Graduation is only the first of many milestones that I will achieve without the physical presence of both of my parents. 

Wits University’s graduation season 2022 is here and I am excited that I will be graduating this year as it symbolises the fruits of my three years of hard work. However, the preparation for my graduation is tinged with sadness that my mother died before I could obtain my degree. I had imagined that she would be spending a lot of money on my graduation attire and singing in jubilation, but the reality is that I will cross the graduation stage without seeing her in the crowd.

My aunt, Maria Poo, who will be there instead, has stepped into the breach and has been helping me with my attire, makeup and graduation party planning. It will still be an enjoyable day, however, it has made me recall the events of last year.

On July 8, 2021 my mother, Dr Manono Poo took her last breath at Ahmed Kathrada Hospital, Lenasia, Johannesburg. The cause of her death was covid-19. According to SA Coronavirus, 208 847 active cases and 460 deaths were recorded on that day.

The two weeks leading up to her death were difficult as I had recently been discharged from a psychiatric hospital in May where I was being treated for severe depression and anxiety. Additionally, I had also tested positive for covid-19. I had to juggle school, my mental and physical health as well as taking care of my sickly mother. I am an only child, and my father died in 2018.

Five days before her death, her symptoms of covid-19 had worsened. She experienced diarrhoea, dizziness, vomiting, loss of taste and smell and she struggled to do basic activities such as bathing herself and taking herself to the toilet.

A memory that will forever haunt me is when I slept next to her in her bed and my mother woke up to make herself cereal. In my sleep, I heard her faintly calling out my name in the distance. I finally woke up and searched for her. I found her laying on the kitchen floor with cereal scattered on the floor. My mother told me that she had been laying there for almost 30 minutes. The feeling of anger and frustration came upon me because no matter how hard I tried to take care of her, her body was simply giving up on her.

The late Dr Manono Poo. Photo: Busisiwe Mdluli

When my Aunt Maria came to visit her two days later, she could see that my mother was struggling to breathe and took her to a doctor who transferred her to hospital.

Three days later, my mother was dead. Her last words to me via WhatsApp were: “[The nurses] have given me food via the tubes now. I feel a lot better. My angel. I love you very dearly.”

My mother was buried on July 13, 2021. At the cemetery I noticed that an 18-year-old girl was buried in the same year. Every fibre of my being wished to trade places with that girl as the purpose of living seemed non-existent. The thought of suicide has crossed my mind on multiple occasions, but I still stand because of the love and support that I have received from my maternal family.

After my mother died, I was in denial for six months and I did not want to face the emotions of grief. Once I passed the stage of in denial, I started to experience anxiety attacks and depressive episodes such as isolating myself from others and feeling an intense wave of sadness. 

I started attending grief counselling sessions in February 2022 from which I learned that one should allow oneself to be vulnerable and feel the emotions of grief and that the grieving process is not linear. Neither should the process be rushed. Speaking about the deceased and reminiscing about the memories that one has shared with the deceased can promote healing.

When I initially thought of my future without both of my parents, it seemed bleak. However, the thought of my future has changed for the better because I am on the path of achieving my goals and dreams. On my graduation day I firmly believe that my parents will be looking down on me from heaven and rooting for my success.

FEATURED IMAGE: Busisiwe Mdluli. Photo: file