The passing of a loved one is a traumatic journey that brings the realisation that death is the final nail in the coffin.
Death had always been something that I looked at from afar. I could never imagine what it felt like, nor what going through all the different stages of grief was like, prior to experiencing it.
My maternal grandmother passed away on January 29, 2021 at Midlands Hospital in Pietermaritzburg. She had been admitted for dehydration. A week after she was hospitalised, on the third week of January, she suffered a series of seizures without fully gaining consciousness. She never gained consciousness after that. On the Wednesday before her passing, I asked one of the nurses on duty if it would be possible to visit her, even though she was unconscious. I was granted permission to see her.
I received a call from the hospital one morning asking me to come and see my grandma. Immediately after dropping the call, I knew this was possibly ‘‘it’’. I recall telling my younger sister, “kubi kugogo” (she is not doing well). Sister Nicole did not scare me. She just said, “The doctor advises that a family member come and see the patient.” Most of my family members were at work.
My grandmother had been my guardian all my life. It was always me, gogo and my younger sister. My mother was working in another city. My life had always been centred on gogo. She and I used to call each other “mngani wami“. She was more of a friend. I could talk to her about anything. She spent most of her life in her garden cultivating different things, depending on the season. She grew mealies, potatoes, sweet potatoes, beans and taros (amadumbe) just to name a few. That is how she augmented the social grant.
On my way to the hospital, I was praying that I find her alive. I wanted to say my goodbye. I wanted to tell her how grateful to her I was for raising me as well as she did. I was anxious about the state I might find her in.
I got to the ICU and put on the PPE. The nurse took me to an isolation room in the ward. In my mind, that is the ICU within the ICU, where a patient is in her own room. She looked peaceful. She looked as if she was sleeping in her own bedroom. Sister Nicole gave me a detailed report on my grandmother’s condition. Her oxygen level was low, blood was not getting to the vital organs fast enough and some parts of her body were swollen as a result.
After the sister left me, I walked around the isolation room, looking at all the machines connected to the person who had single-handedly brought me up. I could not say anything to her; I froze. At long last I stepped out of the room, took off the PPE and threw it in a box just across from the isolation room. I started walking out of the ward, dialling my mother’s number to give her an update.
I can never put into words what happened afterwards. As I was walking out of the ward, all I recall is Sister Nicole tapping me on the shoulder and saying, “I am sorry. She is gone.” What she was saying, and the person she was referring to, did not click. I remember dropping to the floor, trying to process what I had just heard.
All the other deaths in my family had happened when I was still young. When my father passed away I was six, too young to fully understand what it meant to lose a parent. The void a departed loved one supposedly leaves was foreign to me.
What gives me a mixture of emotions is when someone is giving condolences. It reminds me how final death is and will forever be. It takes me back to that scene at the ICU entrance when Sister Nicole broke the news. Hearing, “I am sorry for your loss. I am deeply sorry about your grandmother,” for me is like putting salt on a wound.
Gogo was buried four days later. I did not really get time to mourn her passing. During that time, it was all about preparing for the day of the burial. Only after most family members had left, did it really sink in. I recall crying myself to sleep weeks after her funeral.
Talking about her with my sister has helped me a lot. Reminiscing about our time spent together is healing. When her great grandchildren fought, it was pure entertainment for gogo. She would even call them and instruct them to fight in front of her. I have let her go. She needed to rest; she was 83. Me being the last person to see her alive, I take that as my goodbye from her.
Grief is something you cannot put a time frame on. I think about her every day. I wonder about the afterlife. Does it even exist?
Death is not so foreign anymore. I now relate to the loss of a loved one. I have reached the last stage of grief: acceptance. It does not get any easier, but I have since accepted reality. The good times we shared will forever be in my heart.
FEATURED IMAGE: Mandisa Ntuli. Photo: File