This article was written in 2002 and is published today because its message is still relevant, especially with what is happening in Iraq, Gaza, Israel, Lebanon, Democratic Republic of Congo, Nigeria, Somalia and many conflict zones all over the world.
In television soaps the way they deal with the death of a loved one is through creating memory boxes, indulging in philosophies about how we don't lose people but only gain angels (ancestors), how the deceased become stars in the galaxy, or our guardian angels. I never believed in that melodramatic approach, I only looked at death as some kind of emancipation from the suffering presented by daily living.
On the Friday of May 10, 2002, my half-brother passed away due to tuberculosis. It was after a long painful struggle that relegated him from a proud sixty five kilograms handsome young man of twenty five years to an ever-exhausted, short-tempered twenty six year old recluse, weighing at just below forty kilograms. If he was anything, he was a saint with a baby's mama and a toddler that will never know its father. His untimely death defied every sense and any degree of fairness that I felt was still left after my closest friend died in November last year and my uncle in April this year.
I felt nothing made any sense anymore, but I knew I still had to deal with the situation rationally, because it didn't matter how angry I got, my brother was gone and might never see him again. I was also not going to adopt the DTA (Deal Through Avoiding) Therapy, but face my pain and demons head on and hopefully triumph.
See, my upbringing and social conditioning was that I should never shed tears over pain, thus thinking about the times we holidayed together in Durban made me feel tears flooding my eyes and I figured it was un-African and feminine. I would be failing him and his memory. He would have liked to remember me shouting at him when I was teaching him baseball back in the '90s. He wouldn't have appreciated me shedding tears over his emancipation. There was a lot of things to reminisce about, there was a radio show we recorded together back in '98. We were all wasted and he was crazy- him at his best. We kept laughing our hearts out at his slurred speech and humour. But now, it was the show I couldn't bring myself to listening to in my ultimate hour of need.
I remembered last November when my friend was hit by a car and died. Immediately after hearing the sad news I went to my room and jotted down a heartfelt poem. From that moment to the day of his funeral I had written four poems which all poked sarcasm at death, our expression of pain and unexplainable feeling of loss. Two of them dealt with our crying at cemeteries because we feel guilty for not having shown the deceased some loving in their living years. Maybe a little token of appreciation would have saved them, we feel.
When my uncle died of road rage I wrote a letter to the editor of a daily newspaper complaining about lack of support from the church sector in helping the government curb the scourge. Although my rant was never published, just the fact that I shared my pain made me feel better. But when my brother died, nothing made any sense, not poetry, not letters, not even crying.
May 11, 2002; The first person I had to tell that he was gone, since he was a friend to all my friends, was a young insightful artist friend of mine. I brewed both of us two mugs of coffee and broke the news to him. He was cradling his mug, shaking it cautiously and blinking slightly, absorbing every ounce of the pain. We were whispering a lot of nothings, tossing a lot of swearwords, trying to make sense of it all. What scared us the most was the dark reality that if 26 year olds can just perish, what prospects were there for us remaining? It took us almost thirty minutes to finish our coffees, busy appreciating each other's mortality. We both tried to look on the brighter side, and what we saw was an old reminder that tomorrow is never promised to anyone and we should live every day like it was our last, we should also spread love and not hate.
I then tasked the young artist with the responsibility of telling another friend of ours so he could deal with it himself.
May 12, 2002; He came by and we sat, tried to understand why it had to be him. Adages like "the good die young, he was too good for this world, we'll all get to see the sunshine someday, but he just got there a little quicker" made no sense in this hour of desperation. What we needed was him, his smile, his customary mocking laugh, not condolences or scapegoats.
We discussed the radio show we did together and we both agreed that it wouldn't make sense now. Maybe that was precisely the time it would have made a lot of sense.
May 13, 2002; Knowing myself I knew trauma counseling was out of the picture, it never worked with me in the past and it wouldn't now. All I'm left with is questions about how should people deal with loss? What is the African way of navigating through this thick darkness? Celebrating a person's life is all good because we remember a person's conquests. Some people told me that I should peep at his remains during the final parade as a way of dealing with his departure. Maybe I will.
