … Blood splatters arched the walls and tiles of the cubicles where the junkies had cleaned their syringes, usually with water flushed from the toilet.
It was only a matter of time before he experimented: "We tied a belt around my left arm and before I knew it, they had slipped the needle into a bulging vein." Within three months he had become a heroin addict. Fairhead's addiction to drugs, particularly heroin, would return to dog him right up until months before the deaths of his wife and daughter.

In the late sixties, in search of a life with more meaning than London and his drug habit, Fairhead was introduced to the eastern teachings of the Maharaji.

"Maharaji was not offering a religion or a particular belief. His message was more a prompt to daily or lifelong consciousness of inner divinity." In order to learn more about the Maharaji's teachings, Nigel and his first wife, Nettie, travelled to the Prem Nagar Ashram, close to the village of Haridwar in the foothills of the snow-tipped Himalayas.

Upon returning to Cape Town, Nigel met his soulmate, Brenda, the woman who was to become his second wife.

The minute she popped her head with its halo of red hair around the door I knew … It was as if someone had turned on a low voltage electric current that rippled unseen through the venue. Everyone else in the room disappeared as I focused on this tall, regal, magnificent woman. I felt that I recognised her.
Throughout the book Brenda is portrayed larger than life, a woman with an immense capacity for love and joy. "She was not simply my wife. She was my lover, my business partner, a wonderful mother to Kia and, most of all, the best friend I have ever had."

The vibrant Australian woman began helping Nigel with his leatherwork business. The couple was married in 1982 and their daughter Kia (Kiara) was born in September 1992, a little sister for Vashti, Nigel's daughter by his first marriage.

In 1997 Fairhead's business went bankrupt and he continued to fight a losing battle with drugs. He reveals how easy it was to deceive the person closest to him. "I continued to lie to Brenda. She had no idea just how much I was snorting. I was not spiking because I knew that perhaps I would go too far and end up dead. I began consuming huge quantities of street heroin and very soon turned into a walking ghost." Towards the end of 1999 he checked himself into rehab, determined not to let his addiction and the collapse of his business destroy his relationships.

In January 2000, having extricated himself from the destructive cycle of drug abuse, Nigel and his family went on holiday to the coastal resort of Kleinemonde between the Fish River and Port Alfred. It was in this idyllic setting that Brenda and Kia Fairhead were raped and murdered by three young assailants.

In deeply personal and poignant chapters, Nigel tells of the frantic search to find his missing wife and daughter and the subsequent discovery of their bodies in the Keiskamma Pass. He goes on to describe the harrowing ordeal of viewing their bodies in the funeral parlour:

Brenda was such a proud person, such a warrior. Kia was such a gentle, happy soul. They did not deserve to die like this. As I walked away I knew there was no way I could even begin to try and understand it all.
Nigel wrestles with countless questions to which there are no answers: "Could it have been any different? Perhaps if they had not gone out so late? Maybe if they had not been at that particular spot? What if I had gone with them? What if I had been a better husband and father? What if I had not been an addict?"

Nigel describes how, after the funeral and throughout the trial of the assailants, he attempted to come to terms with the reality of his loss. On his attitude to the perpetrators, he says: "Someone suggested that I take a gun into the court and shoot them all. I told him I would not dream of doing that. What difference would it make? What purpose would it serve, except to perpetuate some awful cycle of revenge?"

The book is enhanced with family photographs, letters written by Brenda Fairhead to her parents in Australia, colour copies of Kia's school projects and newspaper reports. The final chapter, "A Room In Your Heart", has been included as "a guide for those readers who might need a broader understanding of the effects of trauma on different individuals." It contains dialogue between Marianne Thamm and clinical psychologist and researcher Anastasia Maw.

When All Else Falls Away is more than a detailed account of the events which led up to the murders of Brenda and Kia Fairhead. With astonishing resolution and piercing candour the author has made public his immense grief and invited readers into the intimate sphere of his drug addiction, marriage and family life to share the difficult road he has travelled and his hard-won spiritual insights. He writes, "This book, more than anything else, is a celebration of the lives of Brenda and Kia. They brought joy, love and light to my life."

In 2002 the author met his current partner, Christa. The couple has since moved to a home on the Garden Route, where he remains drug-free. Nigel Fairhead has savoured life, felt it at each moment, and this inspirational book is a vivid and enduring testament. People who have suffered traumatic personal loss and who struggle to find language to describe the suffering they have undergone may gain some measure of courage from reading When All Else Falls Away.

For what is it to die but to stand naked in the wind and to
melt in the sun?
And what is it to cease breathing, but to free the breath from
its restless tides, that it may rise and expand and seek God
Only when you drink from the river of silence shall you
indeed sing.
And when you have reached the mountain top, then you
shall begin to climb.
And when the earth shall claim your limbs, then shall you
truly dance.
- Kahlil Gibran, The Prophet


Marianne Thamm is an award-winning journalist who has worked for a variety of publications. She lives in Cape Town and is currently a freelance writer. Thamm is the author with Alison of I Have Life.

LitNet: 22 November 2005

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