On my beautiful late Mother and how healing is possible even after 20 years

20 years ago they broke the ground open and layed my Mama. She had been sick a long time. We’d been in an accident a few years prior, in her first car. My Mother was the master of firsts, or we can say the mother of firsts, first to graduate in the family, first to buy a car and the first female to buy property.

I wasn’t concentrating on the road on the day of the accident, I was looking out the window because as the car moved the trees danced, they bowed for us, bowed for my Mama as she drove passed, marveling at her, as we all were, before I knew it there was loud crash and glass was flying everywhere, we were off the road and everything went dark, when I opened my eyes I heard my mother screaming my name, her hand pulling at my body asking if I was okay, she then maneuvered her way out and that’s when I realized that we were upside down, the trees stood still, my Mama, she was able to drag me out, they were four people in the car that day but she got me out first…

“In my mother’s car with my straw hat”

I realize I’ve begun on such a sombre note, let me take you back to a happier time… my earliest memory of my mother was watching and hearing her sing, she sang worship songs and she sang them often, I remember asking her once as she blasted her worship, I asked her if God hears the music and thinks it’s us, she laughed and told me that’s exactly what he does, he hears us, when we worship, especially through others.

I hated church, it always seemed to last forever, in my mother’s church we had to wear hats, and she had a particular interest in straw hats, my mother was a very stylish woman, but these hats of hers, they made me feel like a basket and I’d scratch constantly, my attempts to take off the hat would be met with my mother’s sharp disapproving glare, you know that look Mom’s give, that give you flashbacks to your last hiding and keep you well behaved for much longer than you had thought possible. The pastor was a large man and to entertain myself I’d imagine he was a black Father Christmas, I was always in red so it was fitting to think of such. The only gift I wanted from him however was permission to leave. The old man always had something to say, he made the adults laugh, but the children would have made a run for it given a chance.

“I wasn’t smiling because I was probably coming from church my mom probably said put your hands up and praise the Lord”

We lived at church, my mother attended church so often, It was our second home, I remember hearing her pray, I’m not sure exactly what she prayed about but it always ended in tears, I thought as a child God must’ve hurt her feelings for her to cry like that whilst speaking to him. They had an interesting relationship and I decided it was best if I stayed out of it, I wasn’t fond of crying anyway. It came before and after hidings.

My mother had beautiful hands, she was a quiet woman, she was wise, her favorite color was red, I had mostly red dresses as a child, her friends would always come to her for advice, she laughed often and even as a child I thought she was the most beautiful woman I had ever laid my eyes on. It was always her and I and she’d take me everywhere. I felt invincible with my mom around and sometimes that landed me in a heap of trouble.

I was a learner at the school she taught in and I remember getting special treatment as a result, girls piled up to make friends with me, in hopes I’d put in a good word with my mom, I’m not sure what a good word was Grade 1, but hey, I busked in the attention and would occasionally receive free food. If the playground was a kingdom I was definitely the king or we can safely say the queen. Life was good, I smiled all the way to school and back. Every now and then the teachers would send messages to my mom through me and I’d always forget. This upset my mother but much to my demise they’d make me a messenger anyway.

My first two grades were thrilling and just when I thought it couldn’t get better, I remember overhearing my mother discussing how she planned on placing me in boarding school the next year and her friend was telling her how good it would be if I learnt how to speak something called English. I cared nothing for whatever English was, I just knew if she was taking me out of the was school I was in, she had better be going with me, because if she wasn’t it meant I’d have to make friends, I’d receive no free food and worst of all I wouldn’t be the teachers pet who received suspicious amounts of attention and never got in trouble in class. My life here was a dream and what more could a child want?

The Holidays flew by and when we returned home from visiting family, I had new school uniform, a packed suitcase and a broken heart. I was going to be at the bottom of the food chain and I’d have to learn how to make friends for the first time in my life. We drove for hours to get to my new school and I hated it before I arrived, whatever English was I’d hated it with a passion, it removed me from the kingdom I belonged in and it had taken me away from my beloved Mama.

My new school was in Dundee. I was bullied badly there, you see my mother didn’t believe in elaborate hairstyles so she’d keep my hair short, making me look more like a boy, these kids would always taunt me, telling me to go to the boys hostel, it didn’t help that I had a more muscular body, my lunch was stolen and I found out this English was a way of communication and I didn’t know a word of it, this made it worse because for the first few months I didn’t even know what they were saying, I remember everyone laughing at me and the shame of it all, the girls seemed to be ten times my size. They’d make fun of my hair, my accent and anything they could find. I became very quiet and withdrawn and all I could do was wait for school holidays so I could return home. I never knew how to tell my mother how badly I’d been treated there and thought that’s how others were treated when their mothers were not teachers and I silently endured the pain. It was horrible.

