HAJI MOHAMED DAWJEE: Love, loss and living on
My mother visited us for just over a week recently. She was supposed to leave after a four-day stay, but with the Easter long weekend around the corner, we convinced her to stay on instead of going home and spending the weekend alone. It would have been her first Easter without my dad. At the time of the extended-stay invitation, I didn’t realise it would also be her first wedding anniversary without him.
The first of April is for fools, but for my parents and in my family, it is a day for fools in love. But what happens when one of a pair leaves, forever? Never to be seen, heard or touched again. Never to welcome you back into their life year after year, on the same date that you chose together when you decided to spend the rest of your lives together. I didn’t think about it until I woke up that morning and the thought was forced on me.
The first thing I do when I wake, as many of us do, is look at my phone where the date is displayed quite clearly. No need to walk to the kitchen where your magnetised calendar hangs on the fridge to turn the page and remind yourself of the day of the year. It’s just there. And sometimes the numbers roll over meaninglessly. Day after day, moment by moment, time just ticks over and then it starts all over again.
But sometimes, like the first of April this year, a day has a special place and a special meaning, like an anniversary. And while that day is also the same every year, when you lose the one you love, the first anniversary starts all over again, only this time, instead of with them, you are without.
I got into my car for the morning day-care drop off and I hadn’t wished my mom a happy anniversary yet. I was so muddled and confused. I even sat in the car for a bit wondering what children or other family members do in this situation. Is it a happy day? Is it sad? Is it both? Do people want to be reminded, or do they want to forget? If you say nothing are you withholding support, and if you say something are you tearing off a band aid? There’s no way of knowing, and I didn’t know, so I said nothing.
While sitting in that car and coming up with no answers, I did the stupid thing we all do when we’re dumbstruck or at a loss for words or have no idea what illness we have. I asked Google. If you ever find yourself in this position, don’t bother. It won’t make you feel better and it won’t solve your problem. I put my phone down and took a slow drive home and while pushing 40kms/hour in an 80kms/hour zone, I stepped into my mothers’ shoes and asked only one question: What if I were her today? What if I were her on the 17th of December and Rebecca was lost to me forever and I had to be in that day, had to live that day alone, for the first time?
While I stood in those shoes, I imagined myself in our home. No one next to me. No one to kiss and hug and congratulate. No one to talk to about how far we’ve come in our relationship and how grateful we were for each other. No one to say “I can’t wait for many, many more” to. And I realised that losing the love of your life is more than just losing their presence. One of the worst things, and this is something I had never thought of before, is how they don’t just take their bodies with them when they die… when they go. But how they take everything else.
How they steal time and how the best days become the worst ones. How the fullest moments become the emptiest ones. My mom’s emptiness was palpable, and I could feel the cold, the loneliness, the darkness. It felt like she was lost. It felt like I was lost for her. And in searching for something, she would find nothing. No one, no thing, could fill that void. There is no bouquet of flowers, or cards that say, “I’m thinking of you” that can take the place of that space. There is no dinner or party that hold ground. There isn’t even any amount grief that could possibly be enough. And if I could feel that, what was she feeling?
I know this may sound so material, but my dad passed away on my mom’s birthday and he was a great gift giver. In the face of death, gifts mean nothing. But honestly, one of my first thoughts was who will buy her special things now? Who will surprise her with the physical mementos of love? On her birthday last year she received nothing from him but his last breath. In any other year it would have been a beautiful, meaningful piece of jewellery or tickets to some wonderful corner of the world and the same would happen on their anniversary.
Like I said, perhaps in the face of death, these are not the things we miss because all we want is one more minute with that person. But they do mean something. They are a language of love. And that was his. And she, in turn, was so fluent in it.
We speak to each other without words more than we realise and when we die, our conversations disappear, but all the other forms of communication and languages of love go away as well.
In the end, we all clubbed together and tried our best to become vaguely prosaic in that language as well.
I got into my car and went and bought something that could possibly feel like my dad was speaking to her from a place she could share with him on that day. We bought her jewellery with emeralds embedded in the pieces. Not because of their value, not because they were distracting, and not because they were material. But because they are his birthstone and the gesture was a language of love.
And as I made my way back to the store, other members of our family started to send messages that they were thinking of her. Her response? “Thank you. This was his favourite day. And he would always surprise me with something beautiful. If he were here, he would probably be showing me some beautiful part of the world”.
My heart tripped over itself and I felt as though I landed on the right decision. But had I?
The communication was direct and I hoped it spoke for itself. The love language, I hoped, was audible. Not the same. But audible.
But still, the truth is, it will never be enough because to live on without the one you love is inevitably just to live with loss. And for every first… for every first birthday without them, or Father’s Day or their birthday, there is a loss not only of that person, but of something else as well.
Haji Mohamed Dawjee is a South African columnist, disruptor of the peace and the author of 'Sorry, Not Sorry: Experiences of a brown woman in a white South Africa'. Follow her on Twitter.