The experience of losing a child is often referred to as the most devastating tragedy. Parental bereavement can be a complex and challenging experience to navigate, as it may involve a range of unique issues that can complicate grief.
It is important to acknowledge that parents who have lost a child may experience grief and sorrow, regardless of the child’s age. It is understandable to feel a sense of unease when a parent outlives their child.
Yandiswa Priscilla Futshane from Site B in Khayelitsha in the Western Cape tragically lost her 18-year-old son, Mila as a result of a robbery.
It’s challenging to let go
At approximately 4 am on 3 December 2018, Futshane was awakened by a voice calling out to her. Her sister informed her that her son had been stabbed.
She promptly rushed to the scene. “I found him lying there, still breathing.”
Mila’s friend arrived with a car to transport him to Site-B Hospital. He received medical attention from doctors, but they were informed that he would have to be transferred to Tygerberg Hospital. However, the ambulance took Mila to Khayelitsha Day Hospital (KDH).
Futshane says she was praying in the corridors the whole time.
“Within a few minutes, a nurse called and said that doctors would like to see me. I felt dizzy and then lost consciousness. I was disoriented, When I woke up, tears were streaming down everyone’s faces. That was the moment I realised that he had passed away.”
They have just returned from church that evening. It was the time of matric balls and after-parties and Mila asked his mother if he could go out with his friends.
“I told him that he needed to come back on time,” Futshane says.
After the party, they went to a friend’s house. After unwinding for a while, Mila asked his friends to accompany him home.
“On the way, a man stopped them and said that he wanted Mila’s clothes. He attempted to forcibly take his shoes; Mila refused, and the man left.”
The man made his way back; Mila and his friends were just a few houses away from his home. He stabbed him once, directly in the heart.
The man received a 15-year prison term.
So, am I at peace?
Futshane expressed uncertainty about whether she has found peace or is merely surviving, given the fact that she will never see her son again.
At times, she wonders what Mila’s life would have been like if he had been given the opportunity, where he would be now, what his interests and appearance would be, and what profession he would have pursued.
“I’m having a hard time talking about him to his siblings.”
Futshane has three daughters, one living independently while the other two attending high school and living with her.
“I am constantly living in fear, to the point where even during school hours, I find myself randomly sending messages to check on my girls’ well-being. I may be putting in extra effort, but it feels like the right thing to do.”
She had never attended counselling sessions before, but she mentioned that discussing her emotions with others has been beneficial for her. Futshane is a devout Christian who finds solace in prayer. She believes that prayer is what keeps her going.
Futshane is one of the co-founders of the Better Mee Foundation, which was established in 2016. The foundation’s mission is to create a space that helps alleviate poverty and promotes financial independence among women. Additionally, it aims to foster fellowship among women and the community at large while encouraging women to embark on a journey of self-discovery and realise their full potential and purpose.
Futshane says that utilising all the tools available for self-discovery has been effective, especially since the tragedy occurred.
Dealing with death
According to clinical psychologist Luyanda Memela from ezingolweni in KZN, grief is a natural response to loss.
Experiencing loss can be an overwhelming and challenging time, as it can bring forth a range of emotions. It is common to feel shocked, angry, disbelieving, guilty, and profoundly sad during this period.
Grief is a complex emotional experience that typically occurs in phases as people navigate through the process of coping with loss. Memela says experts have identified five commonly recognised stages of grief:
- Denial: Allows you to take the necessary time to gradually accept the news and start the process of understanding it. This defence mechanism is commonly observed and serves the purpose of desensitising oneself to the intensity of the situation.
- Anger: This anger can be directed towards others, such as the deceased person, your former partner, or your previous employer. You can even control your anger towards inanimate objects.
- Bargaining: During the bargaining stage of grief, it is common to experience a tendency to generate numerous “what if” and “if only” statements.
- Depression: This can occur in the early stages of loss when one may find themselves trying to avoid their emotions, constantly trying to stay ahead of them. At this stage, you might find it possible to approach and resolve them in a healthier way. Alternatively, you may opt to isolate yourself from others as a means of effectively dealing with the loss.
- Acceptance: A stage of grief that may not always bring happiness or upliftment. Moving past grief or loss does not necessarily mean that you have completely overcome it. However, it signifies that you have acknowledged and comprehended its significance in your current life.
To take up living once more
“There is no right or wrong way to grieve, regardless of the loss you have experienced,” explains Memela.
Grief can have various effects on people, such as experiencing physical pain, difficulty sleeping, irregularities in appetite, and a decrease in physical functioning.
Coping with difficult emotions can be achieved through various methods, such as seeking counselling, engaging in physical exercise like boxing, allowing oneself to express emotions through crying, finding support from a group, and openly discussing how the pain is impacting one’s life, Memela advises.
“Support groups provide valuable assistance by allowing people to gain insight into how others who are experiencing similar pain are able to effectively manage and cope with their own personal situations.”
Maintaining your hobbies or interests may also help you manage, says Memela.
She emphasises that isolation poses significant dangers, as it can transform grief into a mental health challenge.
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