Aftermath

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On February 28th, on the morning of her 43rd birthday, my sister woke up to a house filled with beautiful flowers and refrigerators and freezers heaving with food that had lovingly been prepared by friends and even strangers. It might sound like a dream come true to many women (especially moms of small kids) out there, but to my sister, this was evidence that the events of the preceding days had not merely been the worst nightmare she has ever had.

Just a week and a half before, her beloved husband of almost ten years was shot to death by a gang of men who had been trying to invade their farmhouse in the middle of the night. He successfully staved them off, in the process most likely saving my sister and the kids, but paid for his bravery with his own life. My sweet, seven-year old nephew woke up from the shots and incessantly pressed the panic-button on the alarm. My adorable two-and-a-half year old niece, usually a light sleeper, mercifully did not wake up during the entire horror. She has hardly slept through a single night since then. I would not be able to sleep again either if it meant that the people I love the most inexplicably disappear when I do. Would you?

How does one explain something so incomprehensible to a toddler who desperately calls out to her dad? She worshipped him and the adoration was entirely mutual. Not even at 36 years old am I able to wrap my mind around the fact that this larger-than-life man – who benevolently took me into his home when I returned from the States broke, broken-up-with and with a shattered spirit, and who bought me two cars (for which I still owe him money!) – will never ever come back again. Almost two months later, I am still solidly in denial. I cannot and will not allow myself to believe any of it. I still expect him to come striding back into the house at any moment, greeting all of us with a cheerful “Yes, yes!”, scooping up his little girl and flinging her into the air and playfully wrestling his brown-eyed pride and joy of a boy to the ground.

He cannot be gone. He is simply too loved. Too needed. Not just by my sister, his kids, us and the rest of the family, but by all the hundreds of people who depended on him for their livelihoods. Some also received regular hand-outs, we have since discovered.

My sister has been nothing short of a heroine. With two traumatised little ones and several farms and businesses to juggle and keep running, she has not been afforded the luxury of sinking into her grief and giving in to the mourning. I stand helpless and wish I could fix it. I’m so useless. I’m too filled with my own stupid neuroses to be of any practical use to her. Most of all, I want to be able to somehow bring him back to her and the kids. The light has gone from her eyes. All joy has been snuffed out. She was a passionate cook. She has not touched the stove since that day. I now know that she cooked because of him; for him.

People tell me that they don’t know what to do for her. I’m next to her and I don’t know either. My attempts at showing how much I care are hopelessly inept. I have at times been shamefully bratty, like a petulant child. Perhaps I subconsciously want her to snap and cry, because I know that she’ll eventually HAVE to, for the sake of retaining her own sanity? Even if that were true, my loathsome selfishness can’t ever be justified.

But she remains strong, swaying under the enormity of it all instead of being broken by it, as I and any other lesser person would have been. At rare, unguarded moments, the fissures of suppressed grief spread across her face, but instead of cracking, she holds steady, gathers her wits and carries on.

She is incredibly clever. Attacks are coming from all sides. She is surrounded by condescending sharks who underestimate her intelligence and knowledge. She is a woman, after all. What can she possibly know about farming? Quite a lot, it turns out, even though it was the last thing she ever wanted to do with her life. She handled all the books for more than a decade. He also spoke to her about everything. That which was undocumented (he was organised, but he also kept a lot of information in his head), she is learning to figure out as she goes along. It does not let up though. Every day, about a million crises pop up that have to be dealt with.

My brother-in-law would have been immensely proud of her.

She remains amazingly free of bitterness. The only reason why she’d ever want them caught is to save anyone else from possibly having to go through this. She also does not dabble in futile exercises such as asking: “Why me?” Unsurprisingly, I’m not as gracious about this as she is. *I* want justice. Normally a pacifist, I suddenly crave revenge. I feel slightly manic: one minute I am incredibly angry, the next I feel no emotion at all.

 

At first, my brother-in-law didn’t quite know what to make of me. When I came back from the States, I was a bundle of raw, exposed nerve. He could merely LOOK at me in an odd way, and I’d dramatically burst into tears. Despite his somewhat brusque way, I know that he absolutely hated to see anyone unhappy. He was a doer, a fixer and it unnerved him when he couldn't make something right. Sometime last year, when I burst into tears yet again over something (probably relatively inconsequential – any stress I've had before now pales in comparison to what has happened to him), he threw his hands in the air and asked: “When are you going to stop crying about everything?”

Perhaps he will feel offended to know that I finally seemed to have stopped crying on the day that he died.  

 

It is not entirely true. At home, I try and stay strong for my sister and the kids’ sakes. No tears here. I clown around until I make my nephew and niece giggle and laugh. So I have developed this nasty habit of breaking down in very public places. A few weeks after it happened, I stopped at the pharmacy to run an errand. Suddenly I remembered that I had an entire bag of my brother-in-law’s prescription medicine in the trunk of my car and took it with me. I got what was on the list and then dropped the bag on the counter and stammered: “My brother-in-law recently passed away. Is there a way that you could please safely dispose of these for us?” And then I dissolved, right there, in front of the somewhat bewildered pharmacist.

