The nineteenth of March 2015 was the day God decided to take my Dad from us. My Dad was ill for twenty days, he was in ICU for all this time and every day he was in hospital, I could slowly feel him being robbed from us.
I have never known helplessness like I felt when my Dad was in hospital. It felt like the rug had been pulled out from under my feet and I was slipping, trying to hold on with all my might, but losing grip and falling aimlessly. The more I tried to be there for him, to comfort his pain, to spread encouragement, the more it became clear to me that I had no control over his health.
The fact that my parents and extended family stay in Pretoria held cold comfort for me. It finally sunk in how being so far away from the ones dear to my heart in times of need brought unforeseen and incessant worry to my life. I was dependent on phone calls and updates from my siblings at every bad moment of my Dad’s stay in hospital. Everyday felt like I was on an emotional rollercoaster ride, being flung from side to side, unable to escape this ride from hell.
What I can say for sure was that my Dad was a fighter. He fought to stay alive – he waged a war with his body to put on a brave face in front of us all, despite his constant pain and suffering. In hospital, his mind was razor sharp, asking about our personal lives, cracking jokes with us, taking our minds off the seriousness of his condition as best he could.
Although he was glad to see me fly in from time to time to see him, I never quite received the welcome he gave my Mom when she visited him. When he caught a glimpse of her, his face broke into the broadest smile and his eyes danced with joy. He would tease her endlessly and she would smile at him, uttering a shy remark. After fifty years of marriage, their love for each other shone so brightly on their faces, although it couldn’t quite mask the sadness they felt at being cruelly separated by his illness.
As the days progressed, my Dad’s condition became graver. His organs were slowly collapsing and time wasn’t on his side. When the doctors broke the news to him that there wasn’t much they could do for him and he wasn’t going to leave the hospital, all his hope for recovery crashed and his fighting spirit waned as he struggled to accept his fate. He cried and cried for he didn’t want to leave us and the life he lived with my Mom. He didn’t know how to bear his fate and shared his fears with my Mom and Sister. After much thought, he courageously came to terms with this devastating news and conveyed his funeral wishes and set about putting plans in place to take care of my Mom’s well-being. He said he wanted everything done by Thursday, which baffled my family, as Thursday was the subsequent day.
Hearing all this talk of my Dad accepting his fate and preparing for his passing, brought on an onslaught of emotions and left me terrified. There wasn’t a thing I could do to change the course of events that was steamrolling before my eyes. When Thursday dawned on us, we suspected something was wrong, but we didn’t expect it to play out exactly as my Dad predicted. My Dad suffered a fatal heart attack, he couldn’t breathe, he had to be resuscitated and his heartbeat was steadily decreasing. The Doctors summoned my family to spend his final moments with him and say their good-byes. My Sister called me and put me on speaker to say my farewell to my Dad as it was too late for me to catch a flight to join them. My Dad was dying a slow protracted death that commenced from 16h00. During his agony, he listened to all the farewells with tears streamed down his eyes. His heart stopped beating at 10h45 and he died surrounded by the ones he held dear.
Getting the call to say my Dad had passed on, tore my heart apart. Even though I knew it was bound to happen, I couldn’t come to terms that my Dad was gone forever. I would never speak to him again, never hear his voice, never have a chance to share my joys with him, never see his beautiful hazel eyes again.
My world had crashed on me. I had to pack to leave to Pretoria amidst emotions I never wanted to experience. I didn’t know what grief was, I had never lost a loved one before, this was a novel experience for me and I didn’t know how to deal with it. Finding my Sister at the airport, I could see the pain written all over her face. Her grief was different to mine, she had witnessed my Dad’s passing and all his anguish and suffering was etched within her. Over the next few days we clung to each other, sharing our fears and consoling each other the best we could.
Seeing my Mom after my Dad’s passing crushed me further. My sorrow could never compare to the pain consuming her, having just lost her husband and best friend. Yet despite her overwhelming agony, she remained strong, fulfilling her caring role of taking care of others before herself, making countless people feel welcome as they paid their respects to her.
My Sister suggested I go and see my Dad at the Mortuary as I didn’t have a chance to see him when he died or to convey a proper good-bye. I was petrified, but I didn’t let on for I knew I would have to face this moment eventually, whether at the funeral or sooner, it wasn’t something I could escape. My Brother and a few other men had already dressed my Dad in his favourite suit and colourful shirt. Walking into the mortuary was incredibly hard and seeing my Dad lying in a coffin with his eyes closed as if he was having a wonderful dream didn’t soften the blow. Viewing him like this, unnerved me completely, for if I didn’t believe my Dad was dead, this sight proved it loud and clear. As I stroked my Dad’s face, he was frozen and tears were threatening to fall.
