Purpose of pain

Today I found out that a little boy I know, is terminal with only weeks to live. He is four years old and has had cancer since he was 18 months old.   He has suffered most of his life.   He doesn’t understand why it hurts.

My mom had Diabetes and eventually lost all feeling in her feet because of the disease. One day she smelt something bad and finally realised that she had a cut under her foot that had gone septic. Because she could not feel pain, the cut had gotten infected and this infection was one of the catalysts that led to her eventual death.

Situations like this make me furious. I want to scream or throw things around. I want to take away the pain. I am powerless. There is nothing that anyone can do.

Physical pain is our bodies’ way of telling us something is wrong. So we take pain pills and treat the symptoms. Don’t get me wrong, I am all for medication but sometimes we need to take a closer look and deal with the cause of the pain.

I wonder if the same counts for emotional pain. We find so many ways to avoid dealing with it. We jump into new relationships without working through the hurt left over from the last one. We drink pills. We become workaholics or control freaks. We pretend that the pain is not there. The list is endless.

Pain is unfortunately part of life and it’s something that every one of us have, at one time or another experienced. Although it is not agreeable, it seems to be a necessary and it seems to have a purpose.

Pain can create opportunities for us. It has created a platform for me from which I can reach others. I have an opportunity to bring hope and maybe change a life or two.   It has taken a long time and I have been to hell and back a couple of times. But now I am ready to write about it and tell my stories in the hope that they will somehow bring hope to others.

Pain, like the scars I have previously written about, has shaped me into who I am today. It has taught me that although I can’t always control what happens to me, by large I can control how I respond.

Somebody once told me life is like giving birth. While you are having “contractions” it helps to focus on the fact that the pain will pass and concentrate on the interval that will follow. There is an end goal to the suffering. It is not in vain. It has meaning.

I wish I could state with certainty that I will not have to experience pain again but that’s not how life works. Life is not fair, sometimes it sucks!

I don’t know how long it will take but I am done ignoring the pain. My end goal is healing and wholeness. It’s a journey I am willing to take.

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What if…

What if we could go back?  Back to just before we were conceived and sit around a table with God and such, and discuss our options?  What if we got to live the life of our choosing, instead of the life we were thrown into? What colour eyes would I choose, what colour skin?  Where would I live?  What would my family look like? Which continent? Which country? Which city? What kind of education? Would I choose to be arty and creative or would I choose to be predominantly left-brained? What if I could draw a map with specifics?  Could I choose to marry, choose the kids I would have?  Would I be allowed to decide whether or not death ever reared its head in my life or would the ones I love, live forever?

My gran used to have a saying… “wish in one hand and crap in the other…” and I guess that is what is all comes down to.  We can’t change our past, or the circumstances of our births or childhoods.  I wish I could.  Being a control freak, I would have chosen a totally different life.. maybe.

The problem with this is the following – If I had chosen a different life, I would have missed out on some amazing people like my Grandmother who practically raised me.  I can’t imagine a life without her in it and I don’t want to.  Yes, there are a lot of things I would change if I could.  My mom would be stable.  She would have loved me.  She would have been a real mother.  I would have known my biological father and he would have loved me and supported me.  We would have been a family.

But I can’t change the past.  I can only live for now and work towards a better future.  If this means therapy, by all means.  If it means changing myself for the better, I’m game.

It isn’t easy to change how I think and react, coming from a lifetime of abuse and rejection but I can try.  Baby steps ought to do it.  After all, how do you eat an elephant? Bite by bite!

Helpless

I fool myself

Now and then

That I have swum free of your perpetual

Influence

 

But somehow I am still caught up in the vortex of your lies

Trapped in the fabrications of your mind

The whirlpool of your

Deceit

 

Fighting to free myself of the stench of your

Pretence

Again and again

 

Until I slump back

Into the

Familiar

 

Into your waiting waters of

Death

 

911

Helped to my feet by the

Kindness of strangers

A solid wall of dust drenches me

As I stumble through

rubbled streets and

dreams

 

Grey ash of disbelief

coats us all

As we wear the

ashen mask of pallid fear

 

