The language of love.

The end of a life is filled with many things. Some things we expect: the tears, the egg-mayo sandwiches, the flowers and the desperate scramble for a good-enough black frock. What we don’t expect is the mountains of paperwork that need doing to officially end that life. I suppose we can grieve together, but some soul has to sit down alone and start wading through the documents. It kind of adds insult to injury, doesn’t it?

When my father died eleven weeks ago, I dreaded this job. To me it felt like it was already so unfair, so revolting and so damn devastating to have lost him, but to have to tell Mulitchoice, Discovery, Nedbank, Sanlam, Netflix, Vuma, Telkom and MTN he is dead too just broke me. It felt to me like I had to say “He is dead, he is dead, he is dead,” a hundred times a day to people who could not care in the least! In fact, during the first meeting with his broker in a coffee shop I continually pretended to look for things in my laptop bag as that was the only way to hide the tears that would not stop. (Full disclosure, I went to the bathroom a few times too when the ugly-crying won and I had to try and hang on to the scrap of dignity I had left).

However, this dreaded paperwork did yield a wonderful surprise. As we are catching our breath and the dust is settling, it is as if my dad is just constantly manifesting his love for my mom as we see the way he made sure that she would be fine, looked after, live comfortably, not be in debt and have access to wonderful medical aid. It continuously affirms what we saw our whole lives: he adored her, and he loved us. There are no awful secrets to uncover, no debtors knocking at our doors, no illegitimate kids suddenly ringing my doorbell and no skeletons in the cupboard. There is so much love in the order and provision he left, that I can feel him in every decision I don’t need to take because he made sure it was already in place..

This made me think that the way we tell people we love them is not limited to time or words. Love is simply bigger than this. I did not really understand that until now. How can my dad tell me he still loves me when he is dead? But I have never heard it louder and clearer than now.

ADHD does not run in my family… it enthusiastically gallops through the generations and made a spectacular appearance in my immediate family with my mother at the top of the list. The way my dad loved her was not like in an American movie with grand gestures, running through a crowded airport or making an announcement on the sound system in a stadium full of spectators. He created a routine for her, so she could let her wonderfully busy brain embrace the chaos, knowing that the foundations are secure. He brought structure and calm, she brought colour and ideas. He got up at the same time every day, did the same things in the same way, and supported and provided what she needed to be able to be herself. He always held her hand. He loved to touch, but I am sure he also just wanted her to sit still. What a wonderful love? Full of safety and belonging.

I think we are so easily fooled (myself right there with the rest of us) that love is the wordy declarations on social media, the fancy sunsets and the big events, but that is not what I am seeing at work. It is the husband that feeds his wife papaya because even though she can’t speak anymore, he knows she likes it. It is the carer that fiercely protects a patient by always asking permission before touching them. Or the wife that insists on doing her husband’s laundry because while we all know he is dying, it is good for him to smell like ‘home’. It is the son that brought his baby to see his mom today in the middle of his work day, in a suit and tie. He just knows nothing gives his mom more joy than to hold her tiny little grandson. It is my receptionist that screens ever phone call making sure unhinged family members never speak to patients.It is the daughter that Ubers her mom’s best friend to visit her after her hip replacement so they can sit in our garden. It is my sister that brought my dad ice cream from KFC at each and every visit, and then allowed him to finish hers too.

Love is so much more than being “in love” and I personally think being “in love” has absolutely nothing to do with love.

If you read my blog often you’ll know I am not a fan of the English language (I say this as I have to fight every marital argument in my second language and claim this is why I lose them. The fact that I am wholly unreasonable is not a factor here), but I believe the English language does not do justice to the word love. I know that the way I love Bar-one chocolate cake is not the same as the way I love my beautiful black cat called Smith and differs to how I love myself. We can learn from the Greeks in this regard. These are the different types of love they have in their vocabulary:

Eros – Romantic, passionate and intimate love. (What makes the movies and Valentine’s day cards sell).

Philia – Affectionate, friendly, virtuous and loyal love. (The one you get at book club and what you feel when the Boks win)

Storge – Unconditional, empathetic and familial love. (What you feel for your teenager even though he drank all the milk… again)

Agape – Unconditional, brotherly love, charity, the love of God for person and of person for God. (That love that you simply cannot fathom with your limited mind)

Ludus – Playful love. (The thing that makes the kids get on in the sandpit and also the thrill of the flirt)

Pragma – Committed, long-lasting love willing to make compromises. (That love you have for your longsuffering business partner or team player)

Philautia – Self-love. (Not the love Narcissus had for himself, but the healthy kind, the kind our society so desperately lacks)

Xenia – Hospitable, provisional love, translated as “guest-friendship”. (That love the waiter at Spur should have, but doesn’t. The kind the nurse at your bedside needs, but is often too tired to even consider).

Language can be so limiting. In English, we are constrained by our vocabulary, or lack thereof. Look at the spectrum on which we are missing out! There are countless layers and nuances of love which we ignore, but that can enrich and grow us.

The word Xenia surprised me. Trust the good old Greeks to have found a term for such a vitally important concept. It is integral to what we do at the Recovery Lodge. We need to love our guests, we need to love our patients. I think we need to bring that word back in to society with such force that it is one of the first things we think about when we say the word love. It is often missing in customer care and especially in medical or recovery settings, but when it’s present, it makes all the difference.

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