Lucy G. The death of this young mom-to-be led her mother Helen (right) to stare down her loss and start a venture that brings meaning to the lives of vulnerable people

What do you do when your world has caved in? How about starting something life-giving? Read what 69-year-old HELEN GARAGHTY did in response to the excruciating loss of her daughter Lucy and grand-daughter Alexis. She told her difficult story to SUE BROWN 

Hairdresser Helen was born in England but moved to South Africa in 1975 after meeting her South African photographer husband, James. They live in Cape Town with their first daughter, Jo, who is 40. They lost their second daughter Lucy and her baby in 2015

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‘My first daughter, Jo, was born seemingly healthy, but was diagnosed at eight months with phenylketonuria. This is an inability to tolerate a substance called phenylalanine which is found in many foods. It’s harmless for most people but causes brain damage in anyone with the condition.

Jo was a niggly, uncomfortable baby. When she was six months old, a friend with a daughter the same age came to visit and I immediately noticed the difference between her and Jo’s milestones.

The Garaghty family (from left to right): James, Lucy, Jo and Helen

I took Jo to see specialists at Red Cross Children’s Hospital, where a house doctor realised what was wrong with Jo. She was immediately put onto the rigorous diet required but had already suffered brain damage, and was diagnosed with ‘global retardation’, as it was called in those days. The result was many struggles for Jo and a great strain on our marriage as she grew up.

When she was about three, I felt the need to go back to church, which I hadn’t attended for many years. I was invited to a small prayer meeting, where Psalm 139 made a great impact on me, and I asked God to come into my heart. I woke in the middle of that night with a dramatic sense of His presence, and began reading the Bible Jo had been given at her baptism.

A week or two later I became pregnant with Lucy. The pregnancy was unstable and my obstetrician booked me in to terminate, saying there was no foetus but I kept faith, went for a second scan and felt the presence of God absolutely flooding the room. The scan revealed a perfect foetus!  From then on, my life had much peace, including at Lucy’s birth.

Lucy was born and turned out to be sweet-natured, gentle and kind. She used to say that her sister Jo had taught her compassion, and that she would always care for her in later years.

Lucy was ‘sweet-natured, gentle and kind,’ says Helen. ‘She used to say that Jo had taught her compassion.’

Lucy grew up to become a magazine designer and a woman of great faith. She met her husband-to-be, art director Juan Geel, while assisting her dad on a shoot. Her final job was with Pick n Pay’s ‘Fresh Living‘ magazine and by 2015, she was happily expecting their first child.

Happy times: Lucy on her birthday with husband Juan, sister Jo, mother Helen and stepdaughter Mila
Lucy’s last job was as a designer at Pick n Pay’s Fresh Living magazine, which also used her as a photographic model | Photo: Fresh Living magazine

At 38 weeks of pregnancy she began to feel unwell. Her GP was concerned as she was slightly jaundiced. Lucy then went into labour. Within an hour of arriving at the hospital, Juan called me in a panic, saying the baby’s heartbeat couldn’t be detected, and James and I rushed through to the hospital.

I remember seeing an image in my mind of the sea at Cape Town’s Fish Hoek beach, where I had occasionally swum. God was telling me not to wade in the shallower waters where the waves break and the sand moves, but to come into the deep waters behind the breakers, with Him: to float and be held up by Him in that place of calm. Alexis Faith was stillborn, and Lucy was diagnosed with acute fatty liver disease, brought on by pregnancy.

I did not imagine at this point that Lucy would die too. For the next nine weeks she was in and out of consciousness, treated in ICU by a team of specialists for kidney, liver and heart failure, and multiple infections. I remember my daughter saying: ‘Mommy, I held my baby, it was amazing’ and ‘Mommy don’t cry, it will be all right’.

Helen: ‘I did not imagine that Lucy would die, too. [But she] was put on life support. Then the excruciating decision to turn off the machines was made’ | Photo: Fresh Living magazine

After a resuscitation that lasted 30 minutes, Lucy was put on life support. Then the excruciating decision to turn off the machines was made. My husband James bravely stood and thanked her distressed medical staff. I can simply say that I felt carried by God at that time. However, Lucy’s death was particularly difficult for Jo to understand, and she took it very badly.