In the silence of panic

We work

haul ash

Lift stones

Digging

Digging

Digging
While they sleep in their

Living graves

buried beneath

twisted beams and

wreckage

Learning to cope with death

Death is part of life. At some stage someone close to us will die. It sucks, doesn’t it, to lose someone you love?
Two weeks ago, I had to have my dog of 16 years put down and even though I had been preparing myself for the inevitable, it was still one of the most devastating things I have experienced for a long time. It is like a big black hole has opened and nothing can fill it.
I have been up and down on an emotional rollercoaster ever since. I never thought that losing a pet would affect me this way. But it isn’t just about my dog. It is as though it has opened up the loss I experienced a few years ago when I lost my mother. I even find myself thinking my grandmother’s death in 2004. It feels like the only family I had were all ripped from me, one by one.
Some days I can’t see a way out of the pit I’m in. Other days I’m fine. Then it starts all over again.
Rinse, repeat. Rinse, repeat.
And here I am stuck again in the same cycle at a stage of my life when I really could have done without it.
When I think of my mom, I remember the good times, and not the bad times. There were a lot of bad times growing up. When I remember my gran, I think of her naughty smile and sly sense of humour. When I think of my dog, I think of comfort and unconditional love, her big brown eyes and her terrible underbite. And then I get sad and feel empty again.
Rinse, repeat. Rinse, repeat.
I think the trick may be to acknowledge the loss and the void that person / pet has left and deal with it every day, little by little. Remember them and cry, laugh, write, sing. Do whatever you need to do to get through the pain. I read something a while ago about grief being like waves that overwhelm you but how the time between the waves get longer and longer as time goes by. They spoke of how the hurt is a scar that makes you tougher. How at first you are shipwrecked but how it slowly gets easier to manage, easier to float on the waves of grief. I printed out the article to put up on my fridge door in the hopes that it will help to remind myself that it will get better, that I will survive. I have survived worse before, haven’t I?
Last night, or more accurately, early this morning at around 02:00, whilst I was overthinking again and working myself up into a panic, I decided something. It is big girl panties time! Instead of focusing on myself and my messed up emotions, I will celebrate their lives, my mom, my gran and Zoe’s. I will be happy that they are no longer suffering, that for them the pain is over and I will make peace with the past. But it sounds more like a process than a quick fix to me.
But isn’t that easier said than done? Maybe, but I guess it’s worth a shot.

Moving on….

It has been almost 8 years since I was date raped. I have moved on and am fine. Okay, that’s a lie. I am not fine and for a very long time I thought that I would never be fine again. But lately that is starting to change. I had a session with my therapist a few weeks ago in which we spoke about the incident and for the first time ever, it hit me that I was not the one to blame. I realised that it was not only me in that room. There were two people in that room and one of them did not respect the word no.
After it happened I spoke openly about it, having decided to not be a victim. Unfortunately I shared my experience with the wrong people and ended up being gossiped about and feeling even more guilty and rejected. One of my friends actually asked me where I was that it could happen, as if I was acting all slutty and that’s why it happened. I wasn’t in a club, I wasn’t drinking. I wasn’t wearing revealing clothing. I was watching DVDs at my place with someone I thought I could trust. I just got more than I had bargained for.
For years now, I have doubted myself. I have replayed it over in my head and wondered if it actually happened like I remember it. I have wondered if maybe I was wrong, that it wasn’t date rape. Maybe I had been overreacting all this time?
But something went open for me in that session. It was real. It happened. It wasn’t my fault. It’s not who I am and I don’t need to let that incident define me as a person. I also realised something else that, it turns out, is quite important. Even though I had convinced myself that I wasn’t a victim, at that moment, I was. And unconsciously I have adjusted my life to fit around one traumatic event.
I don’t like crowded places. I don’t like social events where there will be people I don’t know. I don’t trust people anymore. And I am filled with fear. Up to now, I wouldn’t have described myself as fearful. But in the past few weeks, I have realised that I am. I am terrified of so many things that I will not even try to name them all. In trying to be brave and fearless and putting on a mask of efficiency back then, I have suppressed emotions that needed to be dealt with. This has led to bad choices in many areas of my life, choices that I regret and have to live with.
But I think I am finally ready to let go and climb out of this box that I have holed myself up in for so long. I am ready to take back the power I unconsciously gave away. I am ready to accept that my attacker is not worth me suffering for another day. I am worth a lot more than I give myself credit for and starting now, I am going to do my level best to start living that way.

