Finding peace when family has diabetes

Nelia Drenth shares how both her husband and son made (and still make) peace with their diabetes and how they taught the rest of the family to do the same.

Nelia Drenth (66) lives in Pretoria with her husband, Rendert. They have three adult children and four grandchildren.

I am sticking my neck out by writing this article, because I don’t have diabetes. But two of the most important people in my life do.


My husband, Rendert’s, diagnosis (Type 2) just before his 60th birthday was not really a surprise as his father (also named Rendert) lived with diabetes from the age of 54 until he died at the age of 79. He was a horticulturalist and beekeeper. People who knew him always made a joke to say that he was so healthy because of all the bee stings. I shall always remember his mugs of cold black tea waiting for him in the kitchen after working outside and how he enjoyed this treat his wife prepared for him. Diabetes did not stop him in his tracks, but, having survived WWII may have had something to do with his resilience and perseverance. Not to forget his supporting family: six children and quite a lot of grandchildren.

My son

I still remember the day my son, Rendert Jr, was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes, at the age of 31, after a few months of not feeling well, tiredness and loss of weight.

Type 1 diabetes is an unknown illness in both our families and as you can imagine, rocked our boats more than just a little bit. Our spirits soon lifted when his treatment had an immediate positive effect. Today, at the age of 41, he is still doing great.

But, as most of you know, there are many changes to be made; physically (adapt or die), emotionally (you’re not the only one with diabetes, so stop crying), socially (have some desert!) and spiritually (why me, Lord?)

Both hubby and son continue with life, work in the garden, do their jobs, travel, laugh a lot and inspire us all. They have taught me that to make peace with diabetes, I have to remember who they are and not think of them as their diagnosis (Treat me like you always did, as your husband and your son. I am not diabetes, I am still me).

They have taught me the pleasure of companionship. We can still have fun. (And yes, we do have fun!).

And they have taught me that I should treasure their resilience and bravery for being able to adapt and live a meaningful life.

But maybe the most important lesson was to trust them that they will act responsibly while living with diabetes.