Written by Geraldine Muteka


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17 Jul, 2021

Saying goodbye in this life

Mourning is defined as the expression of sorrow over a loss, in many cases, the death of a loved one. 

In most communities, there is a set way to mourn and there are various practices the community members participate in when a loved one passes on. These practices are aimed at honouring the one who passed on and comforting the ones who stay behind. 

I questioned many of the practices I saw growing up, and still do today. Primarily because I felt the voices of women and children were missing and as a result, these practices were not providing the protection they should be providing. Perhaps, because in the earlier years, women and children had a peculiar place in society. A place where they should “know their place” and “be seen and not heard”.

My mom was my safe place for asking these questions. Her answers did not always satisfy my questions, but the way she responded always settled my heart. She did not always agree with all the practices, but she valued showing respect for what is important to others. She therefore honoured these practices. In supporting my mom, I learned to always respect the practices of others and later in life, I started learning how to participate in these practices within the boundaries of my values. 

Recently, my siblings and I said goodbye to our mom. My mom’s death was sudden, and it awakened a pain in me that I can still not describe. In arranging my mom’s funeral, my siblings and I were caught between a rock and a hard place several times. We had to observe the government regulations and we wanted to be respectful to the practices and traditions of our community. In the end, the weight of people’s lives and our obligation to contribute to that safekeeping by observing government protocols won out.

This should not even be a debate, by my reasoning, yet in these challenging times it is a serious debate amongst many people. 

My family found a beautiful way to honour my mom whilst being responsible. Her funeral was different, which is true for many people today. There was no opening service, no gatherings at our house, no serving food in the week, no putting up a shelter, no all-night singing, no fire with meat in the pot, no vetkoek and soup and there were no hugs.

There were however many private moments of “do you remember?”. There was deep and free crying without feeling the pressure of not making people uncomfortable. There were unique and heartfelt dedications, there were messages and time to read messages, there were spontaneous celebrations of my mom’s life at odd moments and there was an intense awareness of her presence.

And for me (who is very private with grief) there was a God-given moment in church on my knees with hands raised, tears streaming down my face, body shaking uncontrollably and a deep “thank you, God” and “thank you, Mamma” rippling through my entire being. 

As the world changes, our practices should also change, and in this time, there should be a focus on holistic protection (mind, body and soul) as well as inclusion of all people in our communities. 

Saying goodbye to our loved ones in this life will never be easy, however we can create healing and protective practices that honour our loved ones, celebrate their lives, and keep the ones who stay behind safe.



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