MAKING SENSE OF MY GRIEF: And the Oscar for the best actor goes to…

I want to roll out the red carpet for you, my Love. If I owned a little black number, I would wear it for the occasion. No glitter and glam for you. You kept your pain as private as possible. Early on in your journey with depression, one of your psychologists taught you the mantra: “Get up, dress up and show up.” And so you did. Relentlessly. Your work was your identity and you intentionally developed a public persona. Before Covid-19 was a reality, you wore a mask every day. You did it so well that most of your team members are still in shock about the incongruence of their memories of your laughter in team meetings and the desperation of your last act.

Shakespeare was the prescribed work for English in matric and your class went to the art festival in Grahamstown. That solidified your love of acting. You joined an acting group while studying in Bloemfontein and proudly explained the plot of the story to me, following photos in your album. When we came back to Cape Town, you could not wait for the Maynardville open air theatre season to start. In 2017 we showed up for “Twelfth Night” and took part in all the theatrical thrills. Somebody tore up half our tickets to ensure we would not come back the next evening. We stood in line to buy a programme. How you loved concert programmes. Studied it from top to bottom like your newspaper. We found an attendant to whom we showed our ticket halves and were escorted to the right queue for our seats. Settled in our chairs. Looked at the people. Enjoyed the strings of lights in the trees of Maynardville Park. Waiting expectantly for the light to dim and the show to begin. Staring at the rest of the audience – amazed at the diversity of humanity in looks and dress code. A bell rang to indicate it was time for the show to start. The actors arrived on stage and the story unfolded. You were mesmerised. I was irritated by all the swear words. When it was interval, we took turns to stand in the queue for coffee and take a bathroom break. We leaned against a tree and stared at the stars while we drank our coffee.

A major depression that turned into a chronic illness brought a dichotomy to our lives. To me it sometimes felt as if you lost your integrity. That you were living a lie. It made me angry that you could show up at work, show up for your students, a phone call or a visit from the children, but not show up for me. You could not see this contrast between your public persona and when you left your stage to come home to me. Then you were tired of performing your act. The costume was gone. The mask put away until the next morning when you would pick up your laptop bag, hang your nametag and your cross around your neck and left for your office at the hospital. I was left with the empty stage, yearning for you to make a joke with me, to listen as attentively as you would listen to your staff and your students. When you were with me, the lights were on, but there was nobody home. Powerless disconnection was your dress code when you left your stage. You were in denial about your denial. Unable to see what you could not face.

I once organised a training session on a Saturday morning. I needed you to come and assist with the technicalities of coordinating the presenter’s laptop with the projector. That previous evening you were in the depths of despair, plagued with thoughts of suicide and the lie of worthlessness that depression tells. We arrived at the venue that Saturday and everything was set up. I was in front of my laptop, preparing to introduce the guest speaker. The next moment I heard your belly laughter at a joke made by a team member. I swung around in my seat and caught your eye. I silently nodded at you. You saw what you could not see before. Even after you were “caught in the act” you could not change your behaviour. Your psychologist referred to it as “depressive habits” that you developed over the 35 years. Coping mechanisms that killed our connection.

The pandemic happened. Lockdown stole your stage, your mask and the opportunity to step into another persona of lightness. You only felt the despair you could display in the safety of our relationship. I truly honour you for being able to stay on the stage, always being the professional, acting to the utmost of your capability. Wearing your mask. Fulfilling your task. Protecting yourself against the shame that society bestows on depression. Paying the highest personal price to serve your cause.

Psalm 40:1-3a “I waited and waited and waited some more, patiently, knowing God would come through for me. Then, at last, He bent down and listened to my cry. He stooped down to lift me out of danger from the desolate pit I was in, out of the muddy mess I had fallen into. Now He’s lifted me up into a firm secure place and steadied me while I walk along His ascending path. A new song for a new day rises up in me…”

My Lord, My Saviour: Shepherd me and heal all my layers of pain. Let a new song for a new day rise up in me.

Annette de la Porte.

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