REPUBLISHED: Love and Loss – the heart’s siamese twins


[First published on 24 February 2010…..for all those we loved and let slip through our fingers]

I’ve written to you every day since you left. Formulating sentences in my head and stringing together words that hopelessly fail to capture the depth of what I feel.

I have written to you every day since you left. My mind tiring of the constant need to run away from the thoughts of you that haunt me – my heart tiring of the exhausting enterprise of trying to bury beneath layers of nonchalance what I feel for you.

I’ve written every day since you left. Failing to hold back the miserable tears that take over from where speech fails – a language that only an aching heart can speak. Tears – how eloquent they are and how I welcome them.

Welcome the relief they bring, welcome their silence as they course down my face for it would not do to let the world see my misery – for it is private grief no one can share and a sorrow I cannot seem to escape.

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….our lives are contradictions: how loss and love can be two sides of the same coin and how we can stay whole even when our hearts break

I write to you every day since you left. In a language of sighs and when the mask I wear slips off to reveal how truly wretched I feel – I feign a headache, plug silent earphones to my ears and hope to keep the curious eyes and inquiring glances away from me.

I write to you every day since you left. Crossing roads where we once stood, my mind refusing to forget, even the most mundane of things.

How perverse is the heart, to cling so tenaciously to every memory, to guard so jealously every feature of your face and store so faithfully every dimpled smile that lined it and every frown that marred it.

I write to you every day since you left. Write – because I cannot bring myself to speak of you – cannot bring myself to get the words past this stubborn lump that permanently lodges in my throat… I cannot think your name without this flicker of pain flashing across my heart and I cannot bring myself to speak of you for the tears threaten to overwhelm me. So I write to you every day.

I write of trivial things. To tell you of a bad day at work, with the shadow of your absence hanging over me, to tell you of a headache that I nurse from morning till night from the constant effort of trying to outrun my misery.

I write to you every day since you left. To tell you of my long nights, how I still wake up in the wee hours of the night, in the room that we once lay trying to recapture the scent of you; knowing there’s no trace of you that remains – yet that night is faithfully preserved in my thoughts carefully stored in my heart.

I write to you in my head –every day since you left. But the words freeze at my finger tips and my hand refuses to meet the keyboard… so I know you got none of the letters I wrote.

Now as I lay in that room where we once lay; the wind howling outside my window – I allow myself to weep. To grieve for you as I have refused to do; for to cry would be to acknowledge that I am hurt – that the pain is real and not a figment of my imagination.

I cry now, because the yawning silence between us has not diminished what I feel; I cry because that’s what I do when I run out of options – when my mind has tired itself and my heart has grown weary of the constant ache.

Tears are an ugly thing. So pitiable, they are a capitulation – an acceptance that life has beaten me once again, that I must accept defeat and that I must embrace my loss.

I write to you every day since you left. I write of places I avoid because they remind me of you – no more spicy pies from that Oriental deli you loved and I write of the pathetic lurch in my chest that I can’t stop every time I come across the car you once drove, my heart squeezing in pain at the maroon sight of it.

I write to you every day since you left. My feet hurrying to work each morning in a vain attempt to outrace my thoughts – how I drown myself in work, trying to marshal my thoughts to coherence and gather my scattered emotions into a mask of composure.

I write to you every day since you left. I write to tell you of my longing, of my yearning and of my impossible love for you.

Impossible because you are too far – yet I would follow you to the ends of the earth… my heart leading me to find you wherever you are.

Impossible because you were too late or I was too hasty.

Impossible because our paths crossed when I had made promises I had naively thought I could keep – yet I would give it all up; my own happiness taking precedence over any sense of duty. I never was one who could live a lie in order to conform.

I write to you every day since you left. To tell you of little sorrows – of a cellphone that got stolen, of how my only regret was that your precious numbers vanished into the void of an automated voice telling me the number I’m dialing is not reachable.

I write to you every day since you left. Sorting through the clothes I wore when I was with you, the bitter-sweetness of remembrance and how I smile against my will as my mind relives moments that only you could have given to me – moments preserved by a mind that refuses to forget you and a heart that refuses to stop loving you.

I write to you today because the words would not remain sealed within the confines of my mind. Because for once, the fingers were willing to let the emotions come alive on the computer screen – to give shape to the feelings that elude me.

