Thomas More College matriculant Joshua Gray with his mom, Ingrid. Picture: Supplied
Thomas More College matriculant Joshua Gray with his mom, Ingrid. Picture: Supplied

#MatricResults2016: Six distinctions for grieving pupil

By BERNADETTE WOLHUTER Time of article published Dec 30, 2016

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Durban – Last month, Thomas More College’s Josh Gray lost his mother, Ingrid, to cancer while he was midway through his final matric exams. But not only did the 18-year-old complete his exams, he achieved six distinctions.

“I drew a cross in the corner of each of those last six exams I wrote and I said to myself that I had to do it for her,” Josh told The Mercury on Thursday.

He said the only way he could get through his exams was by trying to block out all the emotion immediately after his mother died. “But then, after I finished my exams, I had to start dealing with it,” he said. “I had to try to start to accept it, but I don’t think I ever will.”

This year was a trying one for Josh. He had just returned from a rugby tour in Hong Kong – on which one of his teammates had died – when he found out his mother was sick. Ingrid had seen a doctor at Hillcrest Hospital and had a biopsy. Josh went with her to get the results.

“He (the doctor) told me to stay in the waiting room and he broke the news to her,” Josh said. “Then she took me aside, outside the waiting room and filled me in.”

Initially, Ingrid’s cancer – of the stomach and esophagus – was believed to be Stage 1 and treatable. She was scheduled to have surgery a week later, but then a CT scan revealed that it was Stage 4 and not operable. “That was a huge blow,” Josh said.

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Ingrid began chemotherapy and radiation therapy, and Josh said they all had high hopes she would pull through. But she lost a lot of weight and the cancer continued to spread. Then she began experiencing seizures.

Her radiation therapy was stopped and she was put on a different chemotherapy, which Josh described as intense.

He recalled her shaving her hair in the dining room one evening. “She was such a champ, though; she did it with a smile,” he said.

But then came news from the doctor that Ingrid had only six to eight months left to live.

Josh became emotional when he said he was grateful the doctor had told him. “I think if he hadn’t told me the prognosis, I wouldn’t have been able to prepare myself,” he said.

Ingrid did not survive for as long as expected, but Josh said at least he was able to cherish every last moment he got to share with her.

In her final months, Ingrid started highlighting passages in Josh’s Bible for him. “Two weeks before she went, she wrote me a note on the cover,” he said.

When the results of Ingrid’s last CT scan came in, the tumour had stopped growing. “But she was so weak by then,” Josh said.

Midway through his exams, his mother was rushed to hospital. “We thought there was still a chance,” he said.

One afternoon, while Josh was studying for an English paper, his father, Stuart, rushed home and they drove to hospital together. “On the way there, he told me she might go,” said Josh.

He spent about an hour with his mother before she died.

“It was quite an emotional time,” he said, “She wasn’t able to respond but she could listen. It was quite peaceful My dad, I, my uncle and my gran were all there.”

Josh knew he had to finish his exams for his mother.

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He described her as dedicated to her family and a doting mother to him, her only child. “She used to write my study notes for me,” he said. “She loved me so much.”

Ingrid had been a nurse before he was born and he plans to study medicine at the University of Cape Town next year. He said his mother, his grandmother, who was a nurse, his grandfather, who was a doctor, and his father, who worked in the medical field, had inspired him.

Josh achieved distinctions for English, geography, life orientation, maths, biology and science.

He said that when his mother was sick, his father had shouldered the burden and been a source of strength to the family, waking up early to prepare meals and get him to school. But Stuart said on Thursday that it was Josh who had been his strength.

Stuart, who was beaming with pride in his son, said it must have been incredibly difficult.

“I don’t know how he did it, I couldn’t have done what he did,” he said.

And as for Ingrid, he said she was no doubt perched atop a cloud somewhere, looking down on her son with awe and pride.

The Mercury

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