 

To other people, my brother-in-law’s murder at 44 years old was just another fleeting news headline, to be read and forgotten. It is just another in a too-long line of South Africa’s violent crime statistics (which is swept under the rug and the severity of it denied by the government). Yet to all of us – but especially to my sister, my nephew and niece – that fatal shot was like a bomb exploding, forever destroying life as we knew it.

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14 Comments

i am at a loss of words. so, so sorry. noone should have to go through something like this and i really, really hope they catch those b***ards so they can get what they deserve. you will be there for your sister when she finally breaks down. all of a sudden you will have strength you didn't know you had in you. i am thinking of you and your family sending lots of love and strength! xo

Po said:

Oh Red. I cannot begin to imagine how I would live through this. Your sister is amazing, and so are you.

Redsaid Author Profile Page said:

Kim, schatze, danke schon. I am still at a loss too. Thank you for the comment and the thoughts. It is needed and appreciated. xoxo

And dear Po, thank you as well. Both you and Kim know all too well what we are going through right now, even though the circumstances surrounding our loss differ from the way in which your loved ones were lost. Po, I agree that my sister is amazing. I TRULY am not. But since writing this, I have managed to remain a bit calmer. So brace yourselves for lots of (possibly repetitive) blog posts.

TerraShield said:

Red, I'm terribly sorry to hear of your loss. You hear things like this quite often, but hearing it from someone you know (albeit through only their blog) puts it in a whole different perspective. Stay strong.

Gideon said:

Therefore, send not to know
For whom the bell tolls,
It tolls for thee.

Silver Sabre said:

Hey Red

Im really really sorry for your loss.

If there is anything we can do please let us know.

Much Love
SS

josie said:

Hey Red,
So sorry, thinking of you and your sister and the rest of the family. There is nothing to say- maybe keeping busy is giving your sister a reason to keep going. She's lucky she has you and I'm sure your presence makes things easier, although it's never going to be easy.
Wish I had some words of wisdom, having lost my husband, but I don't. You'll both hang in there and deal with whatever comes up, however you can. Crying in public, hell, all the best people do that!
Josie x

Gregg J. said:

Ten years ago or so I meet a young girl. I saw in her a sprit. She would grow into a bold and brave women. Someone who could drag themselves 6000 miles from home. Make friends with everyone. Even me. You still have that gift. You will standby Z she's small but strong you know her. We all cry sometime even me now.

powder said:

Hi Red,
You made me feel better when I was down. I wish I'm able to do the same for you. I have no pearls of wisdom to offer.
My thoughts are with you and your loved ones.

spunkymonkey said:

When we lost our daughter almost 7 years ago, I read a book by Rabbi Harold S. Kushner, "When Bad Things Happen to Good People". In fact, I read so many books - such as "When God doesn't answer your prayer" (Jerry Sittser), "A grief observed" (C.S. Lewis), "Lament for a son" (Nicholas Wolterstorff)...and I am none the wiser.

I wish with all my heart I knew what to say to you, your sister and her kids. I wish I knew what to do...

My hope, and dearest wish is that, in time, some measure of 'healing' will come and you will all find some measure of comfort in his memories.

Till then, you are so much in my thoughts... x

Redsaid Author Profile Page said:

Terra: Thank you, darling, for your comment. And hey, those who have been bothering to read this neglected blog (like you, one of my real imaginary readers!) know much more about me than some people who I actually interact with in real life!

Mr. Deon: That poem (although I know some nitpick and say that it's not actually a poem but from an essay he wrote) is one of my favourites, and those very words have been churning through my mind on a repetitive loop ever since it happened.

Silver: Thank you. I will. A get together would be good for the soul, if you and N are up for it.

Redsaid Author Profile Page said:

Josie: Thank you for taking the time to read this and for your lovely comment. It genuinely helps. Wow, so you've been through this hell. So I'll trust you that simply being a presence helps. I'm so scared that I get on her nerves, though! (I'm sure I do!) Ah, but that's the thing about family, right? No matter how irritated we become with each other, we will always come back and be there for each other. She's been there for me more times than I can count, so now it's my turn.

Gregg-who-always-rings-twice: My dearest friend, what a lovely surprise to hear from you! Sorry you had to find out like this. You're right, she IS strong. Like the proverbial dynamite in a small package. So unfair though that she has to endure this. Anyway, thank you so much for your message. I miss you very much.

Powder (Puff Girl... heh heh, couldn't resist!): Hey there! Oh, you're such a sweetheart. Thank you. And you ARE making me feel better, honestly. How are you? How's Oz? When you coming this side again for a visit? Would be so awesome to catch up in person again.