Struggling with depression

Today I want to share one of my stories with you: my struggle with depression. I didn’t have a great childhood, looking back I realise that there has always been a sense of melancholy that I have carried with me. I have a few good memories, it is those I choose to think about to fight back the bouts of depression that loom over me now and again.
Most of the time I am a happy-go-lucky person and nobody would ever know my secret. Since mental illness is stigmatised, I tend to not advertise the fact that I struggle with it. Some days are good days, but then I get those days where I am walking through syrup, days when I struggle to get out of bed and to put on a happy face; days when I just withdraw and lie in bed, overthinking, overeating and crying. I am a people person, but when I am very depressed I hide my feelings, because that little voice in my head tells me that people will not be able to handle the person I become when I am depressed.
Certain times of the year are a battle, especially holidays like Christmas and Easter when I am alone, isolated. Being single without parents or siblings makes it worse. At 37, the expectation of ever getting married is dwindling rapidly which in turn makes me even more depressed.
I can always feel it coming over me, the beginning of a battle. So I work harder, joke more, laugh more, eat more… anything to ward off the darkness that builds up behind my eyes. Most times I win. But now and then I lose the battle. After years of struggling, I know myself well enough to know when I’ve lost. That’s when I need to be transparent. That’s when I can’t hide it anymore.
I hit a slump end of November last year, and it was so bad that I had to play open cards with my boss and eventually landed in hospital for a week. Hospital was fine, but when I was released, I hit rock bottom. With it being the festive season, most people were away and being stubborn, I didn’t let anyone know how difficult it was for me to get up and brush my teeth or bath or leave the house. I couldn’t read a book, I couldn’t bring myself to listen to music or watch DVDs. I lied in bed and thought about all the ways I could kill myself. See, I made myself a promise. If in 2 years my life hasn’t changed for the better, I am taking an out. Screw my religion that teaches me I will go to hell! In times of darkness, I live in hell anyway.
One or two people reached out to me, but it was one friend in particular that probably saved my life. He emailed me every day and we chatted constantly via email. He is the type of friend that I can say anything to. So when I wanted to cut, I could tell him. When I was too tired to cook, I told him. There was no part of my depression that scared him. He was my rock.
I am still standing. I am still on meds, and seeing a therapist. It was an uphill battle but I guess I won. I still have my off day (sometimes weeks), mostly when I am isolated and alone, but somehow I make it through to fight another day.
I have made peace with the fact that I will probably always be on medication, and probably will always need therapy and except for them both being bloody expensive options, I am okay with that.
On days like today, I have hope. Tomorrow I may feel differently. But even though people don’t understand, there were some who supported me and I know will continue to do so if I could only let them in…

