Oh, man!

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By Kabelo Mollo

Having spent the early part of last year (2021) sending condolences and attending virtual funerals. I really wished this year would be different. I had really hoped for good vibes only.

Invitations to christenings, news of births and engagements. Instead, just days in to the new year I have already learned of the passing of a family member. Worse as it comes on the back of the passing of one of my favourite uncles. A man I spent hours upon hours talking football with. A man whose company I always enjoyed. My son shares his initials and I just know they’d have got on like a house on fire. Alas, cancer has done what it so often does. For all our scurrying around and worrying about Covid-19, that illness remains my absolute least favourite of ailments. It has claimed so many people. I hate it.

Whenever my uncle and I were together we were discussing football. A great love of mine, but one holiday I got to Maseru ready to discuss football as usual but instead found myself being quizzed about my other great love, rugby. Said uncle had taken his time to follow the 2007 world cup, knowing that I’d be following it closely as a massive fan.

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We had ourselves a long chat about Bryan Habana who had clearly captured his imagination with his pace and power. I told him about how my alma mater had beaten Habana’s in my standard 9 year in spite of Habana already having clear star quality. I went on to tell him about the All Blacks and the great rugby culture emanating from that small island. He was fascinated by the Maori history and how well the team had integrated and wondered out loud when South Africa would get to such a stage. I was so enamoured by our conversation that I gifted him my signed copy of Jake White’s “In black and white“ autobiography.  It was brilliant reviewing the book and all the happenings with him.

Grief is such a weird emotion. It isn’t always in your face. Often it’s a lingering feeling that you can’t quite put your finger on. I suppose it manifests itself in anxiety as well, and then progresses to a general unease. I have felt this discomfort in the pit of my stomach since I heard the news of his passing. Pretty much every moment is permeated by a non-specific discontent. Every room I enter, the pink elephant looms large in the background. It’s not awesome.

When I was 15 my friend Maqhawe was killed in a freak road accident. That served to do two things, one is scare me senseless of wet roads, and two is to ensure that I wear a safety belt as a matter of course whenever I’m in a car. In terms of personality it’s also had a lasting impact. We were only young when that tragedy happened, but it’s always felt like those kinds of days are “end of days”. I never forget being in tears trying to sing a hymn during Macs memorial service. I never forget that sense of deep sorrow as I imagined our friendship group without him. I have felt every single one of those feelings in the last week or so. I keep thinking I’m going to get over This, and if I’m honest I should be happy that the pain and suffering is over, but counter intuitively I haven’t felt that.

Since that accident where Mac was taken away from us, I haven’t been a crier. I have been emotionally quite stoic. In fact, over the last twenty odd years since that incident, I’ve cried twice. Once when I left my alma mater and a second time when I was crushed by a Man United result. Aside from those two exceptions I’ve largely kept my emotions in check, but I couldn’t be sure that would be the case at my uncle’s funeral on Wednesday. In fact, so unsure was I, that I even had to borrow my wife’s sunglasses in case I started sweating from the eyes. A truly unbelievable thing to experience.

I have written this specifically as an exercise in catharsis. With any luck when I wake up the colours will be a little brighter, and the birds a little chirpier. I will take heart in all the awesome conversations we shared and all the joyous moments we laughed about. No doubt he’d have loved to have seen us all gathered at his house today enjoying the shade of his beloved garden. This is a personal tribute from me to my uncle, but for anybody else grief stricken, always remember, we’re in this together.

In spite of my sombre first column back, I would like to wish you all a happy New year. Hopefully, this new year will bring you good health, great wealth and a renewed sense of self. Pula