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‘Waterboy’: A Durban mother’s poignant tale of life after her son’s suicide

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Award-winning journalist Glynis Horning has experienced one of the most painful losses a mother could possibly endure: Her son’s suicide. Instead of keeping her hurt private, she has however decided to put it all on paper and share it with the world in the hope of helping others who are going through the same heartbreak.

Suicide and loss

In her book Waterboy, Horning invites the reader into the troubled and uncertain ground of her life after her 25-year-old son’s suicide. She elaborates on the effect this loss has had on her as a mother, their family, as well as her relationships with her friends.

Horning is upfront about the reality of her pain and steers clear of presenting her life after such a loss through rose-tinted glasses.

This week in the KindnessCan podcast, psychologist Paul Bushell and Jane Linley-Thomas talk to Durban-based journalist, Glynis Horning, whose son, Spencer, committed suicide two years ago.

Listen below.

— Jacaranda FM (@jacarandafm) September 11, 2021

Horning states that this wound will remain open, her loss will stay with her forever, and so too the memory of her beloved son. Waterboy is as much a celebration of life as it is a heart-rending exploration of grief.

Raising awareness of mental health is Horning’s main goal with Waterboy.

“If this book can help one person avoid suicide, or bring new understanding to those who have lost someone, it will have achieved its goal.”

Glynis Horning on why she wrote ‘Waterboy’.

Glynis Horning on her son’s suicide


Durban-based journalist Glynis Horning and her husband, Chris, awoke one Sunday morning almost two years ago to the devastating discovery of their 25-year-old son, Spencer, dead in his bed.

Horning’s story chronicles a parent’s worst nightmare. Establishing that his death was suicide, Horning embarks on a journey of anguished self-recrimination.

Should she not have seen the signs? Could she somehow have prevented it? As she struggles with Spencer’s decision to end his life, she has to learn to understand what the depths of depression entail. We feel Horning’s pain, and learn to understand and feel Spencer’s pain, at a visceral level.

Surrounded by loving family and friends, Horning pieces together the puzzle of Spencer’s death, writing with a brutal and heart-searing intensity of grief and loss, but also of the joys of celebrating her son’s life. This book will touch anyone who has experienced a mental health journey directly or indirectly, or a searing loss. Her wisdom and insight are extraordinary.

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“The hole gapes still. It always will. And I fall in periodically.”

Glynis Horning in her book ‘Waterboy’.


Powerful testimony by journalist Glynis Horning about the loss of her son. She is the author of Waterboy, a memoir. “Most important thing that got me through it was sharing my grief with my best friends and practical things like swimming laps in cold water.”

— Internews Health Journalism Network (@InternewsHJN) October 25, 2021

“Fundamentally, ‘Waterboy’ is about love – between a mother and her sons, between a woman and her partner, and between Glynis and her closest friends, three women who hold her wisely and well enough to allow her to find (and lose again) her footing on the rock of their lifelong bond. I read this book in a sitting. It is utterly compelling and utterly heart-breaking.”

Suzy Brokensha – Editor in Chief of ‘Fairlady‘.

“A raw, beautifully written chronicle of a mother’s search for pieces of a puzzle that will eternally feel missing, and a heart-breaking dive into suicide’s furtive nature and the bittersweet lifeline friends and family provide to keep us afloat. I know this book will bring comfort to many people – particularly mothers of teens and young adults – who are left with so many questions.”

Helen Walne, author of ‘The Diving’.


Brilliant freelance journalist Glynis Horning won Health Writer of the Year in the 31st Galliova Awards last week. This is her second consecutive win (and her third overall!). Here’s her proudly sporting last year’s award.

— Fairlady Magazine (@FairladyMag) October 19, 2020

Glynis Horning is an award-winning freelance writer whose assignments have taken her from the townships of apartheid South Africa to the Rwandan refugee camps in Zaire; from the Amazon jungle to ice floes in Patagonia.

Horning is the recipient of the Discovery Health Journalism Award for Best Health Consumer Reporting and Feature Writing, the Pfizer Mental Health Journalism Award, and a Rosalynn Carter Fellowship for Mental Health Journalism.

She was the Galliova Health Writer of the Year in 2017, 2019, and 2020.

Waterboy is published by Bookstorm and is available from Exclusive Book stores at R328.

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