#IAmASurvivor are stories from women of all walks of life, telling their stories of survival. Everybody is a survivor and all stories deserve to be told. These stories are all in their own words.
The morning that changed my life
We walked into the room. My mum both in shock and crying at the same time. You lay there under a white sheet. Your chest no longer rising and falling. The silence of the hospital room only amplified our sobbing. We knew you were gone.. and yet wished the opposite.
We stroked your face. It was still warm. You had only just departed this world and yet it felt like an eternity since we last saw you. 17 November 2016 was the day you finally became pain free, after over 20 years of pain. This was day one of ours.
Reality hit hard
Nothing prepares you for the loss of a parent. Your safety is shattered. Your dreams of your kids receiving their grandparently love and wisdom is erased. Your heritage fades. And you grieve. You grieve the hugs you will never again receive. You grieve the phone calls that could make you feel better. You simply grieve. Sometimes I just wanted to sleep. Because that was the only way I knew how to see, my dad again. Other times I didn’t want to sleep, because it meant I would lose him again when I woke up. You see, my dad was diagnosed with Rheumathoid Arthritis when I was 12 years old. So, for most part of my life, my mum, brother and I were his caregivers. He was a brave man, and even after having 2 hip replacements and a knee replacement, he always managed to pull through. So after we left his bedside the night before he died, we didn’t think twice that we would see him the next morning. We didn’t really say goodbye.
For the first year I went into auto pilot. The eldest child of 2 (the only daughter) and the one who the world thought was “the strong one”, I tried my best to keep it all together.
I helped my mum wind up dad’s estate. Boy did that bring up so much of anger. Here I was going around erasing my dad like he never existed. I got the courteous “Sorry for your loss” from each service provider. But as I did it over and over again, I began to question life and everything in between. Was this going to be all that I became too? An account number that gets cancelled at the end of it.
Spinning out of control
Somewhere in my grief I began to re-evaluate my own life. It’s strange how every feeling is amplified after intense pain. Over time, I realised that I was not living in a way that would’ve made my dad proud. I had a life that looked amazing on paper, but I was self-sacrificing and had almost no self- love. So in honesty, I was existing, not living.
I spiralled into depression. I was so good at showing the world that I was fine, that it took almost 2 years before I admitted I needed help.
More importantly, I needed to understand myself and my new reality without my dad. There was this void. Where should all this love go to? I sought counselling, mostly because I felt an enormous amount of responsibility to my mum and brother, but also because I felt guilty. Guilty that I didn’t do enough for him, even though I knew I did the best I could have. I needed to get through the numb and feel everything. In its raw, unedited glory. This terrified me.
My new normal
The rose-tinted glasses I had about life were shattered. I now saw this new world, one that I couldn’t quite relate to. Things that used to trigger me became superficial, and I decided that I was going to give my life a new purpose. Oddly enough, I found that my purpose was to be immersed in the grief space. Why would anyone choose to be around others who are grieving? Because honestly, it was the most authentic space I found to be myself. No masks, no peacocking, no lies.
Holding space for others on this journey has become a crucial part of who I have become. I am now a Bereavement Guide at Wings and Me Healing Centre in Randburg. I also co- facilitate Active Grieving Series on monthly talks at the SoulCafe’ in Broadacres Fourways. I founded Dressed With Legacy, which is dedicated to the memory of my dad and is the Final Resting Place of Memories that Matter. I help people share the memories of their loved ones by attaching those memories to the items they would like to donate to charity. It’s quite therapeutic, helping the recipient get to know the one whose legacy is dressing them.
Over the years, the distinctive aroma of Deep Heat ointment seeped into my dad’s clothing. I never thought that smell would make me feel safe and comforted, but it does. I knew more “grievers” needed to feel this comfort too. My friend, Dani Donald, lost her dad around the same time as I did, and so we both wanted to create something dedicated to our dads. We decided to start making “Legacy Bears”. These are bears dressed in clothes made from the garments of a loved one lost. (My bear even still smells like my dad). The joy it has brought us, to help others on this path, is proof that our love for our dads lives on through service to others.
I am a survivor
No one teaches you how to deal with grief, even though it’s something that every human will experience in life.
Some days I feel great and some days it totally sucks. But I have learnt that all feelings can occupy the same space and its perfectly okay.
I lost my hero and my best friend. But in losing him, I lost parts of myself that didn’t serve me. I am now acutely aware that life has so much more to offer and that I had been seeing the world in muted tones all along. I am giving myself a second chance at truly living and I know its what my dad would have wanted.
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