Coping and existing in the world as a motherless child

It can be tough navigating life as a motherless child the writer says.
It can be tough navigating life as a motherless child the writer says.
Image: 123RF/ rawpixel

Freedom is a wonderful thing to have, as a nation, as a race and as a gender.

One of the greatest exercises of freedom, as a woman, is the ability to choose when one becomes a mother: the greatest role of all.

But for all that freedom, motherhood renders you completely powerless in how far you can control how life unfolds for you and your child.

You don't get to choose that you are ready for them to die or for you to leave them behind. When you decide and make the choice to become a mother, you open yourself and the baby up to the vulnerability of one of you dying and the other getting left behind, in smithereens.

On the morning of Monday June 10 in 1996, right in the middle of a cold bitter winter, I was deep in sleep when I felt myself being shaken awake. I begrudgingly peeled off the covers from my head and scrunched my eyes to look at what I turned out to be my father.

The light in mine and my sister's room was not on but the light from the passage was enough for me to make out his frame and a hint of the colour of his favourite pyjamas.

I glanced down to where the broken clock sat and saw that it was not 5am, the time that my father woke me up to get me ready for school every morning.

I started to look back at him, and before my eyes could meet his, the penny dropped. I saved him the trouble of telling me, went back under the covers and wept.

When my weeping had given way to faint sobbing and the heat had begun to leave the tip of my ears, I started hearing voices from the living room, among which I could make out my grandmother's.

In that moment it became official, we were in mourning; my mother had died. I was 12 years old. Every single day since then has been an act of coping and existing in the world as a motherless child.

Some days are easier than others. But there are days when the grief feels as heavy and raw as the first day and it hurts just as much.

My daughter, Lesedi, at almost five years of age, remains fascinated by the idea of my dead mother. Why didn't you take her to the doctor so he could fix her? Is she with God mommy? Why won't God return your mommy?

Some days these childish enquiries make me laugh and on other days I weep into the darkness in my room as soon as Lesedi has gone to sleep. The finality of death is cruel.

Last weekend, we held a baby shower for one of my friends. I was tasked with the job of delivering her to the venue for her surprise shower. As we arrived, I caught sight of her mom, tearing up as she watched her daughter. I can't begin to explain to you the grief that was triggered.

My mother didn't live to see me have the most beautiful child in the world, she doesn't get to see me change a whole country's literary scene, and I don't get to see her proud smile. On top of that, I have absolutely no control over how long Lesedi and I have together.

The world orbits differently for children who have lost their mothers and mothers who have lost their children. Nothing is ever the same, it's the kind of heartbreak that alters your entire life.

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