Colours

INTRODUCTION
Outside the car, the sky is lazily turning from velvet night to reddened day. It is peaceful here, next to the road, far away from everyone and everything and I am thankful for the numbness of spirit that embraces me as I sit alone in silence. I still can’t seem to comprehend it. It’s been a week already but it still isn’t real. Today is D-day, the big F-word: The Funeral. I find myself wondering if she would approve of the flowers I chose, or if she would have liked the hymns. Although she attended a typical Afrikaans church, I couldn’t bring myself to choose any of their choruses, opting instead for the old classic How Great Thou Art. I smile now as I think about all the Afrikaans tannies trying to pronounce all the English words. I guess I should be getting back home, but there is one more thing I need to do…
I had found the sealed envelope in my mother’s bookshelf the day she died, lurking between her bible and some or other self-help book. My name was written on the front, and I recognised my mother’s handwriting immediately, I could however, not bring myself to open it. I found myself wanting to phone her to joke about the money I hoped was inside. But then it struck me, she wasn’t here anymore.
As I sat next to my mother’s bed in ICU every day for more than a month, watching her blood move lethargically through the dialysis machine, it started to dawn on me that no amount of dialysis would ever cleanse her of my shame. They say it’s in our blood, in our DNA – The things that make us different I mean. I don’t know much about science but I know that that is where shame lives, the sense that I’m sub-standard; the knowledge that there is something inherently wrong with me, the awareness that it is all my fault.
It all seems to be about colour, here in South Africa, doesn’t it? Even after 20 years of democracy. The white sheets, the black hands of the nurse, the yellow-grey hue of my mother’s blistering skin and the red of her life blood flowing out of her into the dialysis machine to be cleansed, and then pumped back into her. Could the dialysis machine wash my blood too? Could it cleanse me of my shame?
The day the world wept for Elvis, my mother wept also, but in sheer relief. I had been born the perfect colour, the shame of being born out of wedlock, being temporarily forgotten. I was a perfect white, you see. Our secret was safe and our shame was hidden under layers of lies that would continue throughout most of my childhood.
Back then in the 70s, the world was black and white in more ways than one. There was no grey area, no mingling of shades and tones. The world was ordered and ran smoothly according to strict rules that kept us all safe. At least that was what we were told. Everyone knew their place. Birds of a feather…
On the surface, the world was perfect, something out of a 1950’s Rodgers and Hammerstein musical, all smiles and laughter and song. Walking through a whites-only suburb, one almost expected to have Julie Andrews materialise from a painted red doorway, singing gaily about music and umbrellas. Underneath that placid superficiality however, defiance and deception seethed like a roiling serpent struggling to break free and it is within these coils that my journey began.
My parents had made contact through a pen pal column in the Sunday Times. It was love at first sight, or should I say, first write. Things progressed quickly from what I can gather, and it wasn’t long before my mother had fallen pregnant. That is where it all got complicated and messy to say the least. The colours had mingled and I had been formed.
When my mother had broken the news to my father, he had balked and so the devastating truth had come out. He wasn’t a Catholic, he was a Muslim, He wasn’t white, he wasn’t a swarthy Portuguese as he had led her to believe, he was Indian. She had compromised the race system and stepped over the forbidden line. And oh dear, had he forgotten to mention that he was married with kids? He had lied to her because he had wanted to know what it was like on the other side of the race barrier. It was all meant to be an innocent game. Wasn’t she on the pill, for God’s sake?
“Sort it out yourself. I’m done with you.”
And with that parting shot, he walked out of her life. I suspect that that was the day my shame began to take hold of me, the day my destiny was forged.
There was not a day that went by, that my mother didn’t replay that scene over and over in her head, with the scorn and rejection of her lover filling her with shame. It was only when her belly began to bulge that she had to face the veracity of the situation… she had broken the law, and in all probability, would be jailed once her appalling secret was discovered. Her life as she knew it was over.
Being an uncontrolled Diabetic, my mother was ill throughout the pregnancy, spending the last three months of it in hospital. It also did not help that she stopped eating in an effort to abort the creature that was growing inside her. All the while, my shame grew, an insidious black and dirty demon, clinging to the walls of her white washed womb.
I used to dream a lot when I was a child. And there is one particular dream that has recurred throughout my life, creeping back to embrace my subconscious like a shroud, in times of stress. I am in a dark room of some sort, naked and floating in some form of thick liquid. I can hear muffled sounds through the walls, sounds of shouting and sobbing, and I sense the brokenness of the woman whose essence seems to permeate the space in which I float. I find myself overcome by her fear while at the same time, I long to reach out and comfort her.
And then it happens. It is always the same. The beginning of the dream may vary, but it always ends the same way.
The walls of the blackened room start to contract and my body is wracked with pain and shame as I am slowly smothered. My lungs fill painfully with water, and in that instant I always know I am dying. I always know that there is nothing I can do to stop the inevitable, and yet… and yet I fight theoverwhelming dark tide. My mind is imbued with the mantra that my heart still beats to on occasion:
“i. will. not. die.
i. will. not. die.
i. will. not. die…”.
I always wake then, gasping for air with those words pounding in my head. It always takes me a while to recover from the vividness of the dream.
Throughout the three months my mother had spent in that hospital, the adoption papers were lying next to her bed, under the Gideon’s bible. Every now and then, she would pick her pen but she could never bring herself to sign the documents. Every day the social worker would visit expectantly, in the hopes that my mother had signed. Every day she left, disappointed. Before my mother went in for the caesarean, she made it clear that she did not want to see me. She did not want anything to do with me. All she wanted was to forget her humiliation and carry on with her life, as though I had never happened.
And yet… the adoption papers still lay unsigned. Years later, in a rare show of vulnerability and caring, she admitted that she had thought that she would die and in doing so, would not have to take responsibility for her choices or for casting me aside like a second hand piece of clothing.
And so it happened that I was born on a clear and crisp August morning in a sterile white theatre, surrounded by masked doctors and nurses with Springbok Radio droning on in the background. They say I did not cry at all when the doctor hefted me upside down to administer the traditional slap on my behind. I just hung there, upside down, staring blankly as if I did not care, as if I waiting for something of more significance to happen.
When my mother awoke from the operation, my grandmother broke the news that I was a “beautiful baby girl… and she’s pink.” As my mother cried with relief, my grandparents stood by her bedside murmuring their support and forgiveness, absolving her of the disgrace she had brought upon them. However, it would only be on the third day of my life, that she would meet me for the first time. All the while, the unsigned contract silently called to her, whispering promises of the atonement contained within its white pages.
By all accounts I didn’t do much of anything in those first three days. I slept in my incubator and did not once cry out while the hospital staff bustled to and fro around me. When the nurses picked me up to feed me, I made no noise but I seemed to be listening for something. On the fourth day after my birth, my uncle, aged sixteen at the time, convinced my mother to at least see me, to make peace with me, before signing me away.
As the nurse brought me into the ward, I turned my head towards the sound of my mother’s voice and as I was placed in her arms for the first time, I started to cry, a wail that seemed to emanate from the very pit of my being, for it was her voice that I had been waiting to hear. The papers were ceremoniously torn up and I finally had a home.
