Orphaned — Perpetually bereaved

by George Matsheke

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Somehow, you know it when you are engaging in pillow talk with someone who you have no business having pillow talk with: it is characteristically awkward… there is no intimacy and rather than being relaxed, minds are racing with a million different ideas of getting out. But pillow talk is polite, and manners never killed anyone, and therefore we engage… at least I always do.

And so it was that while… engaging I found myself, without really knowing quite the reason, asking my….mate whether he thought that his life would have turned out differently had his father not died, had his father not died when my mate was a mere teenager. “Yes; I would have tried harder, I would have done more.” He answered, rather evenly. And it seemed to be a well-considered response, and one which was not fresh. It seemed to me that my mate had previously, and even repeatedly, pondered the issue; the question. I wanted to ask for clarity, if not for my sake then for his. I wanted to ask for clarity so that he would consider the issue and the emotions a little more; so that he would peel away the layers of emotion which lay under the rug of an even: ‘yes, I would have tried harder, I would have done more.’ A lot more hid under that steady response, I felt. I asked no further, however; I pressed no further.

It wasn’t the right pillow.

I considered my mate’s answer a little further on my own, however; and I concluded that what he meant was that without his father, he had nobody to be answerable to; without his father, there was nobody’s approval to seek, to want.

And then in my consideration, I wondered how he felt about it. Did he feel cheated? Robbed of ‘what could have been’? Did he feel that there was once a bright future, which future had been obliterated by the death of his father? And that no matter how far he tried to reach, he just could not, would never ever, clutch it? Did he feel that his father had to his grave taken with him, a part of his (my mate) future, a part of his possibilities? Did he feel that he would never quite be complete, or at least never quite be the person he could have been? Was he able to love? Or did he, believing that life was brief, not venture into the realm of love and promises of happily ever after? What did he feel, I wondered.

I couldn’t answer any of these questions. The answers simply didn’t lie within me. I decided to brush the issue and pondering aside; after all… life goes on. Except perhaps life does not go on but rather goes around, has a circular route; a cycle… Perhaps life goes around so that what once was may again be; so that what happened once may happen again…. So that in a few years after discarded issues and failed considerations, another friend’s father may die and you may once again find yourself assessing the meaning, the damage, the loss. Recently, a friend lost his father. And as he sat there, like Atlas, repeating, at random intervals: “I thought he had a few more runs left in him”; “I thought we had more time”; “There was so much more that I wanted us to do.” I wondered whether my friend had lost someone to try harder for; where he had lost someone to have approve… I wondered whether my friend had lost the one person he had to prove himself to. .. And inevitably, I wondered what that meant for my friend going forward; what it meant for the long life which lay for him ahead.

You see, the plight of young children who lose their parents is well-documented… often potbellied with the right touch of flies abuzz… Young children are the real orphans. At least they are the orphans which we care about. They are after all the ones who may find themselves without food, without shelter, without the means to an education. They, the young children without parents, are generally the ones who may find themselves falling into the foul hands of suspect uncles. And ultimately our modern day dictionaries define ‘orphan’ a child whose parents are dead or a child who has been deprived of parental care. A child… That hardly denotes a 25 year old, a 27 year old, a 19 year old … who too may wake up one tragic day without parents, and a long guideless life ahead of him. I suppose his kampf is a minimal one: he can feed and clothe himself and his basic education is but behind him.

When my parents died-both gone by the time that I was 22 years old- I quite realised my kampf, my struggle. And I realised it as being an immense one, a dire one. I also quite realised what I had to appreciate, what I had to acknowledge; what I had to know. I had to know that my life had changed: whatever path I may have been on had derailed; whatever dreams were on the verge of coming true had been suspended , and I would have to work very hard to get them back on track… and even my hard work didn’t guarantee much. I had to acknowledge that I was orphaned, perpetually bereaved. I had to realise that there would be nobody to delight in helping me choose my first car. I had to accept that there would be nobody to give me love advice, knowing that I would discard it but endeavouring anyway. I had to know that when I met the person that I wanted to spend the rest of my life with, there would be no approval, no blessing … nobody to give it. There would be no partly proud -partly aggrieved and weeping mother of the bride at my wedding, and no anxious father to give me away. And when I had my first child, nobody would patiently show me how to breastfeed him….or tell me how warm his bath water ought to be…or tell what sort of hide would help my stomach get back to its previous shape and form…I may not have had a potbelly; there may have not been flies buzzing around me, and yes by no definition was I a child but I was orphaned; I was bereaved and without, perpetually.

The Ancient Greeks had ‘orphanos’ which means, simply: without parents …I like that word and definition a lot better: it includes me; my mate, and my friend. It recognises our plight, our eternal loss.

Writer: Nomfundo Shezi       Photogrpaher: Lebogang Nkoane


  • Palama

    Took me some days to let this article sink in. Often people who have lost a parent always wonder how life would be like if their parent is still around and also when faced with problems,no mum or dad to run.

    In any language that I know that describes those without both parents,it’s a hard and unpalatable word. Almost harsh.

    I can never imagine the pain one feels for having a deceased parent.