Holding on…


I am a very good let-goer. I let things go. I let people go. I let relationships go. No matter how hard it is, I know how to loosen my grip on something by sheer force of will and I let go.

Because I have never had anything or anyone that hurt me that was worth holding on to. So I let go. Time and again.

Trying to introspect recently on why I stopped writing – really writing – I discovered that it’s because I write to let go and I write to heal and I write to make sense of each loss, each meaningless blow that life deals upon me.

I write to process pain, triumph, living, loving and losing.

But I finally found something I am unable to write away because I now have something I am afraid to let go of. It is not something really, I should say it is someone.

Someone who held the pieces of me together simply by existing. Just knowing he was there, tucked away in his office slaving away editing some story, fretting over deadlines and dispensing his own brand of commonsensical wisdom sufficed to make my world to go on merrily.

My uncle died this year.

I have been telling myself that I will work through the grief later… eventually… when I am ready to let go – I will write about him.

But the day never comes, the moment never presents itself because I don’t want the pain to lessen, I don’t want the blow to be cushioned, I don’t want the suffering to diminish, I don’t want the loss I feel to ease.

I don’t want him to vanish and become just another name in a long list of people that I have loved and lost.

I want to grieve for him every day, to carry the weight of his absence with me wherever I go because I am afraid that if I set it down, I might forget to pick it up again or life might fill my arms with so many other things that there will be no room to carry the memory of his departure.

So I stopped writing to keep remembering… to remember Paul Mambo.

To remember an uncle who loved me like a father, who was fiercely protective of me like a mother and who was so impossibly proud of me… I want to remember the lectures and the lessons; the petty arguments and the major fights; the tantrums I threw and which he tolerated; the joy that lit up his face when I set foot in his office the first day I returned from the UK and the hours of endless teasing over his “old-fashioned” ways.

I remember. And it hurts.

The kind of hurt that congeals your smile into a more pasty version of its former glory, the kind of hurt that makes you trip over your laughter and laces it with the edge of hysteria.

The last picture I took of my Uncle on 25 May 2013 when I'd been teasing him about his white hair and beard advising him to tint it black so he could retain some youthfulness... he, of course, resisted my recommendations. The last picture and the last time we spoke. If I had known it would be the last time... I would have remembered to tell him I love him and to thank him for making the woman I am.

The last picture I took of my Uncle on 25 May 2013 when I’d been teasing him about his white hair and advising him to tint it black so he could retain some youthfulness… he, of course, resisted my recommendations. The last picture and the last time we spoke. If I had known it would be the last time… I would have remembered to tell him I love him and to thank him for making the woman I am.


Holding on is so hard. One day, when I am ready – I will write about that man.

But today is not that day.

Today is another holding on, a little tighter, a little longer, a little harder and a little more desperately to the miserable “if onlys” which are all that remains of what once was.

I miss him.

Miss him selfishly, the kind of missing that makes you want to curl up in a ball and die too. No, today is not the day for letting go. It is not the day, so I will hold on because if I stop holding on, I am afraid that there shall be nothing left of him to mourn.

For memories are such fickle things, so prone to erasure, to distortion, to yellowing around the edges like the pages of a much perused book… so I hold on to the pain a little more because it is real and is the only tribute that seems worthy of the man I lost.

Sometimes, I try to remember what life was like at 2039hrs on Saturday the 20th of July a minute before that fateful text message was delivered to my phone simply stating the irrevocable: “Paul Mambo has died”

If I could have had the presence of mind to text back the only appropriate response would have been: “…and so have I.”

It’s been almost three months and I’m holding on even though life continues to unfold ahead of me, I refuse to step away from the edge of my grief for fear that life might sweep me away in its tide and wrench my pain out of my grip.

I’m just going to stand here. Cry a little more. Hold on a little longer. And die bit by bit… because I can’t seem to write myself back to wholeness. Not today.

19 thoughts on “Holding on…

  1. KK says:

    Sister,
    Big hugs. You are writing. I’ve been there, all you can do is try to write. Big Big Hugs!

  2. Cde Martin Framer Ndlovu says:

    Cde Editor a true and courageous youngman who treasured and valued his Venda culture. Honestly I have never been so close to someone in my life, for that matter someone I had met just 3years ago at Nust compus. Because of our traditional beliefs we clicked and shared nearly everything during the course including ‘running stomach’ after sharing lunch at sisi Bie during the Financial management policy examination. I remember how we laughed at seeing the results when we had passed. Yes its part of life but I feel terrified to visit the Sunday News even though the staff there had become part of me. I did not realise that a lot of people ha noticed our closeness. Just last Friday someone stopped and could not avoid shedding tears when she mentioned how she felt about me when she heard the news. I still remember the military salute when he was from theatre a sign of respect to War Vet, through signs he told me how he had been operated. Don’t mind my writing I had been spoiled by cde Editor coz no matter how short hewould edit anything I wrote and showed him before approving for printing. I said if it was not for your material suport I would not have manged to pull through the course his quick response was ‘War vet if you guys had no died for this country they would be no NUST to undergo this program.’

    • itsdelta says:

      I know what you mean about how people react to seeing you. You were very very close and I am glad he found such a great friend to laugh with before he died…. thank you for being such an important and valuable part of his life and by extension – my own life.