I was in boarding school most of the year and no matter how long the holidays would be they never seemed long enough, they were never ever enough, and after what felt like a lifetime I had learnt English and my mother had bought a house and had found a school for me closer to the house that she had bought. This God she prayed to finally answered my prayers, not that I prayed much but he must be real I thought. It was as if my old boarding school was Egypt and I had beed saved at last, I was on my way to the promised land.

I was so nervous when I started at the new school, it meant a new group of bullies, new teachers and yet another struggle to make friends my only comfort was seeing my mother every day and this I remembered would be enough to get me through whatever was to come.

On the first day of school my mother had packed me lunch, no more peanut butter sandwiches like in Egypt, I hate peanut butter to this day, it was much nicer here, not a lunch tin that resembles one of an inmate, not that I knew what jail food looked like, but I’m sure it came pretty close. I even had sweets! Surely there was a God in heaven! This was proof!

My mother dropped me off and left, my heart sank but this new school was different, there were less kids and the teachers spoke kindly to me. I made friends easier and felt less alone. The name of the school was Maranatha and I loved it there, it felt like home. I felt safe again for the first time in a long time and still have many fond memories of that school and lifelong friends especially my besties for life. (Vanessa, Busisiwe and Mbally. Some teachers would do life with me too, Michael, Leane, Margi, Auntie Anne and Auntie Fiona- I love you all dearly)

“Yup it’s that straw hat again and as you can tell my Mom’s favorite color was red”

It was at about this time my mother started getting sick, the accident I spoke of happened a few years earlier. I shared a bed with my Mom and one night I remember waking up to her convulsing violently on the bed, bleeding from the mouth, I panicked and ran out of the house, in the pitch black of the night to call my neighbors who came and helped her, also calling my Dad, who always came, they weren’t married and whenever they were together it always ended in some form of screaming. You see once my mother decided to surprise my Dad with a visit where he stayed and upon our arrival another woman was leaving, I remember being so excited to see my Dad but quickly realizing something wasn’t right, the woman walked fast and didn’t even greet, my mother looked so sad and my dad showed no remorse, telling my mother he’s too old for surprises. That visit was not only short lived but it was the last and I get it now, seeing as though I am the second born of about 9 children and we’re still counting… all of us from different mothers.

I loved my father but he always hurt my mother’s feelings with the words he said. They had a horrible relationship so bad I often remember pretending to be asleep so I wouldn’t cry, until one day my mother told him to leave and never come back, he’d visit me but she’d make sure she kept her herself busy with something else. When she started getting sick she needed help and had no strength to fight with him. The convulsions which we later discovered were epileptic fits became more frequent, I learnt to pull her to her side and wait.

I was in Grade 2 when I first thought of the possibility of losing my Mama, my small body pulling her on her side, watching her convulse in absolute fear, alone with her in the house, calling my Dad and waiting. I remember I’d sing, I’d sing and when she’d regain consciousness she’d tell me she’s so proud of me and I’m so brave. I’d felt death try to place it’s hands on my sweet Mama and she’d fought so hard, my beautiful mama she had lost weight and I would have given anything to heal her, to make her whole again, make her drag me to church with that scratchy church hat, hear her cry to her God once more, hear her laugh, but all I could do was wait, wait for my dad, wait for help, wait on God. I prayed that the God she prayed to would hear her now and save her. I don’t think he liked me much but he was her friend.

When she started getting worse my father came more often and they would fight just as much, I’d have to nurse her and then leave when it got too heated between them. As she grew worse mentally she was no longer there. I watched as they took her from one hospital to another, the internal damage was too much and they couldn’t help her, they couldn’t help the most gentle woman I had ever known they couldn’t rip her out of deaths hands, they just moved her from one place to another, until one day they took her and didn’t bring her back. To this day I hate hospitals, the smell, the sound, I saw so many hospitals as a child I hate funerals all the same which leads to where this all begun, her funeral…

I remember feeling numb,the past few months had taken their toll on me, I was exhausted, on the day she passed my father fetched me from school, it was nothing out of the ordinary until I got home and they were packing, this seemed to be more intense packing though it was more than the usual, they took everything, and I knew, she was gone, finally at rest, she had fought so long. She had been so strong. So so strong.

