Successful solutions with, Qaphelani Mabika
I have recently been assisting a colleague who is struggling to come to terms with the death of her mother. My colleague is a banker and she says she can hardly concentrate at work. She is still in denial and still grieving. This is what I am sharing with my colleague.
Human beings are mortal and dying is scientific. Human beings do not live forever. Painful as it may be, it’s a fact of life that our parents should leave us through death at some point in our lives. That is the norm. It is normal when our parents die and we bury them. It is not quiet the norm when they bury us.
My colleague is a married mother of two girls and a boy. I was saying to her she is very blessed because there are some children who have never known a biological mother in their entire lives. They have not had the privilege to say “mother” to anybody and they have never known the warmth, the embrace and the smile of a mother.
For those of us who have had the privilege to spend some time with our parents, it’s a blessing, let us enjoy them and cherish the time we are spending with them for at some point they will surely depart from us and thus natural. If our parents die, when we ourselves are parents thus even a bonus. Our children have also had the privilege to enjoy their grandparents. They have been blessed and privileged to be loved and spoiled by gogo and khulu (mbuya and sekuru).
We should have the courage to celebrate the lives of our parents when they depart. I know at times they depart in pain. We struggle to keep soul and body together. Their medical bills are very high. In some instances we have taken them to expensive medical specialists and at times across borders for specialised treatment and operations.
Paying these medical bills is indeed our moral obligation that is why they took good care of us sending us to school and college. I am not saying they were investing in us so that we could take care of them in old age. No, what I am saying is that it becomes our duty naturally to reciprocate the love they gave us. When they depart the best we can do so that they rest in peace is to do those things that they would have loved us to do.
At times we are lucky they tell us what to do when they are gone. Some organised parents leave wills. The best we can do for our departed parents is to respect these wills. I know at times they are issues that are challenged in wills. I am not a legal person and I am not talking about such wills but the normal non-contested will.
Naturally one parent departs first and in some rare cases they may go at once. National death statistics have shown that in the majority of deaths men go first. The reasons why men go first are many and I will not discuss them here.
When this happens, the best thing you can do for the departed parent is to do all the good you had planned for them for the living parent. When my father passed away way back in 1993, his friend the then Resident Minister and Governor of the Midlands Province Retired Lieutenant-Colonel Hebert Mahlaba said to us the children in his grave side speech, “ . . . zvese zvamanga muchida kuyitira baba, mochiyitira amai, mopedzera shungu dzenyu dzose pana mai vamasiyirwa nababa.” (As children all the good things you had planned to do for your father you should now do for your mother over and above what you wanted to do for her).
There are many factors that affect the grieving process. We have to slowly accept the reality of the death. Acceptance of death leads to a quick closure. Rearrangement of family responsibilities can be a factor in the grieving process. For example with the death of a father, the elder son may immediately assume the position of father in the family or the wife can immediately assume the position of bread winner.
The process of assuming these responsibilities while someone is still grieving affects the grieving process. It is however, assuming new responsibilities that can also increase the acceptance of the loss and adjusting to the new environment.
Depending on our religious and traditional orientations, it is also important to allow ourselves to mourn. Mourning refers to those culturally prescribed activities we do to show that we are bereaved. It is therefore, important that we go through the religious, cultural or traditional processes that make us accept the reality of the death. I will not go into these religious and traditional mourning practices. They differ with cultures and acceptance varies as well.
We need to recreate the deceased in another form so that we can start a healthy connection with the departed person. We need to connect with the deceased in that form they are now in. Life has to go on, we need to move on with life and form new bounds and start investing in new relationships where necessary.
We need to put up that photograph of them on the wall and when we look at them we say “rest in eternal peace my hero (ine), you have run a good race.” If our mother leaves us is there anyone in the family or community who can be a surrogate mother? If our father departs, who can be surrogate father? We need to invest in new relationships.
I will digress slightly from parents. We have very young women who lose husbands prematurely. Family and society should allow them to remarry if they so wish. The men remarry even in old age. We need to learn to live in a new environment without the deceased.
At times we experience different feelings after the loss of parents. We are guilty at times. We feel we did not do enough for them to survive. We stress, maybe had we done this and that, the parent could have lived. We are bitter or angry in some cases when we suspect somebody caused the death of our parent directly or indirectly.
It is okay to feel the way we feel but feelings should be worked on and settled. We need to note that these feelings do not change what has happened. The worry doesn’t bring the departed back to life. The stress at this stage does not solve anything. Joe Barnnett (1993) said, “Worry is like a rocking chair, it will keep you busy but won’t get you anywhere”. In times of loss of a parent let us be consoled by St Augustine:
“God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference.”
They are gone and we cannot change that. They are gone because they are human, they are mortal, and they cannot be with us forever. Sooner or later our own children will be grieving when we are also gone, such is creation and it is called balancing the ecosystem in scientific terms.