I write at last – fearing that I may drown myself in the attempt to drown what I feel and that I may lose myself in the attempt to forget you.

So I go through the motions – laughing on cue and pasting a smile on my face; I fool the world but I do not fool myself.

I miss you. I miss you as if —-

As if I could not face the next hour without you – and yet I find I do.

As if I could not face one more day without you – and yet I find I do.

As if I could not go through one more night without you – and yet I find I do.

As if I could not endure one more week without you – and yet I find I do.

As if I could not survive one month without you – and yet I find that I almost have.

As if I could not make it till the end of the year without you – and yet I suspect I shall.

I write to tell you of these things – of the irony of life: how life has the audacity to go on despite our pain. How the sun has the temerity to keep shining despite our gloom and how the birds have the gall to sing in spite of our personal grief and oh, the brutality of it – how the flowers dare to bloom while our hearts wilt.

I write to you every day. To ask how you are, to tell you that I wonder if you think of me as much as I think of you. I write to ask whether you still remember me at all or if in travelling, you have had the fortune to meet new faces and the luxury to forget old ones?

I write to you every day. To ask you whether the ache in my heart resonates with yours? Or whether you have perfected the art of insulating your heart from the inconvenient tangling of emotions?

I write to you every day. To ask you if your mind ever strays to me – if you ever allow your fingers to hover over the keys thinking you might want to write something to me.

I write to you every day since you left. To wonder what you’re doing, to wonder whether you’re happy, well? To wonder every other minute whether you’re smiling, laughing, talking, sleeping or walking. I write to tell you that I hope you are happy, that I hope you are loved, embraced and accepted – that you are treated with kindness because someone as precious as you deserves no less.

I write to you every day since you left. To tell you that I hope those who meet you recognize you for the special soul you are and that one day as you unpack your suitcase, from yet another journey – you may find the heart you unwittingly packed from Africa – my heart.

#BeitbridgeMemoirs: Of memories, tears and healing


Last December I went home. Home is Beitbridge. I was received with tears and admonishes for having been gone too long.

I was surprised by the outpouring of emotion, the overwhelming love and mostly, I was surprised that my absence had been so keenly felt.

I will explain the source of my surprise.

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I was surprised because I had never quite considered just how much I mattered to my father and my mother’s relatives.

When my parents died, I felt like my value and worth in the family structure had severely diminished. I grieved for my parents as if I were the only one who felt the blow of their passing on.

In fact, I somehow convinced myself that no one else could have been as shattered as I was and I reckoned that if no one else was as shattered as me – it meant their pain was not worth noting.

This was 15 years ago and it has taken me a long time to realize how wrong I was. Grief is a strange thing.

Sometimes it makes us so self-absorbed that we cannot see beyond our agony to acknowledge the pain of others.
I have an inclination towards asserting my individuality such that even in grieving; I sought to individualize the loss and refused to let it be a collective and shared grief.

This past Christmas I took the opportunity to visit my maternal and paternal relatives, some of them had last seen me at my parents’ funerals 15 years ago.

They were very emotional. And they kept talking about my parents. This outpouring of emotion made me aware for the first time of just how much my parents had been loved and cherished by others.

I felt ashamed that I had so disregarded their pain, discounted the depth of their own loss and failed to be a comfort to them even as I’d refused to draw comfort from them.

My maternal uncle’s eyes welled with tears and his voice choked with emotion when he saw me after so many years.

Virginia’s child,” he said, “Is this you? You, who have been gone this long? Without a call or even a random letter to let us know that you are well. I have missed you and not a day goes by that I don’t mention your name, to ask where you are and if you are okay. How could you go and not return, just go and not remember us. Don’t forget us who love you even if we may have no material things to offer you. I am your mother too, even if I am a man – I am your mother too.

I was moved and I was shamed. I had forgotten what it means to be ‘important’ to other people. When my parents died, I stopped expecting people to see me as important so that it wouldn’t hurt me if they neglected or forgot about me.

My maternal uncle was happy and upset at the same time. He adored my mother (his baby sister) and when he acquired a house, the largest and most prominently placed portrait in his living room was one of his late baby sister.