I never attended her funeral, I was at the same location but locked in a room, my father had locked me in the room because he had a score to settle and he decided that my Mama’s funeral would be the perfect place, my grandmother had never come to see my mother when she was sick and apparently at the funeral she cried the loudest my father couldn’t take it. So he took my hand led me to the room and locked it. When he got an opportunity to make his speech he used his chance to give my family, particularly my grandmother a piece of his mind. He said the following:

“Ngithule ngyabuka niyakhala, kodwa anikaze nize niyomubona uKhanyi, wena Juana thula! Ingane yakho ifile ungayazi nokuthi ikuphi” (I’m quietly watching you cry, but you never came to see Khanyi (my mom) you Juana! (my grandmother) stop crying! Your child died and you didn’t even know where she was”

Yes, ladies and gentleman my father, Roy Mdletshe, that was part of his speech, the part I was told anyway, apparently he said more. I wish he had given time, I wish he had left me to sit with my Mama one last time, but my father’s pain always translated into anger, he loved my mother, even though he didn’t know how to do it well. I later understood he had been raised in an abusive household himself and now that I understand I sympathize with him. He was a broken man. Too strong to let love in even from whom he needed it most. He never once cried.

My grandmother who had instantly stopped crying when my father left everyone gasping, she was never too fond of my mom, they had a strained relationship and I had only seen her once in my entire childhood. When the funeral ended she packed all my mother’s belongings and left, not leaving anything behind for me, but a few items in the house that are still dear. I remember crying and approaching my grandmother sometime before the funeral hoping for any form of consolation, she had rudely asked someone to take me away from her, saying my crying is loud and they were speaking as adults, she’s the spitting image of my mother, they even laugh the same and this was specially painful to see since she’s the only reminder I have of my sweet mama, when she left she never said goodbye and the depth of that rejection was a wound I nursed for years to come. We’ve since spoken twice in the twenty years and I’ve since forgiven.

My mother taught me the value of three things, the first being faith, the second is education and the last is knowing when to leave a man who constantly hurts you.

1. Faith

My mother prayed, she worshipped and she served faithfully at her church. She placed me in a Christian school where I later gave my life to Christ. I am a woman of faith because she planted a seed in my life at a time when I was too young to value it, for this I am most grateful. Eternally grateful.

2. Education

My mother was the first in the family to graduate, inspiring me to do the same. I write because it turns out a English was never an enemy from Egypt but an instrument I would one day use to touch the world. To heal others and to heal myself. It would secure employment and open doors I have yet to imagine.

“My graduate Mama saying sharp sharp”

3. Leave when love hurts

My mother left my father when he became abusive, he came back to help but their relationship was long over, in so doing she taught me to leave men that cause me pain, men who raise their voices and their hands. Some men like my father are broken and no amount of love can mend them. It’s best if you let them go.

Dear Mama

You would be so proud, I worship now, I worship as though it is the last time, every time, I remember your words, God does hear us. I pray now, I’ve found sometimes you have no words left and tears are all that remain and God knows exactly what they mean. I am a graduate twice over. I got a bursary and they funded me twice, they are amazing people not just funders, I know them personally and the impact has been immeasurable. I am in good hands I was adopted into two families and have two new Moms, God is funny right, he took you and yet blessed me still, they pray like you and love me as their own, I’m actually their favorite but they cannot tell me yet, they have other kids so they have to be considerate, they pray like you do and they are as beautiful, my precious moms Sylvia Musoke and Anneke Rabe my reminders that there’s nothing God cannot redeem, no pain he won’t heal with the power of his great love. Nothing is impossible with him and my life has been proof. I don’t know what you prayed but thank you. Thank you for the house, I have looked well after it, it has sheltered me. Thank you for holding on to Jesus. He is enough. 20 years later I still love you the same.

“My favorite blurry photo of my Moms that’s placed behind my mother’s in my photo album for hard days”

My mother’s name was Khanyisile (one who brings light) Lilly Vilakazi.

John 1:5

The light shines in the darkness , and the darkness has not overcome, understood it, mastered it.

In my life Poverty has not overcome, trauma has not overcome, pain has not overcome!

In the darkness of life Jesus has been my light and he has overcome, all glory to him! To all who read this with a broken heart, having lost a loved one, I pray you find healing in Christ, it is possible. Even if it takes 20 years. I pray you may find comfort in Christ alone, he truly is enough.

Till next time friends, remember even in grieving, even in our mourning…

Life is Art