Hold onto Him

Energy in MOTION to embrace change

I am a social worker and my husband was a minister of religion. When we got married, we were ready for the usual end to the fairy tale: “and they lived happily ever after”. We promised to support each other in sickness and in health, until death do us part. Nothing prepared us for the “in sickness” of Andre’s journey with depression that lasted for 35 years of the 37 years that we were married.  On the 30th of May 2020 Andre reached his limits and ended his life.

While I hold a qualification in social work from the University of Stellenbosch (1982), and have had training in areas such as transactional analysis, self development, marriage counselling and enrichment, trauma counselling, and emotional logic, my most significant training comes from deeply sharing in my husband’s walk with depression, as well as that of his mother and our eldest daughter.

I worked as a social worker in two psychiatric hospitals and two prisons.  My calling is to practise the trading floor of Isaiah 61:1-3  “He has sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and the opening of the prison to those who are bound.  To comfort all who mourn. To give them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness.”  I supported my husband in building his NGO HospiVision that renders pastoral care and counselling to patients, their families and staff at 13 government hospitals.  I have been immersed in the pain as well as the hope, the effects of sickness as well as finding ways to conquer it.  After living 35 years with the threat of suicide, I have now come full circle in living through that experience.  I am willing to learn how to comfort those who mourn by learning from my own journey with grief. 

Any illness or trauma provides a mirror that reflects where we need to adjust our lifestyle or coping mechanisms. Unfortunately, we have become masters at ignoring our emotions and minimising our losses – the death of a dream can be as traumatic as the death of a person. I dreamed of growing old with Andre.  That dream has died with him.  Sometimes our body or soul must yell at us before we stop to listen. I share the many lessons I have learnt in a book called “Hold onto Him”.  I am grateful for many opportunities to live my mission in life:  To leave people better than I found them. I help others to learn to listen to themselves, find their voice and develop new capacity to embrace change.

Hold onto Him was birthed after a deliberate decision to mourn the disappointments that are part and parcel or journeying with illness. It is relevant to any category of loss, not only illness. It explores how every disappointment can offer a choice from being a disaster, to becoming a detour to a new destination. My prayer is that our pain would bear fruit and lessen the suffering of others. My husband’s depression was our secret. We often struggled to find ways to deal with the loss of connection that was brought about by the apathy of depression. We sought counselling, individually and as a couple. To protect our children against the pain of the stigma associated with depression, we did not talk about it as a family. During a season of our lives there were three generations facing depression under one roof: grandmother, father and daughter. 

This avalanche of stress and pain with its complementary coping strategies resulted in a book about our journey with depression that was published in September 2018. At our Christmas meal that year, we had an open family discussion about the impact depression had on our lives. While eating roast lamb, potatoes and pumpkin tart, we could also reflect on our victories to be a happy household amidst the challenges. The book shares a toolbox of strategies that we developed over the years. The book was followed by a series of blogs that aim to encourage others to find their voice during their journey with loss. 

From there opportunities to share hope in many settings followed, including the truly remarkable and sensible process to restoration offered by Emotional Logic. It offers a roadmap for me to deal with my emotions after Andre’s self-death.