Maverick Citizen


Grief and the loss of a beloved in the time of Covid-19

Grief and the loss of a beloved in the time of Covid-19
Kethabile Mhlongo. (Photo supplied)

Were it not for a stabbing pain and an increased pulse as I fall asleep, I wouldn’t know for sure that my heart is still where science says it’s meant to be. Like clockwork, every night for the past month I put my head on my pillow, close my eyes and try to lull myself to sleep, only to have them shoot open a few moments later, accompanied by a gasping for air.

I look around my bedroom, frantically letting my eyes adjust to the darkness, and feel my pulse. My heart is racing. At this point, I’m certain I stopped breathing while falling asleep. Every night it’s the same thing. No pills, no sleeping tea, no soaking in the bath before bedtime helps. I’m paralysed by fear and dread. Every. Single. Night.

It’s been this way since the day he died.

The days aren’t any easier, but they are bearable. The first few were a haze of tears and sudden bursts of my mind scraping the depths of its memory bank — a feeble attempt at recalling all the times he’d put a smile on my face, his voice, our last words to each other and whatever other memory I could dig up to ease the heaviness in my chest. I’ve never experienced anything like this. From time to time I whisper a short prayer: “Lord, please make this go away.

I have experienced loss. Some more significant than others, but none as painful as this. In all the parallel universes my mind visits from time to time, none of them has ever taken me to the moment I heard the words, “He died.” None of them has seen me lying on my couch crying uncontrollably while my daughter tries her best to comfort me — making me tea, sitting with her arms around me, waiting for me to stop crying his name as though it could conjure him back to life.

My sweet, darling girl, somewhere between a child and a woman, tried awkwardly to put the smile back on Mama’s face for days while she herself struggled to wrap her mind around the fact that the man she’d grown to love as an “almost stepdad” was gone.

Reality bites

The reality of Covid-19 didn’t hit me until that day. Until then, the virus seemed like something that happened outside of my existence. It affected other people, in other parts of the world, somewhere in South Africa, but not anywhere near me, my family or friends. The numbers were just that — numbers. They held no real meaning and no sense of seriousness.

Until that day I would look at the statistics, think “Shame”, and calmly carry on with my day. Now I look at those numbers with sadness because he is just one of the thousands, and I get angry — angry at the fact that his big life has been reduced to a statistic.

I’ve scoured articles and listened intently to all Covid-related updates, waiting for his name to be called. Surely the people writing all these press releases and making these speeches know the kind of person he was. Surely they will say his name. They never do, so I do it for them:

“And lastly, Lunga Nyati. He was loved by all who knew him. He lived his life to the fullest. He was honest, kind and respectful. Our condolences go out to his family and friends.

The story of two stubborn Zulus who couldn’t put their pride aside long enough to realise they belonged together ended with death. Not the metaphoric kind that leaves room for the “stroll in the park at sunset” kind of ending, but the permanent kind where one rests in eternal peace, while the other is haunted by what ifs and the weight of attempting to live, each moment trying hard not to forget, but praying she could.

Our romantic relationship ended only in words. A few weeks after we made the decision to end our relationship we started talking again. At first, it was an occasional message, bumping into each other at the office and stopping for an (exaggerated) laugh. Before long, the phone calls to ask stupid random questions became long video calls before bed and phone calls in the morning. Shared memes and corridor gossip which always began with, “You can’t tell a soul.” In the countless hours we spoke after our break-up I started hoping he’d utter the words, “Let’s get back together.”

Of course I wouldn’t have made it easy for him. I was hurt and couldn’t wrap my mind around the fact that he gave up on us so easily. I had it all planned out in my head: he would ask that we get back together, and I would concede only after lengthy conversations and a thorough explanation from him about why he tapped out of our relationship so easily. Every day we spoke I hoped that that would be the day he finally said the words out loud, but the day never came.

Cognitive dissonance

“In the field of psychology, cognitive dissonance occurs when a person holds two or more contradictory beliefs, ideas, or values; or participates in an action that goes against one of these three, and experiences psychological stress because of that.”  — Wikipedia.

In my mind I know he’s gone — the friends who were with him when he passed told me so. He doesn’t call me anymore. I watched his funeral (which had about 30 people in attendance) streamed on Facebook. While that reality is something I have conceded to, I still struggle with the urge to pick up the phone to check in on him or chat about what’s going on in our lives.

I’ve become that crazy lady who randomly laughs out loud, or just starts crying for (seemingly) no real reason while making coffee.

As a believer of the afterlife I know he’s with me, his friends and family. Right at the beginning I felt him around me a lot — cold gusts of air in my living room when I knew for a fact all the doors and windows were closed, random running taps, his voice clear as day speaking to me.

These days, however, I don’t. I wonder whether or not I imagined his presence, to ease the pain which was and still is so very crushing. I’m struggling to reconcile the facts of his passing with my experience of feeling him around me.

So I watch videos of us together, singing, driving, laughing. I listen to the voice notes he sent to me and I close my eyes, trying to remember everything about the days and nights we spent together. I worry that by doing this, I am keeping myself in a perpetual state of cognitive dissonance, but the risk of stopping the attempts to keep his memory alive is that I forget him altogether.

I doubt this could ever happen, but I’d rather not risk it. I’d rather feel the pain of him not being around because that pain reminds me he was here once upon a time, and more importantly, I am reminded that I am here.

‘For a Reason’

There is a song by Zhane I’d forgotten about, but was reminded of when one of his friends sent it to me the day after he passed. It’s called For a Reason. I try not to listen to it a whole lot because it really does get me in my feelings, but one part of the song goes like this:

Believing in love can be the hardest thing to do
After losing a friend as close as you
I need to feel once again like a child in love
But I don’t
I can’t help but to keep holding on, holding on
Not for a minute, for an hour, babe

I don’t know if I’ll ever again find a love like the one we shared, but I do know that he set the standard for the kind of man I should allow into my and my kids’ lives. I’m not certain that the world I live in will ever be the same without him in it, but I do know that he left me with a group of people closely connected to him who I will forever consider friends and family. My world will be a little bigger.

I don’t believe I’ll ever be able to understand the reason for his untimely passing, but I do believe that one day I’ll stop trying to figure that one out and just live. I don’t know whether or not the sadness I feel so strongly now will ever go away, but I do know that it will always be there  — only, in time, it will be a little easier to cope with it. DM/MC

Kethabile Mhlongo aka Kitty is an entrepreneur and mother, thinker, talker and aspiring writer/blogger.


"Information pertaining to Covid-19, vaccines, how to control the spread of the virus and potential treatments is ever-changing. Under the South African Disaster Management Act Regulation 11(5)(c) it is prohibited to publish information through any medium with the intention to deceive people on government measures to address COVID-19. We are therefore disabling the comment section on this article in order to protect both the commenting member and ourselves from potential liability. Should you have additional information that you think we should know, please email [email protected]"

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