We are family.

In my family we put the fun in disFUNctional. We are spectacularly flawed but that does not prevent us from loving each other abundantly. We are not unique. We might be slightly crazier than the average family, but I believe this is because there are so many of us… you know, the law of averages and all that. I am one of 15 first cousins on my mom’s side alone. With those odds, there’s bound to be a few loons (and I am, of course, excluding myself here).

I spoke of our roots in this country last week and after this weekend, I know that these roots in the African soil have a lot to do with my family ties. I am incredibly grateful to my gracious friends who allow me to tell them tales of my Naboomspruit-family clan, which I am sure bore them to tears, but these nutters are my tribe. These are the people I have known my entire life and where I can show up knowing that it is just about impossible for them to stop loving me.

In addition to the fact that I read the Huisgenoot, I have another secret… I quite like Oprah.She said, ‘Family should be the place where you can be your most complete self; where you’re accepted and appreciated, seen and valued, even in moments of disagreement. It should be your soft place to fall, the place where you’re reminded that no matter what happens to you, in the face of your deepest challenges , you are loved.”

I just came back from the Recovery Lodge. The lodge was teeming with people coming to honour their loved ones. On one side, was my own family huddled in a last minute gathering, as my father is slowly slipping away and every moment is terribly precious. Our hearts ache as we see how he gets frailer by the day, but the beautiful moments of reprieve are memories that we will cherish forever. We eat together. He battles to swallow so he gets an ice cream shake. We all take photos. We pile ourselves around him knowing that another opportunity to take these photos might not be afforded to us. My mother holds his hand tightly. She never leaves his side. This is not like her as she usually buzzes around, but today there is a silence that surrounds her like a fog. She has loved my dad since she met him in 1954. And oh, how he has loved her.

Her heart is breaking, as his is failing.

We can only stand guard around her; be the pillars to prop her up as the biggest loss of her life approaches. May these next daysbe gentle and filled with grace.

My uncle leaves me voice notes all the time. We don’t call each other live as our tendency to cry embarrasses us and to be fair, ruins my mascara. He prays in the voice notes with his velvety unrushed voice, consoling me on a level only my spirit understands. I listen to the messages over and over again, as he says the prayers I cannot pray for myself.

My cousin who is a big shot at the Reserve bank, teased me mercilessly as a child because I wet my bed. He sent me a totally inappropriate joke yesterday. It’s his way of saying that he’s got my back. I would be freaked out if he sent me an emotive soppy message; this is our way.

We are receiving messages from cousins in Brisbane, North Carolina, Hong Kong, London and even from behind the Boerewors gordyn in Pretoria. We are all walking this road together. Some have lost their parents – my aunts and uncles years ago – and are reliving their pain with us. Some are serving us in our hurt knowing full well that when their turn comes, we will arrive with quiches, wine, tissues and a lifetime of stories to share.

You know how you have drinking buddies, or tennis buddies, or bookclub girls, or work colleagues and in each of these collectives we share different aspects of ourselves, but in a family, we take the good with the ugly, as there simply is no escape. So we share our weeping, our rejoicing, our disappointment, our fears, our triumphs and now, I know we will share our grief.

In the room next to my dad a Lebanese lady’s 22 family members came to say goodbye. There are tiny babies and elderly people that look like they should be checking in for end-of-life care themselves. It is a testimony to lives well lived. Our guest is dying of heart failure (just like my dad) I have only known her for a week, but in that time, I’ve got a sense of how that heart has loved and I’d be exhausted too. She has raised her own five kids and adopted three more. She is weak, but her eyes shine with love and she tells me of how grateful she is to have her loved ones around her. Her death is going to be beautiful. That I know with certainty.

She recently came from ICU where she spent three weeks. I am grateful she was discharged in time to die with dignity. Here there are no visiting hours and no limits as to how many people can be with you. Her people ebb and flow, spending time with her in her room, coming outside to sit with their feet in the pool and then sharing a sandwich. There is a wonderful sense of relief; relief that she will not die alone in a sterile environment with machines making noise and fluorescent lights invading her peace, relief that all her children are here and that her priest has come to bless her. On a practical level the family is relieved that this burden of organising, feeding and welcoming is not falling on one of them. We will sort out the practical issues; they are just here to say goodbye and love on each other. The most special relief to me, is that she is pain-free, lucid and comfortable. She smiles at me, holds my hand tight as if I am one of her daughters, and her blue eyes look right into my soul. She is with her people, surrounded by and assured of their love. There are no regrets, only relief.

There are other families spending time with loved ones who are recovering from surgeries and other ailments, and of course, a few pets visiting their owners. A few visitors swim since it’s Joburg’s first warm summer’s weekend in months. This is a wonderful reminder of new life. We might be remarkably civilized and intelligent, but we are still in this cycle of life with our seasons changing like a leaves on a tree. We are part of it… the coming and going. What a celebration of life the beginning and the end, and all the glorious humanness in-between we share.

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