I have many siblings that I love dearly and I cannot begin to imagine how I would cope with losing a single one of them. I only realized now how much comfort and joy my maternal uncle derives from seeing me and from having some ‘tangible, living, breathing, walking and talking’ reminder of his late baby sister.

Yet I had discounted all this in my self-obsessed immersion in grief.

I remember how my maternal grandfather died three months after he buried my mother (his last born child and his favorite too).

My maternal grandmother insisted that he had died of a broken heart. I had been skeptical at the time. For my maternal grandfather had one leg, the other had been amputated below the knee and for many years he limped on an iron stump that was very heavy. My father later bought him an artificial leg and he was able to wear both shoes which he enjoyed immensely.

I recall thinking that a man who had lost a leg was very strong, so strong that surely he could not die from sadness. But over the years, I grew to learn that my grandfather had suffered many things but never had he buried his own child until my mother’s death.

Now that I am a parent, I can begin to fully appreciate the impact of my mother’s death and the lives that were irrevocably changed the day she died.

My maternal grandmother spoke of how my grandfather simply lost the will to live, withdrawing from everyone and often preferring to not converse with anyone. Before he died they took him to the hospital where a nurse scolded them for troubling an old man because she said his blood pressure was so high it probably meant the family was stressing him.

It was not stress, it was soul-destroying grief… the kind of grief known to a parent who has to bury their child.

How I could have possibly imagined that my pain was unique, so extraordinary and so much more important than the pain of my grandfather and other family members is beyond me. In retrospect, I was too immature to have known better.

While they grieved with me and for themselves… my family had to make time to grieve specially for me – for the daughter who had lost a mother. And yet I could not step outside of my own anguish long enough to grieve for them and to acknowledge their loss – the brother who lost a baby sister, the father who lost a daughter, the husband who lost his wife and so on.

For a long time I viewed the death of my parents as something that happened exclusively to me. I bore the grief of losing them as an individual and solitary process, a pain that I felt and suffered alone. I was wrong in imagining that mine was the only pain that mattered because they had been MY parents.

It seemed to me back then that no one else was as hurt as I was…like no one else ‘could be’ or even ‘should be’ as hurt as me. Over the years I have come to appreciate and understand that my relatives lost two people they loved and cherished the day my parents each died. It is such an obvious thing to me now.

But I was so blind to it back then. Trying to elevate my pain and suffering and loss and grief above that of others. Trying to assert a more exclusive claim to the burden of grief as if others did not feel it as keenly. It shames me now to recall how self-centered I was.

This past holiday I realized what a comfort I am to my relatives…seeing me and talking to me gave them so much comfort and eased their pain. And I had withheld such comfort by being so distant and straying so far from them. I was chastised.

I am not the only one who lost someone the day my parents died. My paternal uncles lost a big brother who’d vigilantly watched over them all their lives. The youngest of my uncles was expecting his first child who was born less than a month later. It must have been such a bittersweet year for him.

I reckon it must still hurt to know that his big brother did not live to see his first child. In any event, my paternal uncle went on to name his first child after my dad. Now when I visit him, every day the name of my father is mentioned when we call his namesake. My uncle also gave his son a Venda name – Aifheli – which means something doesn’t end.

I asked him about it once and he said, he meant that memories do not end. The memories we have and carry of people we’ve loved and lost, they do not fade or end – we do not forget them. I have no doubt he was thinking of my father mostly when he named his first child.

Looking back now, it feels like I never fully appreciated the depth and texture of my paternal uncle’s grief.

How could I when I had been so busy elevating my pain above that of everyone else. So selfish of me.

It didn’t occur to me that other people were as hurt as I was by the death of my parents. I failed to consider that my parents were deeply loved by others and that their death changed other people’s lives forever.

I was not the only one who loved my parents and who mourned their passing on. Even though it seemed like everyone just carried on with their lives despite my parents’ death.

The fact that they could carry on with their lives after such a terrible blow had been dealt seemed to suggest that perhaps they had forgotten because perhaps they had not been as deeply wounded or affected as I was.

But now I know we can move on without forgetting, we can move on in many aspects of our lives but in other aspects we can stay stuck, stay grieving, stay hurting and stay remembering.

I learnt a lot over the holidays spending time with my relatives from both sides. Maybe because I was emotionally ready to learn and maybe because I was met with such breathtakingly fierce love that I found myself wondering why I never noticed.