As I sit here in this silent tomb of a car, I wish I could conclude my story with that beautiful image. I wish fervently that I could give you the happy-ever-after ending that I myself, have longed for my entire life. However, that would not be fair to you, nor me and it would mostly certainly not be fair to the democracy we now enjoy, the democracy built on tears and blood and pain of ordinary people living extraordinary lives.
Like so many of us, my mother is…was flawed and broken beyond repair. It seems that mental illness is one of many demons that course through the veins of my family, mingling with the shame and disgrace that is passed on from generation to generation, eating at our souls, devouring our spirits and ultimately destroying our relationships, leaving us alone in our quarries of despair.
From a very young age, my mother made sure I knew that I was not normal. I was made to understand that there was something inherently wrong with me, that I was stupid and inferior and that is was my fault her life had turned out to be such an incredible failure. Her fits of rage, were accompanied by beatings and vituperations of almost religious fervour.
“Coolie bitch”, “coolie slut”, “fat stupid bitch”, were only some of the daily phrases she recited devoutly in an attempt to rid herself of her own shame and worthlessness. Her favourite line however, was how she wished her attempt at aborting me had not failed but while I was being thrown around and beaten bloody, there was always a small voice in the back of my head chanting, “i. will. not. die. i. will. not. die.”
It was only years later, when I realised that only half of the abuse I suffered was aimed at me. The rest were unconsciously directed back at her in an attempt to punish herself for her brokenness and shame. When she beat me, she was beating herself. When she cursed and swore and punished me, she was punishing the things I represented – her past, her shame, her failures and worthlessness.
Late one night when I was about three years old, I wet my bed for the umpteenth time. I was a bed-wetter too you see, another weapon that was used against me, in the hands of a broken defensive soul. I was a bad girl. I was naughty. I did not deserve to be loved. She did not want me anymore and so she made me pack a small black suitcase and roughly heaved me into the back of our old sunny yellow Volkswagen Beetle, while my grandmother wept and pleaded with her to “please just stop this madness”.
I was left in front of the local orphanage with my suitcase and still dressed in my white urine-stained pyjamas while she threw the dirtied, tainted bedclothes down beside me as she cursed and swore. She bent over to look into my tear stained eyes and screamed, “I hate you, you little whore”, and with that, she climbed into the car and drove away.
I can still remember the white-grey smoke that bellowed from the Beetle’s exhaust pipe as I watched her drive away into the night. I stared blankly, filled with an indescribable feeling of acquiescence and in that moment I understood that I was alone in this world. I did not cry. I just stood silently staring at the red taillights as they grew smaller and smaller and disappeared around the corner. Fifteen minutes later, she drove back and without uttering a word, loaded me into the car and took me home. But I had learnt something valuable that night. I had tasted despair and rejection and had accepted my fate. From that day on, I would scrub myself raw each night in the bath, in an attempt to be more acceptable, to be whiter, to rid myself of the shame of my Indianness, my wrongness, my shame.
When asked about my father throughout my childhood, I would recite the lies that had been drilled into me: My parents are divorced, I don’t know who or where my father is.
Life was filled with fear, fear that someone would find out and take me away, fear of the kaffirs and the other non-whites that rioted and raped and would exterminate us if they had the chance. But then there was Monica.
Monica had worked in my gran’s home for over 25 years. She loved me, she played with me, and she took care of me. She held me when I cried. She was my family. She sat at the table with us at lunch time. I loved her. If she was so bad, how could I love her so much? But at the end of each day, she would leave and go back to where she belonged, the local township. At the end of the day, she was still black, and I still looked white and that was how the world worked.
It was a Monday afternoon when I arrived home from school to sit down for lunch. Casually my gran asked me about one of my friends, and wanted to know who fetched her from school that day.
“Some kaffir”, I answered without thinking. The room went silent and when I could pluck up the courage to look at Monica’s face, I saw that her eyes were filled with tears. We didn’t say anything about it. We all just pretended that it never happened, but in that moment, I realised that something was very, very wrong with the world. To this day, I wish I could go back and make right that wrong, I wish I could erase those words and heal the pain I inflicted but life is never that simple, is it?
I knew all about that kind of pain. My mother never let me forget who and what I really was. Ironically, it was often Monica who comforted me after I had borne the brunt of one of my mother’s outbursts – an outcast being comforted by a second-class citizen.
When I was about ten, my mother’s car broke alongside a road on the way to Klerksdorp, black smoke billowing from the engine. My diabetic mother’s blood sugar was dropping, my grandmother was trying to get her to eat something and I sat in the back paralysed with fear. Would my mother die? Would she get angry and hit me again? Would we be stuck here forever? Cars raced by, no-one giving a damn. Except one…
An old black man in an ancient Ford Cortina stopped and towed us to the nearest garage. He calmed my mother down, and convinced her to eat her peanut butter sandwich and he smiled at me through the window as he hooked up our car to his. He stayed with us at that garage until someone we knew came to fetch us. I can still see his black face with his Colgate white teeth smiling at me through the window of our car. I remember thinking that maybe he was Jesus, because only Jesus would make me feel so safe.
And now the day is awakening as I sit next to the road, and mentally recall my journey thus far. In the field next to which I have parked, there are three horses grazing contentedly. I am struck by the fact, that although they are all horses, they are different colours, white, brown, and dappled. The metaphor they represent strikes a chord within me and I find my eyes filling with tears.
Somehow I am drawn to the white horse, and so I fumble in my handbag and locate an apple which I intend to feed it with. But it does not respond as I stand at the wire calling to it, instead it is the dappled horse that slowly makes its way towards the promise of an early breakfast treat. And as I stroke its head and whisper sweet nothings as it crunches the green apple, it is as though time has slowed and we are lost in a moment, just the two of us. Both mixed colours. Birds of a feather… I find comfort in the way it nuzzles my hand, the way it looks into my face, expecting more food.
The reddened sky, my pink skin, the black tar of the road, the faded blue of the beat up old car and the brilliant green of the dewy grass all seem to overwhelm me in this moment of solitude. And it punches me in my proverbial gut and leaves me gasping for breath. Life is all about colours.
Colours. I am struck again and again by colours. Colours that speak a million words, colours that sing and weep and tell stories of love and loss and hope and despair. Colours so important, that they rule our lives, they are always there, always talking back, always whispering unspoken secrets. Colours and smells and noises, they are the things that tell us stories. Those are the things that we remember most vividly.
I think back now, to when I first discovered my mother naked and comatose in the bath where she had lain helplessly for three days. Her pink wrinkled body, half floating in a few inches of water, while the open tap dripped incessantly onto her claw-like toes are lucid in my mind now and I remember the way her head hung down onto her chest, hazel eyes half open, blankly staring at nothing. I think of her chest that moved in uneven heaves, her pendulous breasts, hanging limply and her grey pubic hair so stark and vulnerable against the white of the ancient porcelain bath.
I recall the bright yellow beach towel with which I covered her nakedness in an attempt to preserve her dignity and then after the phone calls, there was the waiting and still the white pink chest heaved unevenly up and down, struggling for air, fighting to win the war against the inevitable. And in the background of all the colour, there was my voice, pleading with her to wake up, to respond. And when that did not work, there was the sound of my frantic praying, my garbled intercession and when I had no more words, silence came in, flooding the room, heavy with omens of death and loss and finality.