Spunkeymonkey: My sis was coincidentally reading the book Why Bad Things Happen To Good People when it happened. She had bought it a couple of weeks before. Thanks so so much for your kind words and the thoughts. It is very much appreciated.

Aquila said:

Hey Red,
Just let it be known that there are people thinking about you and your family and praying for comfort and strength.

We experienced a similar tragedy a while ago. A friend of ours was shot and killed in what the police called a "botched" hijacking in Johannesburg. We miss our friend Bianca dearly. However, we know that people like Bianca and your brother-in-law had a profound impact on all our lives. We continue to love them.

I can do nothing but stare blankly at the monitor. I tried to think of something clever to say, some great refrain that would cause a change inside you, or a simple word that would bring you serenity; but I could not, I found myself deprived of means. I have no words of encouragement to offer you, I won't say anything like: "it will be okay" or "time heals the soul", because I don't know that. Even somebody who's been through this couldn't tell you that, because everyone has a different grieving process. I even feel uneasy about leaving a comment, like it isn't my place because I don't know you. But nonetheless I feel compelled to say something, because it's YOU, someone I don't know but who has somehow begun to exist in my universe. You say that you are not amazing, but for some reason, I'm here, reading about your brother-in-law's murder and feeling pain, pain that something like this should happen to somebody so incredible like you. On what do I base this impression? Is it on the fact that you are a great writer? I bet you'd like that, but no... not even, I don't know you as a writer, I have only read 2 of your posts(although I do love them). Is it because of your story? No, it isn't that either, because I don't know your story, only a very small fraction of it. So what then? I guess I just do, and in some way, that should suffice. I met you, read a few of your comments on statuses, exchanged 1 or 2 messages, and was left with the impression that you were amazing. I think you should be proud of that, other people need actions to justify their greatness. However, if you need to think of someTHING that makes you remarkable, think of this blog post you've written, and the others about it. You might not be in charge of a farm without much knowledge of it, solving problems as they arise like your sister(which is indeed, amazing from her part), but you're not grieving in silence. You're talking about it. You're writting about it. And in this way, you're raising awareness. You're making it possible for someone like me, a guy on the other side of the world, to know about a reality that your government tries to conceal. And that, you should know, is commendable. It is through people like you, the people who speak, that reality changes. It may take years, decades even, but even if we don't live to see it, you're changing the world.

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about
is a South African girl living in South Africa. That doesn't sound very original, we know, but you might find it remotely interesting when you learn that she has only recently returned to South Africa for the first time after a nine year, one month and two week (non-stop!) stint in the United States where she accidentally became an outlawed alien (also known, especially in immigration circles, as an 'illegal immigrant.' We prefer the term 'outlawed alien' ourselves). During her reversed exile from her homeland, she kept herself occupied by winning this website (but only after shamelessly bribing the judges) and thus being unleashed on the web where she slowly, leisurely became the World's Laziest Blogger; by being a nanny and by attending sci-fi conventions in search of other aliens. In the US, she also made her sailing debut, her international acting debut, tried and failed to learn the piano, and never learned to cook. She is hopelessly addicted to coffee, dogs (especially Labrador Retrievers), how-to books (with a particular fondness for her copy of the Time/Life A - Z Medical Encyclopedia), and she tends to grossly overuse parentheses (we're not kidding) during her attempts at writing, which you may - if you really have masochistic tendencies - subject yourself to by reading the words to the right of this column. If you REALLY and truly STILL want to know more, you can read her C.V. here.
Or you can stalk her send her some love via e-mail at: redsaid[AT]gmail[DOT]com

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comments
  • Martín Negrón : I can do nothing but stare blankly at the monitor. I tried to think of something clever to say, som... [go]
  • Aquila : Hey Red, Just let it be known that there are people thinking about you and your family and praying ... [go]
  • Redsaid Author Profile Page: Josie: Thank you for taking the time to read this and for your lovely comment. It genuinely helps. W... [go]
  • Redsaid Author Profile Page: Terra: Thank you, darling, for your comment. And hey, those who have been bothering to read this neg... [go]
  • spunkymonkey : When we lost our daughter almost 7 years ago, I read a book by Rabbi Harold S. Kushner, "When Bad Th... [go]
  • powder : Hi Red, You made me feel better when I was down. I wish I'm able to do the same for you. I have no p... [go]
  • Gregg J. : Ten years ago or so I meet a young girl. I saw in her a sprit. She would grow into a bold and brave ... [go]
  • josie : Hey Red, So sorry, thinking of you and your sister and the rest of the family. There is nothing to s... [go]
  • Silver Sabre : Hey Red Im really really sorry for your loss. If there is anything we can do please let us know. ... [go]
  • Gideon : Therefore, send not to know For whom the bell tolls, It tolls for thee.... [go]
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