I grew up reading the Holy Bible and had never come across a verse that suited the condition I was in. Instead, I read the book of Sura 3:185 (The Holy Quran);"Every soul shall have a taste of death: And only on the Day of Judgement shall you be paid your full recompense. Only he who is saved far from the Fire and admitted to the Garden will have attained the object (of life): For the life of this world is but goods and chattels of deception"
17 May, 2002: Once again we were there, the whole extended family, tens of nephews, cousins and nieces. Some whom I see for the first time, brought together by death. Why does it take us death to unite? The only time we be a family again is the night before a funeral.
18 May, 2002: After we finally committed my brother's remains to the ground during which I was silently reciting the late Alan Paton's poem, 'To A Small Boy Who Died At A Diepkloof Reformatory',I forced myself to once again enter his bedroom, the one decorated with his dreams and hopes for the future. A future he was destined not to have. Everything was still as he left them, the toothbrush, facecloth, notebook, the eerie deafening silence. The bed could be mistakened for a bride still waiting for the groom. I turned my back and left, hopefully for the last time this time.
Unashamedly I don't plan to enter his room again. Never again, it's hurting me that I took such a decision, but being confronted by his ambitions is too much for me to bear. Sorry. And I won't write a single line of poetry for him or about him. I might have written them for others but for him it feels rather shallow. I'm sorry.
But after all the poetry, the swearwords, the group therapy and sessions it's me all alone in my room and nothing matters, but my fears and memories. I beg for selective amnesia. Maybe one day I'll get to listen to the tape of the radio show we did together. Maybe I won't. Whether it will be worth it or not, I'll cross that bridge when I get there. Right now, I just explicitly miss him.
Something inside my literati head told me to call organisations that I knew dealt in therapy and soothing people in my situation. To hell with soothing, I decided to go through my own lap of therapy. My lap wasn't working as I soon realised that I was always talking about him in present instead of past tense. I might have let go of him at the graveyard but there was a certain part of me that refused to set him free, understandably so. Today I am dealing with it, whether I will eventually triumph against my demons or not, remains to be seen. Surely, only time will tell.
If there's one thing we need not lose as a people, it's our proud African Heritage which we will once again revisit.
PS. Just two weeks later I got told that Steve Hilton Barber, a genius photographer I once worked with, who I never got the privilege to meet but spoke with many times on the phone and who I looked forward to doing many projects with had passed away. He had passed away and there's nothing I can do. Hopefully, one day we'll all be together. For now...
EXACTLY ONE YEAR LATER
hope is coming in spurts now - in these days of trying/
just 12 months ago they caught a kaffir whining/
t'was my reflection on the mirror as i was scared of crying/
precisely this month last year you booked an early exit/
1 way ticket to valhalla you left a kaffir stranded/
left the world & all its riches in the hands of villains/
fuck night vigils this obituary's all made of diary entries/
when we can't sustain fabricating lies memory's the best weapon/
cuz reminisces' jewelry casket we can eternally cherish/
apart from blood we shared ambitions our 1 plan was to mash/
though you had split loyalties but cash was fetish like a god/
we both worshipped getting rich but getting laid you kept close/
never touch what you can't grasp - your life contradicted beliefs/
if immortality was a gift i would gladly grant it to you/
for your plan to mack hoes 'til you are 50 send me shivers/
i tell you something you don't know but you ain't even listening/
was always ready to argue no matter how wrong you were/
that's 1 thing i miss today, people who stand they ground/
dirty talk & verbal bombs for all the greedy juicy hoes/
ricocheting stray slugs sprayed for all our coward foes/
was our resolve to stay holy & claim the crown for the team/
our sins & troubles exorcised god's children amongst sinners/
only driven by our demons we stay protected by cherubs/
'til we see 6 figures 6 feet or 6 numbers/
funny our bourgeoisie dreams were contrary to god's will/
we pursued them blindly a cocktail of contradictions/
were on a mash for decadence @ night the anthem was forgiveness/
1 year ago your life of sin went for a grand finale/
we assembled to commit your remains finally saying goodbye/
as you cracked your mocking laugh bound for ghetto heaven