Finally, there were the red lights flashing on the white ambulance as they drove up. In my mind, I summon up the blackness of the faces and hands of the paramedics as they tested her blood sugar and the brown leather of the stretcher they hefted her on to. I clearly recall the squeak of the wheels of the stretcher as it was pushed urgently towards the front door.
Mostly though, I remember with gratitude, how one of the paramedics, a young black man, kept the towel in place as they pushed the rattling stretcher out to the ambulance, out through the lush green garden with its grey-blue lavenders and silky shades of trees. The air was filled with the heady smell of Wisteria and the brightness of roses belied my dread, and covered up the soul-numbing devastation that filled my being as they made their way up the stony driveway. Would this be the last time my mother would find herself here, amongst her beloved plants?
One of my mother’s dogs began to howl then, a long mournful howl, like a creature of the night and we had to stop it from jumping into the ambulance. And as we drove off to the hospital, the dog continued to howl and moan and futilely throw itself against the gate again and again.
The young paramedic sat next to my mother in the back of the ambulance, with his big black hand still holding the sunny bright yellow towel, in an attempt to cover the indignity and nakedness of a white woman he did not know.
I think now, about how he came back to the hospital a few hours later to see how she was doing, and to tell me to not give up hope. He told me there is always hope, that miracles do happen and that I am in his prayers. He placed his black hand on my white shoulder then, and gently squeezed, a gesture filled with a million words. Black on white. Compassion meeting me in my place of utter hopelessness and fear.
Life is funny sometimes, the way people are brought across your path. There was a young black man in ICU with my mother, and because I was there all the time, I had gotten to know his family. So one day I stood and held his reedy black hand in my white one, and I prayed for him. As I prayed, I watched his blood flow through the dialysis machine, red blood. Blood, the same colour as my mother’s, the same colour as mine. And there it was again, colour. Within days, he was strong enough to be moved to another ward, while my mother grew steadily worse, and yet every day, his family would pop in to see if I needed anything. A black family caring for a random white girl and her dying mother. Black on white. Colours.
I have spent the last month of my life, cooped up in ICU, next to my mother’s bed, watching her blood run through transparent tubes of the dialysis machine. I have witnessed the hands of Black, Indian, Coloured, and White sisters changing sheets, adjusting her catheter, and checking machines.
My days in ICU have been filled with colour. White sheets, blue files, red blood, brown urine, and the white blisters that started to cover my mother’s body as her organs started to fail one by one. I watched her pasty blank face frozen in slackness, as I stroked her brown grey hair and whispered to her of how much I loved her, and how I needed her. I held her swollen yellow hand as I begged her to wake up, to not die, and to forgive me for not being what she needed me to be. I promised that I would try to be whiter, to be more submissive, to be a good girl. And still she slept her sleep of the dead, a macabre parody of Sleeping Beauty.
A couple of days ago, it seemed as though she was starting to wake up. Once she even opened her eyes to look at me, and when I smiled and told her I loved her, she mouthed the words, “I love you too”, before closing her eyes and falling back into an even deeper coma from which she would never again wake and now as I stand watching the dappled horse, I cling to her last words, like a man drowning in a torrent of icy reality. There will never be a chance to sort out our differences and with regret I think of all the times I could have told her that I love her, that she is accepted and that I wouldn’t change her for the world. And there is still that damned letter I am too scared to open.
She “died” a few times, the night she finally left me. Each time her heart would stop, and her breathing would still, I would kiss her hand and beg her to come back to me. And her heart would slowly start beating again and she would draw in a breath and fight on. I knew I was being selfish, begging her to stay, but I couldn’t help it, I couldn’t face life alone, without anyone. However twisted our relationship was, she was still family.
But eventually, I pulled together enough strength and leaning over her still form, I stroked her hair and told her how much I loved her, and that it was okay for her to go. But still she fought, labouring to breathe, her heartbeat slow and irregular.
I silently prayed for the words I needed to release her from her pain and suffering, and it was only when I kissed her forehead and whispered, “Mom, it’s okay. I forgive you. I know that you have always loved me”, that she could let go, releasing her last ragged, tormented groan of a breath and then… she was gone. All that was left was the shell that had encased the woman who had shaped my life. I was left alone in that room. The only thing I could do was touch her face for the last time and walk out.
And now a week later, I find myself in this car, next to the road, watching three horses going about their business. It is 6 o’ clock in the morning and it is now or never. And so with trembling hands I tear the envelope open. My insides quiver as I unfurl the delicate pink paper and begin to read:
“Ever since I can remember – since I was a child, I always dreamed of having a daughter. So when I got pregnant, I thought the child growing in me must be a boy, because I had made a real mess of my life at that stage and didn’t dare hope that after all my years of dreaming I would really have a daughter of my own.
After the caesarean, granny told me I had a lovely pink baby girl. I felt ecstatic! But couldn’t stop crying because I didn’t know if granny and granddad would help us. But, thank God they did, and the first time I saw you and held you, you were three days old. The love that poured out of me to you was indescribable! I didn’t think I could ever love anyone so much.
When they brought you towards my bed and I talked to you, you turned your face towards me like a flower turns to the sun. The sound of your crying was the most beautiful sound I had ever heard.
I’ll never forget that day. You were so beautiful. Your little hands and feet and nose and ears. You were so perfect. After you were delivered I felt so empty and I missed feeling you moving and kicking in me.
These emotions will always be with me, in my heart, forever. In other words, I will love you always! You are perfect just the way you are.
Love Mom”
I let my head rest against the steering wheel, and I let go of my rigid self-control… I let it all burst forth. The years of shame, the years of not being quite white enough, the years of pain and anger and fear. I cry and weep and punch the dashboard as I try to make sense of all the lies, of all the hurt, of all the brokenness.
But now there is someone tapping on my window, and I lift my tearstained face to see a black man. He looks vaguely familiar but I cannot place his face. As I roll down my window, I realise that it is the brother of the young man I prayed for in the hospital.
“Hello Tanya”, he greets me. “I thought it was you sitting here. Today’s the funeral isn’t it?”
I nod, afraid to speak in case I start to cry again. I have to pull myself together, have to put on a brave face.
“It looks like you need a shoulder right now,” he says gently. “Why don’t we go to Wimpy and talk? I think it’s time for you to tell your story so that you can make peace with the past. Meet you there in ten.” He smiles and gets into his car and drives off.
As I start up the engine of the battered blue car, I realise he is right. It is time to tell my story. It is time to shake off the shame. It is time to heal.
And it’s all starting with a cup of Wimpy coffee and a black stranger who cares enough to spare an hour or so for a broken white girl. A white girl filled with so many secrets and shame, secrets and shame that will no longer rule her life.
This is a holy moment. It is the end of a journey and yet, it is also the beginning of one. The only difference between them is this journey I am embarking on, is a journey of hope, of healing, of forgiveness and most of all, it is a journey of truth.
I glance again at the horses, and as I drive away, my mind fills with a new mantra:
I Have Hope!
I Have Hope!
I Have Hope!
One day when I am old and grey, this is one of the memories I will think of often… how the kindness of a stranger overcame any racial barrier there may have been were the circumstances or times different.
“I… will… not… die… because I have found hope!

