Making sense of my grief: Your death scores an 8 on my Richter scale

Size matters to me. The size of a teaspoon for the ‘just right’ measurement of coffee. The
size of the mug. I do not like cups. They are too small for my need. I do not remember much
of what I learnt about earthquakes in geography at high school. I was never an A student in
school or at university. However, my inner circle will tell you that I score an A+ in relating and
caring.


I needed to downscale the size of your death to a mere shiver, a slight rumble of thunder. I
could not. The fact that I have been expecting it for so many years and lived with death
before I tasted it, could not limit the impact it had on me. Mr Google says that an earthquake
is caused by a sudden slip on a fault. The tectonic plates of the earth are always slowly
moving, but they get stuck at their edges due to friction. When the stress on the edge
overcomes the friction, it causes an earthquake. You never liked change. The familiarity of
routine gave you a sense of comfort and safety. Not being able to go to gym three times a
week and cycle away at a frenetic pace to pump endorphins into your body, left you like a
gasping fish on the seashore. Lost. Lockdown intensified your inner shaking. The unsafety of
the unknown catapulted you into death. You had a sudden slip on a fault.


Expecting death is different from experiencing it. During Covid-19 we lost the safety of
predictability. Nothing was sure anymore. Nobody was safe anymore. Ask the people who
lived in Ceres, Tulbagh and Wolseley during the 1969 earthquake that measured 6.3 on the
Richter scale. It was devastating. They thought the world was coming to an end. Houses
were destroyed and people were left with only the clothes they were wearing. A newspaper
article said: “The earthquake took them by surprise.” Your death took me by surprise. We
had our crisis a month before lockdown. In our joint session with your psychologist you broke
off your engagement with death and decided to put a stop to its flirtations. You closed that
escape hatch out of our relationship. The psychologist said: “You need to take that option off
your menu of choices.” On the 21 st of March you wrote in your journal that you ended your
relationship with self-death and closed that door. I feel cheated.


I was so geared to “keep you alive”. How did you manage to slip through my fingers? You
were not supposed to. I look at all the books on depression on your bookshelf. We studied
them, applied them. We really did our best. Our best was good enough. Your own suffering
enabled you to become a wounded healer par excellence, affecting the lives of many. Like
the HospiVision motto says: “Touching lives, giving hope.”


In his book ‘A grief observed’ CS Lewis says: “Whatever happens has consequences and
they are irrevocable and irreversible.” I have not even begun to assess the damage of the
earthquake of your death to the building of our family or to my being as an individual. Where
will I file my claim for repairs? Psalm 22:3 “I am poured out like water, and all my bones are
out of joint. My heart is like wax; it has melted within me.” The grief counsellor from England
taught me last night that there are toxins in tears. The structure of tears is also different
when you cry tears of mourning and when you cry because you are cutting unions. I need to
cry all the toxins of the heartache of your death out of my body.


Selfcare = soulcare. As Anne Sexton said: “Put your ear down next to your soul and listen
hard." In my book about our journey with depression I wrote: “Your body cannot send you a
WhatsApp. It sends you emotions. If you ignore or suppress those emotions, your body will
send you pain in different areas to alert you. Should you merely swallow a pain killer and
ignore it, your body could choose to send you a sickness to bring you to a halt and get your
attention. Andre’s death brought us as a family to a halt. On Thursday we would have been
married 37 years. Death has jumped into my physical periphery and is asking for my focused

attention. Emotional logic has taught me that our emotions do not line up in a neat linear
fashion. I can name 20 different situations about which I have 20 different feelings. I need to
give permission for the aftershock to land. To allow the full destruction of death to come into
my awareness. To know that nothing will ever be the same. To know, that after an
earthquake, you can put scaffolding next to your building and restore it. Perhaps draw up
building plans with the help of your Architect and add a new room. A sanctuary. A safe
place. Perhaps I can build that safe room in my heart now because the threat of your death
that I lived with for so long, has lost its power.


I went away to the sea. It is my safe place. My happy place. The eb and the flow of the
waves invite my tears and my anger to express themselves. At the back of my business card
I wrote this statement: “You can only care for others if you care enough to take care of
yourself.”


That is what I am going to do for the next two weeks. I need to draw up a disaster action
plan for inner repairs. Listen to my heart, feel all of my feelings, breathe deeply, ask God for
the new GPS directions for my new season. I am not going to write a blog, not answer a
WhatsApp or keep myself busy with emails. I am facing death and its realities for me.
My Love, your death deserves a halt. Your racehorse will not only slow down. I will stop. As
you have often said to me when we go on holiday: “We are not in a hurry to go anywhere.” I
will do that now. I will not hurry through your death as though it was just a blip on my
horizon. I will search through the rubble at my disaster scene. I will pick up the pieces that I
would like to add to my new building. The memories of the beauty of your being that got
hidden and obscured under all your suffering and despair. Psalm 31:15 “My times are in
Your hand.” Verse 20: “You shall hide me in the secret place of Your presence.” 

I will hold on to my Architect to restore the building of my being.
My next blog will appear on Monday, 6 July.

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