Not that kind of anniversary: A year since your passing

“Grief is so elusive, just when you think the worst is over, it comes back again to remind you how empty your life is without the person you lost.” — The Yearning, Mohale Mashigo

Dear Mama,

It has been a year since the dreaded WhatsApp call that changed the trajectory of my life’s existence. I still remember everything about that day; how sunny it was and how I was in conversation with a friend, telling her how cautious I was to admit that I was enjoying America, because I was afraid of living in the truth of claiming some sort of relief in the newness of America. But the truth is that I was not settled and I knew deep in the crevices of my heart that something was going to happen, something that would make me hate enjoying America; something that would make being in America difficult. And there it was, on that fateful day, life remained consistent in being unfair and unkind — you passed away. Without warning, without much fighting — like you welcomed death as easily as it arrived at your door step.

You would be happy to know I am back from America now — a Master’s degree in hand and you aren’t here. Mama, it is Summa Cum Laude, which means, I got gold stars for all my subjects. Your boy is still a star. I know you would believe this if I had the privilege to tell you face to face.

I haven’t been back home since being back in the country and I haven’t been to your grave since the last time I was home, the last time your body was above ground. I have reasons Mama, the biggest one being that I still don’t want to admit that the only place I can find you is one section at a graveyard and my memories, if I shift through tears.

This reality is too painful because memories are fallible, they won’t last forever. Over times, there are certain things that I won’t remember so easily. I am afraid of that. It scares me that at one point, I will forget how you sound, how your laughter sounds, that even if for a split moment, I might forget how you look. I am afraid that in my young age, I will begin to forget the most important part of me; you.

There are certain memories fragmented by hurt. I have been feeling so displaced since my return. Initially I thought it was adjusting to being back home, but I am beginning to realise that I am adjusting to being homeless, even with a roof over my head. I made homes of three womxn and all of them have gone; I don’t know if home can exist in only me. James Baldwin — you’d love him — writes “perhaps home is not a place but simply an irrevocable condition”. I agree with him. You were my home. Your mom and sister were always my home. You were people that love me deeply, in your own complex ways. The first destruction of the irrevocable condition was when your mom died, then a few years later your sister died and now you are gone. There is no home for me, anymore. That’s the displacement I feel — a lack of motherly love to house me.

I know you are wondering about your other children, the little ones. I’m taking care of them as best as I can. I think Nthabeleng misses you the most. You were her best friend. She misses her friend more than anything. Her and I speak often and sometimes I don’t have the right words for her. Words to ease her pain and take away her loss. Although not the same, I am mending a loss of my own. A loss of reconciliation, a loss of renewed relationship. A loss of restoring broken relations.

How is Mojalefa? I, too, wonder how he is. He saw you in your last moments. I wonder what that does to an 11-year-old, seeing his mom dying and witnessing her death. When I speak to him, he sounds excited to hear from me. He told me about all his school projects and everything he is getting up to. Some days, I’m glad that he gets to be a child again. He says he misses you and I understand that. You were always there for him. Even when he spent months in hospital, you were there every single day — without fail.

I am really happy that he is back at school because I remember how the first part of 2017 was spent in hospital with him because of the negligent health care you received at the hands of the public health system. James Baldwin was right when he remarked “[a]nyone who has ever struggled with poverty knows how extremely expensive it is to be poor.” I think in some ways this is what lead to your passing. You were so tired of fighting injustice and structural inequality. You were tired of struggling. It still plagues me how the shackles of poverty remains. Even with these degrees, wealth is an illusion.

Mama, this year has been the hardest. I think Koleka Putuma sums it up well. She writes:

“It takes strength to grieve,
to fall apart,
leaking things, people
who will never return to you.”

On most days, I do not think I have the strength to grieve or the vocabulary to mourn. Some days waking up is an act of god, as I do not want to be alive. There are days when I remember how I have not truly mourned your passing because for me — as your eldest child — mourning is a luxury I cannot afford. Mama, I do not think there will be a time when I will be over your passing, particularly because you woke on this day, a year ago, in your house for the last time and while preparing for the day, you fell and later that day you died. Mama, you fell and died. I can’t get over this. I think about it often how tired you must have been to fall and die. All the womxn in you were tired and I am sorry. One of the last memories I have of you is how proud you were of me going to study in America. I heard it in your voice, it has that ‘I birthed this’ type of pride. I want to hold on to this memory every time doubt sets in, as it tends to.

There are days when I am angry that you passed away. You and I still needed to iron out our relationship and learn to love each other through all the nuances of an adult relationship between a parent and a child.

Mama, I miss you and your consistency, even in the difficulty of your relationship. I look back now and know that you loved me in the best way you knew how.

I miss you in ways words cannot begin to articulate.

Your Son,