It’s OK , not to be OK.

Student life was pretty mundane and repetitive.9am shorthand classes everyday were the bane of my existence and my social life involved watching countless reality shows with my housemates. I’d also become the leader of a Christian fellowship (BLW) at my university. Though it was a big deal and I found it hard adjusting, I saw it as a chance to use my gift of the gab for Jesus! But just as I was settling into a smooth routine, my pastor shared the word for the month and warned that “there was trouble coming”. I couldn’t have anticipated what happened next.

On a cold November night, I witnessed the brutal murder of my close friend and housemate, Eni Mevish. She was a 20 year old health freak obsessed with exercising but always smelt like perfume. Serendipity had brought us together at a house viewing and our friendship blossomed from there. Her Pakistani heritage and Islamic beliefs are still embedded in my daily life as sometimes I’ll unknowingly say “Insha’Allah” as she always did even for simple things like going for a shower and how we shared a love for Bollywood movies. These are peaceful memories I cling to because the horror I saw and heard that night aren’t erasable. Slowly I’m finally replacing the images of her lifeless body and of the psycho wielding a knife , with pictures of the precious time we spent together.

Always miss this squinted smile

It’s OK not to be OK. I didn’t believe that , running on no sleep and borrowed clothing I waltzed back into University after the night of the murder. Acting like everything was OK , I smiled and tried to be normal but my course mates stared at me in confusion. Withstanding only a few minutes of the pretence , I had to leave. Alone on the street and having hallucinations of the murderer ,I suffered my first panic attack but thankfully a course mate saw me and embraced me with the warmest hug I’d ever felt. Those who know me know I hated hugs, I didn’t see the point of two bodies touching unnecessarily , but in this moment I understood that hugs are comforting.

As much as I didn’t want to admit , what had happened couldn’t be taken lightly. Each day unravelled like crumpled paper as my life changed drastically. I received a call asking for fellowship reports which reminded me that I still had responsibilities. Every other call would be someone throwing bible scriptures at me “You can do all things through Christ”, which did nothing but go in one ear and out the other. Carrying on with my weekly fellowship meetings , I didn’t believe or feel the words that came out of my mouth. How could I communicate the love of God when I didn’t ‘feel’ that love or how could I tell someone to be strong when I felt weak inside?.

Until I surrendered and decided to stop pretending to myself and everyone, my healing began. I had to take a break from everything and touch base. I went home and surrounded myself with people who genuinely knew me and loved me. Just a simple hug made me feel better or a cheeky Nandos with friends as they talked about irrelevant things. I didn’t want to hear how sorry you were and honestly sorry won’t fix a broken plate. “You have to be strong” … I disagree; you’ll have emotions to express and have to allow yourself to feel .Grieving is a process that happens naturally and the less resistance the better you’ll feel. Cry if you need to, don’t feel guilty when you laugh and just ride out your emotions. You’re not doing yourself any favours by putting up a front.

My relationship with God had to start afresh; I’ve learnt there’s humility in asking for help. Don’t think you’re weak because you ask for help. That’s a sign of strength! Being able to say ‘God, I need help’. I struggled pointlessly because I was convinced in my own strength. My first step was therapy, though as Christians we have the holy spirit as ultimate counsellor , professional counselling is advised because it’s cathartic to talk to someone who is well equipped to help you practically. Also focusing on positive things can distract your mind from negative memories .As I had constant nightmares and could barely sleep alone. Playing faith filled videos whilst I slept started to drive out the fear and the discovery of the best sitcom ever , The Office proved that laughter is good medicine for the soul.

It’s been a long journey to return to who I was before and just as I was getting into the groove of life, a few days after the one year memorial of my friend’s death , my uncle passed away. Gershom Ndhlovu was highly revered and the former editor at the Zambian Daily Mail. His loving nature inspired and sparked the desire in me to pursue journalism but his untimely death shocked our entire family.

As the saying goes “bad luck comes in threes”. Unfortunately, a few months following my uncle’s passing , my housemate David Peters who was a gentle giant , died by suicide. This was the catalyst of crippling anxiety that changed from me from a confident extrovert to being a paranoid introvert.

Fast forward to now , the battle has been difficult but my dependence on God has brought unexplainable peace. I’ll honestly say that it wasn’t any amount of scripture that carried me this far. It was LOVE. The love and support from family and especially friends that delivered me from such a dark place. For certain that was God’s help because God is love.

So in case you don’t know how to deal with someone who is grieving : show them love that suits them , listen without always having an answer and try not to bombard them with bible verses. Instead pray for them and your presence alone may be enough comfort.