What are we thinking about?

So I had this friend, very unstable and after 13 years of being her emotional punching bag, I realised that the friendship wasn’t healthy and cut her out of my life. But I sometimes wonder about the things that happened to her, that made her like she is.
She was molested by her stepfather at age 3, and her mother is a total psycho. Looking back at her bursts of anger and self destructive behaviour, I see a lot of my own mother in her and I can’t help psycho-analysing her a bit – my verdict is this: Borderline Personality Disorder.
People with this disorder struggle with immense feelings of rejection and will do whatever it takes to be in control. This includes manipulation and sometimes violent outbursts, both verbally and physically. Somehow I can’t help but feel sorry for her, I myself having struggled with feelings of inadequacy and rejection for so many years.
So how come one person, like myself, can work towards a goal and try to figure out things and face the demons, but someone else, like this girl, can’t? If I look at our childhoods, there aren’t many differences, but somehow I ended up being a softie, while she turned into a raging lunatic when she didn’t get her own way. I ended up letting people walk all over me (I still struggle to stick up for myself and I hate conflict), while she bulldozed her way over everyone in her path.
I have had a steady job for years, own a car and property, while she has bounced from job to job like a bloody ping-pong ball.
What is the difference between us? In essence, I have no right to judge her. I still struggle almost weekly with depression and I realise that deep inside I still have anger issues, only I don’t take them out on others like she did.
After a lot of thinking about it, I have come to the conclusion that it is all in our attitudes and definitely in the way we think about things. I have decided to move forward and not be a victim, while she constantly lives in the past. I am not, in any way better than her, but I have learnt from her mistakes and choose to not make the same mistakes in my own life. Someone once said to me, “it can make you better or bitter. It’s your choice”. But how do you change your automatic thinking?
My therapist is trying to teach me to think differently, by implementing the three Cs into my thought life:
• Check – Check what you are thinking. Is it uplifting or does it break you down.
• Challenge – Challenge the negative thoughts. Be objective. If your best friend was standing in front of you, what would she say?
• Change – Replace the negative thoughts with positive, more realistic thoughts.
I have to admit that it is difficult to break the habit of years and years of negative thought patterns. I get tired. I forget to do the C thing sometimes and to be honest, sometimes I just don’t want to because it’s easier to go with what I know. It is also very very tiring to constantly watch what I am thinking all the time. However, I am trying and I can see my thought life slowly changing for the better.