I think it is because I felt lost without my parents and didn’t know how to claim or locate a place for myself within the family without them.

But going home was a therapeutic thing. Lots of painful memories relived and lots of tears and healing was gained.

Every now and then I think it is important to just go home.

Home where people know you as the child of so and so…. where your status and position and education and accomplishments don’t change who you are in the eyes of those who watched you as you grew up.

And when we lose the ones we love, we must never hesitate to draw comfort and strength from the pool of people who share in that loss.

Some glimpse into my parents can be found here —>

 Remember me…or maybe not (written when I forgot the anniversary of my mother’s death in 2010)

My father – A man of emotions (written in fond and bemused memory of my dad)

The day Mmawe followed me (written as a nostalgic recollection of my mother’s protectiveness)

May your courage not fail you (for Collin’s daughter)


It’s been going on for months.

The torment of your fear-filled heart. And we’ve talked about it via Whatsapp chats but I haven’t really been paying attention. For this I am sorry.

I stayed up tonight to pay attention to your pain and to tell you that I understand. It is a frightening path upon which you tread – tread lightly dear friend.

Standing at the forked road between going forward with this man you pledged to spend your life with or moving on without him towards a destination where uncertainty is the only thing certain.

I am sorry I have not been paying attention.

Sometimes when you know that the heart heals, you are quick to dismiss the process of pain that comes with the healing. That’s what I have been doing.

Listening to you and knowing your heart will heal and not paying attention to the pain you feel in the here and now.

I want to give you answers. To assure you and give you guarantees but there are none.

There are no guarantees, nothing to hold us up when we venture into the unknown except our own courage and grit and will to live.

May your courage not fail you my friend. May your will to live not waver. It hurts I know and some days will be worse than others.

Osho - Courage Love Affair

And you will look in the mirror sometimes and wonder who that stranger is that’s staring back at you.

Life doesn’t always pan out the way we hope it will. Certainly not with intimate relationships.

I long to see you laugh again, to watch you throw your head back in mirth. I want you to find joy again.

You are so battered and so bruised and the laughter in you has since died away. It is frightening to see the hollowness in you and the shell you have become.

Sometimes when love goes wrong it takes so much out of us. It scoops out all the hope we hold and leaves us empty.

Come back to me. To us. To who you were before this love made you give until you believed you had nothing and were nothing without him.

You want to hold on because it is so much safer to keep holding on than to let go when you don’t know where you’ll land. But may your courage not fail you dear friend.

Because all we are is the sum total of all we have had the courage to become.

I have learned that there is no reward for breaking my own heart to spare the hearts of others.

There shall be casualties, make no mistake about this.

There shall be a price to be paid. Be willing to foot the bill because losing a lover always leaves a scar long after they cease to matter.

You will miss him on some nights and thoughts of him will pop up at random in the middle of the day and a pang of ‘something’ will hit your heart. A pang of regret, of sadness, of nostalgia and even residual heartache.

Be willing to have it so. Accept it and let your heart heal as it sees fit.

You will learn to live without him.

Because our very existence consists of things we have learned, things we have unlearned and things we have had to re-learn.

You will learn to ignore the urge to call him with good news and suppress the need to share your joys with him.

You will learn to resist the desire to reach out to him for comfort when you have bad news and want his strength to hold you up. You will learn to not need him.

And in time you will forget him for hours and eventually you will forget him for days upon end.

And it will surprise you, even sadden you… that someone who was once the center of your universe can eventually cease to matter.

In time you will be free of him. Free of your heart’s longing for him and free of your soul’s grief over how things ended.

May your courage not fail you my friend.

We cannot make people love us and indeed, they too, do not have the power to command their hearts to love us.

And similarly, we cannot force ourselves to love or compel our hearts to open up when there’s no inclination to do so.

Make peace with it. Heal. Laugh. Have hope. Live as you believe. And have courage Collin’s daughter.

I love you always.

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.

My soul limps… now


I go through the days with a firm resolve and the same goal that pulled me back from the edge of that precipice now propels me forward.

But it is never an easy thing to drag anyone away from the carcasses of their hopes and the mortuary of dreams. It is not enough to say to the soul, “look here, it is dead. Let it go.”

