GUILT CAN HARM YOU
An attempted break-in at Imraan Meyer’s family home went horribly wrong, causing him years of self-doubt about what he could have done to change the outcome of that night.
Imraan (21) was born in Cape Town. His siblings include one older and one younger brother.
“Growing up in my home was quite nice. My older brother was just one year older than me and we ended up being quite competitive with each other in a friendly manner.
“My mother and father got divorced when I was young. I was about six years old at the time. “She wanted the divorce because of my dad’s addiction to weed. It became worse and worse for him and in the end, my mother couldn’t handle it anymore. This explains a lot of my growing up because she would be very firm and give us tons of warnings about drugs and all that. My dad almost disappeared from our lives and we do not have a solid relationship. “We moved to stay with my grandparents in Grassy Park.”
Imraan bonded with his grandfather who took on the father figure role.
“The relationship I had with my grandfather was really one of a kind I’d say. He was the father I grew up with. He was the one that taught me and my brothers right from wrong my whole life. He was fun and liked to stay active.
“On weekends he’d have a store open on Milnerton fleamarket and sell fruit and veg and eggs which he used to travel so far to get. I remember travelling with him for hours just to get some abnormally huge double yolk eggs or some sweet grapes.
“Everyone used to say I was my grandfather’s favourite.”
Imraan recalls the exact moment two years ago when his family’s life unexpectedly changed. He was 19 years old at the time.
“I woke up at 4am to my mother screaming and shouting for us to get up. While she was yelling, I heard the sound of the glass windows breaking. I jumped up from bed and ran to where she was in the kitchen.
“My heart was racing, I thought my mom was attacked by intruders. When I ran to her in the kitchen, there was this huge flame.”
Survival instinct kicked in and Imraan immediately went outside to get the hosepipe so that he could douse the flames with water. His mother woke up the rest of the family in the house which included; his two siblings, grandfather and grandmother.
“The flames were growing in intensity. It was extremely hot. My grandfather came to help me try and put the fire out. I noticed two guys in the yard who I had never seen before and they claimed to have seen the fire from the highway and they said they had come to help out. I was suspicious of them, but I was too busy trying to stop the fire to give it any further thought.”
The fire was in the front section of the house where all the house keys were kept which meant the family was stuck in the backyard. Neighbours who had by now noticed the blaze, broke down the front door so that the family could escape out the front of the house and into the road.
Imraan and his family managed to get out of the house with their lives and not much else. Flammable materials were stored in the garage which fueled the intensity of the fire.
“By the time we had got out of the house, all the neighbours were out in the street. “Eventually, the fire brigade arrived and the two guys who had been helping us disappeared.”
Imraan and his family were all still dressed in their pyjamas when they escaped with their lives. Once outside, the family and their neighbours watched their home burn down to the ground.
“I’m looking at the house on fire and I’m thinking, why is this happening to us?”
At the time, the family thought that Imraan’s grandfather was still battling the fire. But, when Imraan went to look for him in the yard where they had been together earlier, his grandfather was not there.
“I was convinced my grandfather was assisting the fire brigade all this time. After dealing with the shock of the situation I decided to go and assist him. I walked to the yard but I couldn’t see him. At that moment, my heart began racing even faster. I tried to go inside the house to look for him, but the smoke was all around me. I could hardly breathe or see anything. I came out and I began to panic.”
The firemen went inside the house, found his grandfather and brought him outside in the street, where neighbours and Imraan’s family had gathered.
“He was barely moving and I grabbed his hand and screamed for him to wake up. I could feel his pulse but then it faded and he passed away in my arms. I just started crying.”
By 6 AM that morning the flames had been doused and what had been the family home, was now a burnt-out shell.
A police investigation into the fire confirmed Imraan’s suspicion of the two unidentified men in the yard when the fire first erupted. The police established that the two men burned a CD near the door of Imraan’s home, in the hope that the toxic fumes would keep the family asleep. However, their plan went awry and was the cause of the devastating blaze.
At his grandfather’s funeral later that same day, Imraan began blaming himself for not saving his grandfather.
“I kept having two types of thoughts going through my mind. The first, ‘I should have gone into the house and not just into his room to look for him. It is my fault he is dead.’ The second was, ‘but I couldn’t do that because the smoke was just too much.’ And the tug - of -war dilemma would begin again, ‘but it was my duty as his favourite grandchild to save him.’ “The feeling of guilt was eating me inside, but I actually didn’t want to show any emotion about it. I kept it all inside. I just wanted to be strong for my mother. I didn’t even cry.”
After losing their home in the fire, Imraan and his family moved around for a period of nine months and were hosted by different family members until their house was rebuilt and they moved back.
After their return, Imraan felt a sense of loss and emptiness. He could not fully process the death of his grandfather. He turned to marijuana just so that he could not think about the night of the fire.
“I used to smoke weed. That was the escape route for me but it turned to addiction. I was taking it for over a year and a half. Eventually, my mom found out and she told me the reason why my father and her got divorced was because of the exact reason of what I was doing. I felt guilty for putting my mom through the same thing again and decided to get some help.”
In the two years since the fire and the loss of his grandfather, Imraan has come to accept what had happened and solved his addiction.
“Instead of fighting it, I just accepted it. I felt that it was the only way to go.”
When Imraan was asked his final thoughts, he concluded, “One of the things this experience has taught me is to appreciate my family. Before the fire, we never really spent a lot of time together or told each other how we felt about one another. I now know that you should cherish your loved ones each day because you never know what can happen.”
Imraan Meyer is a Life Choices Academy Alumnus