Positivity Challenge

I am by nature a pessimist and cynic. The glass is half empty … or completely empty, depending on whether I have been struck down by PMS. A dear friend of mine said something to me this week about trying to concentrate on more positive things and so it began… our challenge to be positive. I have decided to stay away from all newspapers and focus on good things that are uplifting. Just for this week, mind you. Don’t want to lose my vibe completely. Since that conversation, I have been sending my friend Youtube links to “restore our faith in humanity” and I have to admit that once or twice the video clips had me in tears.
There is so much negativity. The world seems to be filled with pointlessness, hopelessness and just plain evil. But then there are stories you hear, or events you witness, or clips you watch that touch you, that remind you that there IS still good out there. There ARE still people who care. Amidst everything, there is hope. Granted, the horrors seem to outweigh the good, but the good is there.
As I am writing this, I have a picture in my head of a photograph I once saw. It was a flower that had pushed its way up and through a concrete pavement and was blooming. In a place where there should not have been any life, there was. There was hope.
Sometimes I get really bad days, days where I just want to give up on everything. I want to curl myself up into a ball and die. I had one of those a while back. As I sat on the side of the bath in my towel, crying about everything and nothing and I told myself, “tomorrow will be better”… I didn’t believe it at all. I knew I was fooling myself and so I went to bed and cried myself to sleep. Then tomorrow came and surprisingly I did feel better. I was back to my normal self. I am by no means saying this works all the time, but every now and then it does. Living with depression, I have come to realise that when I have off days / weeks that eventually the feeling of utter crapness eventually stops and I bounce back, albeit very slowly sometimes.
I think it is the same with life in general. We are so bombarded by negativity that we start accepting that that is just how the world is with no exceptions. But there are exceptions. People can surprise us. Sometimes it is just someone smiling at you on the street, or someone helping me change a flat tyre. But they are there. Good people still exist. We just need to be on the look-out for them.
And so it is day 3 of my challenge and so far, so good. Let’s see what happens. I may just become an optimist… or not!