At church, I made a close friend who had lost a son three weeks previously but found attending church services too emotional, and found solace in constantly listening to worship CDs. I never felt angry with God, either when Jo was diagnosed, or when Lucy and Alexis died. I never asked, ‘Why me?’, but rather, ‘Why not me?’

I also found myself keeping to myself for a while. It was painful to hear people talking about their grandchildren, but on the other hand I didn’t want my friends to censor their conversation out of respect for me.

I felt extremely low just before the first anniversary of Lucy’s death, and deeply in mourning for the fact that I’d never have any grandchildren.

A friend and wonderful neighbour took me to a praise and worship church service where I went forward for prayer with a minister from whom Lucy had requested a ‘proper hug’ in ICU despite all her tubes and lines. As he prayed, a woman I didn’t know enveloped me in her arms. I fell apart and wept. But I felt like a transformed person the following day, and my depression had lifted. I truly believe the Holy Spirit had ministered to me during that time of prayer.

Now, I felt, it was time to focus on Jo, given that Lucy had enjoyed 31 years of a wonderful life while Jo had struggled for 35 years. Slowly, it dawned that I needed to put my efforts into helping her live a more fulfilling life.

After receiving prayer at church when at a low emotional ebb, Helen felt ‘transformed’. She resolved to focus on her surviving daughter, Jo, and the result was the Lucy G Craft Café where all can explore their creativity (or have fun if they can’t find it)

I had met Diana Phillips, an occupational therapist, some years earlier with Jo through the Chaeli Campaign, which uplifts and intergrates children with disabilities. Diana was passionate about this type of work. We decided to launch the Lucy G Craft Café as a cross between a café and an inclusive crafting environment that could provide meaningful work and creative opportunities for young people with disabilities, alongside peers with similar challenges in a secure, but not protected, environment.

We opened in 2018 in Kirstenhof, a southern suburb of Cape Town. We employ 14 young people who make and serve teas, coffees, cakes and simple meals in our café, as well as helping with craft preparation and clean up.

Diana and her volunteers provide training in the skills, socialisation, responsibility and accountability required for this work, as well as constant supervision and support. They also facilitate some sewing and computer training.

Coffee and cake: all part of the artistic process at Lucy G Craft Café
Above and below: the inclusive environment at Lucy G

Lucy G offers groups and individuals a relaxed café environment (with tea, coffee and delicious cakes!) where people can enjoy activities tailor-made to their liking such as mosaic, fabric painting, tie-dying and beading. Currently, we’re making clocks from old vinyl records covered in shweshwe fabric.

We host parties in the daytime and evenings for children and adults, and are also home to some scrapbooking and knitting groups. We provide all the materials needed, help with the activities, and clean up afterwards!

Three ladies-a-crafting at Lucy G
Cupcakes and other joys: Jo and the Lucy G staff work hard to keep clients fed and watered

We also have a library of donated books for sale to help raise funds. We pay our workers with disabilities a wage, but funding is a challenge so everyone else works on a voluntary basis, including our cake bakers, and we remain just at break-even financially.

We fundraise with concerts, bingo evenings, auctions, quiz nights and motivational talks, and recently were thrilled to receive a small grant from the Lotto and a generous donation from the Rachel Swart Fund.

A joyful moment of creativity. Crafts on offer at Lucy G include fabric and ceramic painting, mosaic work, beading and clock making. ‘I can’t wait to see where we are led next,’ says Helen

I never expected to be working this hard into my 70th birthday year, but I love it! The craft café is my tribute to my beautiful Lucy, enabling her to carry out her promise to look after her older sister. Providing opportunities for people with disabilities like Jo gives meaning and purpose to my life. My next project is to create a group home for Jo and friends as there’s a shortage of this type of place to live. I can’t wait to see where we are led next!’


Great news! You can join in with Helen’s motivating example by volunteering or donating. Lucy G Craft Café currently needs more creatives to share their techniques via workshops. For further details, please email 🙂
#lucygcafe #redcrosschildrenshospital #stillborn #picknpay #magazinedesigner #dianaphillips #disabilities #juangeel #lucy #lucyg #liverfailure #kidneyfailure #psalm139 #retardation #phenylketonuria #freshliving #helengaraghty #alexisfaith #crafts
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