I was afforded time alone with my Dad. I broke down and said all the things I wanted to say to him but couldn’t get out when he passed on. I cried myself out and stared into the face of my Dad whom I adored all my life despite all the hardships we went through as a family. I knew my Dad did the best he could under the circumstances and I had made peace with this a long time ago. I was reminded of the suffering and pain he endured during the past few weeks and how hard he tried to stay with us, battling a body that failed him.
Returning to my Mom’s place after my heart-breaking moment with my Dad, I was intensely sad, quiet and not in the mood for people. Yet extended family members were everywhere and so many faces I didn’t know. These unknown people introduced themselves to me and shared stories that touched my heart. They conveyed how many favours my Dad did for them and their children, taking them to shops time and time again, transporting their children to school. They spoke fondly of his genuine concern for their well-being and how much they were going to miss him. I’ve known all my life my Dad had a heart of gold, but being reminded that he wasn’t only this way with his family, warmed my heart and cemented in my mind what a wonderful man he was.
In our culture, a funeral takes place a day after the death. It leaves little time to think, plan or even come to terms with the devastation of burying a loved one. Time wasn’t standing still and neither was the emotions welling up inside of me for every time I thought about the impending service, my heart fluttered, anxiety consumed my thoughts and fear gripped me.
It didn’t matter how tired I was over the last few days, sleep evaded me. I couldn’t erase from my mind all the tragic events in my Dad’s life that had spiralled out of control so quickly, how I wished and prayed things had turned out differently and I could turn back the hands of time to have more moments with him. Yet I knew nothing I did could have changed the outcome and tears streamed down my cheeks as I tried to accept reality.
The dawn of my Dad’s funeral came too soon amidst a flurry of saris and getting ready for a ceremony I wasn’t quite ready for. My Dad’s funeral took place at the Vishnu Temple in Laudium, Pretoria. The day started off warm, but rain clouds were shadowing the sun. My Mother was already waiting in the temple, a forlorn figure, awaiting the arrival of my Dad’s coffin. I sat beside her, trying to support her with endearing words of comfort.
The temple was filling up swiftly with family members, friends of my Dad and many people who were lucky to be touched by my Dad’s big heart. The moment of reckoning beckoned, my Dad’s coffin was wheeled into the temple at 11h00 and my heart was beating out of my chest, profound sadness overcoming me. As the coffin was placed beside us, we arose to view my Dad and tears flooded my vision.
A waterfall of emotions cascaded over me – I realised this was the final time I had with my Dad, to bid him farewell, to ingrain to my mind the way he looked, to seek closure, to mourn a man who brought me into this world and who left us too soon. My Sisters and I stood beside the coffin for the duration of the funeral, refusing to budge, wanting to remain by his side.
The two hours that my Dad was with us flew by too soon. The priest performed a prayer and family members were afforded the opportunity to make a final offering to my Dad. The most heart-wrenching moment was when the coffin was sealed and rolled away to the hearse followed by all my family members – our steps measured, our emotions running wild, our hearts broken beyond repair. We hung on to each other for support; our Dad was leaving us to be cremated, his wish for his departure. The clouds erupted, and a downpour of rain fell, marking a blessing as my Dad was welcomed home.
Losing a parent is something I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy. It doesn’t matter whether death is sudden or prolonged as in my Dad’s case – no amount of preparation eases your pain. In my mind, I always thought my parents would stay with me forever and facing the harsh reality of my fairy-tale, left me confounded.
It’s been over two weeks since my Dad’s passing and the hurt and loss I feel hasn’t subsided. In fact, the missing and longing seems to overwhelm me even more. Grief feels like an ocean, it comes in waves, ebbing and flowing. Sometimes it’s calm and other times it’s turbulent and overwhelming.
My heart goes out to my Mom, I wish I can take away her sorrow and soften her pain. I feel my siblings’ grief, I wish I could be there to comfort them, to be their pillar of strength and keep my Dad’s memory alive in our minds forever.
But what I know for sure is that I will never forget my Dad. The love I feel for him will never cease within my heart. The memories in my mind will always be treasured. I’ll never stop talking about him, thinking of him, remembering him. I sense my Dad is at peace and I sometimes feel his presence around me, as if he’s checking up on me to see if I’m okay, like he always used to all my life.
Dad, I will never stop missing you, wishing you had more time with all of us, especially with Mummy. But I take comfort that you remain in the fluttering of my heart, in the whisper of the wind, in the warmth of the sun, in the colours of a rainbow, in the twinkling of the stars, in the depths of my soul.
Farewell my beloved Dad, until we meet again.