  3. Gabs says:

    At least you have managed to move away from us. For some of us who are still there, sometimes you always think the man will just walk in past the reporters, greet everyone, laugh or tease one or two before settling on his chair. But its all history now. Unbelievable

  4. I must say that I felt my hands go cold at the memories that you evoked in me as I read this post. You remind me so much of what is going on inside me. These days I am so scared of crying lest when I cry, I will cry out my granma’s memories. I take sneak peaks at my memory vault and quickly shut them in. Girl, I so know how it is, I want to write something for her but I am so scared that her memory will then go with my words. She left earth on the 17th of August this year…two months today, almost to the hour.

    Thanks for voicing this out, I feared I am the only one struggling with grief and writing issues. God bless you

    • itsdelta says:

      I know Tendo, grief is such a horrible thing that comes when we’re least prepared and never leaves until its good and ready to leave….meanwhile we just brave each day with a smile more forced than the last…. yet perhaps it should be thus: that the people we love must be cherished through mourning and celebrated through carrying on. I don’t know. I hope time heals and I hope God strengthens you. Grief is sometimes such an unfathomable agony….hard to share and designed to be borne in solitude.

  5. And in writing, you didn’t let him go. You let him live a little more. I feel this deeply, it is beautiful and inspired and honouring to a man who lives still in you and all you do, and shall do. Because his life and love was not in vain. Strange. July 20. That marks the day, two years ago, I got a message of the same sort. That my father was dead. I still catch that moment in refracted memories, still sometimes think if it is real. And if I am therefore partially dead because a part of me is dead. I know you have suffered so much death Delta. And I can only imagine how much harder it is to love – and then have to let go again – with each person who goes.
    But you are here, we are here. We have to dare to love again. Dare to live – not leave – the people we love within ourselves. Dare. It’s a dare. Because it has no guarantees of love returned, of a tomorrow, of another hug or smile. It’s a dare, a gamble, a risk, a throwing of the dice that might land on the number we feared would yield more loss.
    But… what else can we do?

    • itsdelta says:

      You are right Fungi, I am just so tired of losing the people I love and of having the pool of people that genuinely love me keep shrinking…. he is so so irreplaceable and I think that’s why it hurts so much because I know no matter where I go or where I end up – there’ll never be anyone to love me in the same way. Ah, it sucks!

  6. Mduduzi says:

    Powerful use of words there De.I very much identify with your feelings.Not exactly the same but some parts feel like you are retelling the story of my own malume.Its hard to let go.We were so close.He is the dude that bought me my very first pair of school shoes ever in my life.He is the guy that postponed the plans of securing a house in 2003 and paid my very first varsity fees.He was like a dad,brother and best friend to me.Thought he was going to survive the gruesome illness that swept away his life.He actually promised me to fight it as he left Jozi for Zim.My grandfather kept on explaining to us how better he looked with each and every day.He then decided to leave soon after 4am on the 15th of March 2013.As i took that flight with my mum and brother from Cape Town to Jozi then Zim that fateful evening i was convinced it was all a lie.I refused to cry.When i got to my beautiful dusty village of origin Dula i still thought there was miscommunication.When i saw the people gathered i thought they also heard the lies just like i did.The 19th of March came,the day that i was supposed to be celebrating my son’s 3rd birthday but there i was ,looking at the very tall and handsome man that i had so much loved lying lifeless in a casket.I saw him go but i did not let go.I refuse to let go.How could i ever forget him.When something happens in the family good or bad i still find myself dialling his number so i could let him know.But reality is he is gone,but he will never be forgotten,for that was my best malume ever -Witness Manzini Hadebe.

    • itsdelta says:

      Eish Mdu, that’s such a beautiful story….your uncle really was truly remarkable! It is such an incredible blessing to be loved so singularly….. MHDSRIP

  7. You are fabulous my dear sister. May Uncle Mambo rest in peace…*M

  8. Bhekilzwe B Ndlovu says:

    You don’t write, you pour out. I cannot say well done De because what will I be saying? I can only say it’s ok De.

  9. Mfundo Mlilo says:

    You are such a passionate and powerful writer Delta. I wish i was half the writer you are. I feel you and i share your pain. I remember some at the University of Zimbabwe when you first told me about your pregnancy. You know how difficult a moment it was and you managed to work through it. I am by no means comparing the two situations, i am only saying with time you will heal my sister. Don’t rush to forget….

    • itsdelta says:

      Thanks Mfundo….somethings you just dont see them coming and those are the ones that hit you the hardest. At least with the pregnancy I had 9 months to get used to the idea, lol!

  10. Virginia Muwanigwa says:

    Delta you always know how to go to the core of my consciousness and invoke the kind of feelings that I unconsciously keep down even though I know I should not. I first got to know you in your Letter to the Women’s Movement and when I read it, I could not help but identify with a lot of what you pointed out in that letter. I took that letter as my second chance to do what is right within my own power in this sometimes elusive movement. Since then, I have followed you, admired you and your prowess with words and when I eventually met you, was amazed with how small you are, in my head and through your writing, I had built you up into a giant, goes to show how sometimes we are slaves to meaningless stereotypes because there is a giant in everyone of us. On this latest writing, you have reminded me not of one, but the many of my loved ones, that I have lost and who I thought I had let go of, but realise I still have unfinished business with. It is how they sneak away, when your mind fools you to believe that they still have a chance, that is painful, the missed opportunity for a last word, with full knowledge that they are going (but how) and the nagging sense of how little you have maybe loved them back. But be comforted that in the love you shared, he must have known how much you loved him, how much he meant to you and be grateful for the time you had with him. I have heard that and it has been proven in my own life, that when you lose one person, another steps in to take over the role, not the place in your heart, of that person, I am sure you will find that person soon. Be comforted that he left a legacy in not only you but those in your circle. Thank you for challenging me on writing … it is well with you!

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