Losing a loved one is one of the most distressing but common life events people face. Most people experiencing normal grief and bereavement have a period of sorrow, numbness, and even guilt and anger. Gradually these feelings ease, and it’s possible to accept the loss and move forward. But how do you even start?
When she learned that her late husband, Kgoloko Morgan Matlala had passed away, it felt like a nightmare, says musician Phinda Mtya-Matlala.
Kgoloko Morgan Matlala was a local entrepreneur who owned KMM (Kgoloko Morgan Matlala) Towing and served as the chairman of the Limpuma Towing Business Association.
“My husband was shot execution-style and killed exactly seven years ago. No one has yet been able to determine who murdered him or why. Also, I never requested an update from the police officers, so I believe they never bothered to investigate.”
The death of her husband left Matlala devastated. The biggest challenge of her grief? Survivor’s guilt.
Even though she suffered mental health issues and was on the brink of an emotional breakdown for seven years, she made a promise to herself that her children didn’t deserve to lose both of their parents, so she was forced to be strong.
“It took me a while to realise that the vows I made were binding until death do us part. And indeed, death separated us,” she says.
“I still love him madly and I feel like I’ve lost a huge part of myself, but I need to move on, and I pray to God to give me strength. Truly speaking, my husband’s death left me a cripple and it’s a huge struggle for me.”
Matlala says music has given her a shoulder to cry on since her partner died. She tells Health For Mzansi that since her loss, she has attended two funeral services, both of which she was unable to endure. “Funerals bring back memories; it’s been seven years, but it still feels like yesterday.”
Grief is defined as a natural response to loss. According to Khayelitsha clinical psychologist, Banetsi Mphunga, grief is emotional suffering you feel when something or someone you love has been taken away.
Grief, according to Mphunga, can affect your physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual well-being. Mphunga believes that it is reasonable to cry, sob, experience vulnerability, emptiness, difficulty falling asleep, and emotional breakdown after the loss of a loved one.
“Grieving is an open-ended process and it’s duration varies from person to person. For some, it takes only a few months, whereas for others, it may take years.”
Mphunga says complicated grief is characterised by chronic or psychopathic grief. Chronic grief is characterised by persistent anger, temper tantrums, the inability to concentrate on anything but the loss, and the avoidance of speaking or doing anything related to the person’s name.
How to overcome grief
The five stages of grief include: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, persistent sadness, and acceptance.
Mphunga emphasises the anger that is caused by grief, adding that it is likely to occur during the planning of a funeral service and is caused by feelings of resentment that are not planned but are a necessary part of the healing process.
“Negotiation is one of the most difficult healing processes because people tend to focus more on the past or future than on the present situation.”
According to Mphunga, bargaining is linked to feelings of embarrassment, resentment, rage, and being out of control, and it attracts negative energies.
He concludes by suggesting ways of dealing with these stressful stages, which is to accept, adapt, and find skillful coping strategies – and that this is where life circumstances come into play.
“Complex grief is not the end of the world; it can be overcome by several choice beliefs, either with prayer, meditation, therapy/counselling, and yoga sessions.
“The most important thing is to recognise and accept that you are going through the most difficult phase of your life, and then to adapt. Accordingly, the probability that anyone can successfully navigate this phase is very high.”