The soul will not have it. It will not be reasoned with. Because wherever a person’s heart ventures – the soul plants its roots and calls it home. And you were my home.

You were home.

In the aloneness of this solitude I have no one to put up pretence for. But some habits must have somehow snuck into the tightly packed luggage I brought with me. Even though I am surrounded by strangers, I still pretend I am fine – as if they could tell the difference.

Some things are hard to live behind.

They are too burrowed deeply into the survival kit of our psyche. And they are forged by seasons of hardship, of pain and of life’s endless unknowable and unshareable sorrows.

Home is not a place. It is not a thing or an object. Home is a person. If you’re lucky it’s many people but for most of us – it’s usually just one person.

And even if the home goes up in flames the soul lingers round it like some crazed phantom refusing to believe that all is lost. The soul is too stubborn to be reasoned with.

It will keep you there. In the rubbles of the past, driving you mad with its frenzied desire to go through the rubble attempting to find something salvageable.

There is nothing left. It is all gone. And in the end you have to be okay with the fact that it’s gone. But your soul wants to go home to a home that no longer exists.

You show it pictures of the devastation. You show it the witness reports your heart has compiled over the years – detailing every pain sustained, every hurt inflicted and every self-demeaning act of retaliation.

Your mind weighs in – with minty fresh memories of disasters endured, of laughter that got extinguished and soul deep agonies to which the defenceless body curled up through long nights.

You want to tell the soul, “let’s go.” And it won’t budge. It won’t.

Like the desperate futility of holding on to the corpse of a cherished one, the soul wants to stay here.

Wants to try and nourish these drought-hardened soils. Wants to sacrifice itself by making manure out of its roots to fertilize the ground again… perchance something may spring up again.

You tell it “no. We have tried it all. It’s over. Let’s go. Please.”

And in the end you are left with no choice. You must go. This is no longer home. It hasn’t been for a very long time. You must go.

And so you wait until your soul takes a nap, lift it gently and tenderly; try to carefully uproot it from the ground and realize you can’t – it’s too deeply rooted.

If you don’t hurry, your soul will awake and keep begging you, “let’s try one last time. Please. Just one last time.”

But you know that one-last-time would be a waste of last times. You know the reserves containing your one-last-times have become depleted. You know you spent them on this very space and you are running out of one-last-times to spare.

You cannot try it one-last-time.

You are looking at the flatline on the screen, telling you that there is nothing left to resuscitate – that the dreams which once thrived have shrivelled and died. That the hopes which were on life support slipped into a coma and did not survive the wounds inflicted by sterilized loss.

Sterilized loss is a silent killer; a grief denied gains potency with time. Grief is a messy business but sterilizing it only pushes it deeper into our souls. By denying it an outlet – it becomes at home in our hearts – tiny slivers of unacknowledged pain.

We die from tiny defeats, from small let downs and from tiny flesh wounds…it is not their tininess that matters – it is their multitude – death by a thousand paper cuts is still a death.

Your soul is starting to stir and you know the nap will soon be over. You must go. And if you cannot convince your soul then you must just take it with you by force. There is nothing to stay here for.

So you grab it. Grab your reluctant soul and realize the roots are still tied to this ground. Your soul wakes up in alarm and demands to know where you’re taking it, why you don’t want to try one-last-time. You are done talking.

You tell your soul it is time to go. Go before you die in this mass grave containing all the dead dreams and hopes of the past.

Your soul says it will go but there’s a price, “Leave something behind. Leave a piece of me here. This used to be home. Something must be left behind. This used to be home.”

And so I carried my soul out of there, stumbled out into the open of a new day and am blinded by the brightness of future prospects.

“Put me down”, says my soul, “I can walk from here”.

I put it down and begin to walk, thinking that it was right by my side… but a few steps and I realize something is wrong.

I turn back to see my soul following with a limp, “what did you do?” I ask in distress.

And my soul says, “I left something behind. So that I could remember the home that once was. If I could not save it, then let me at least remember. It used to be home. It used to matter.”

Now I understand why my soul limps and why my smile curves into a sad tilt and why my laughter goes out of tune sometimes… ringing in a high falsetto.

You used to be home. You used to matter. And my soul limps to honour that.