The Great Sadness

It has been a while. The reason being ‘The Great Sadness’.  William P. Young writes about it in ‘The Shack’.  I tried to come up with an alternative description than the one that he uses, but to no avail.  It describes a state of being one descends into after terrible loss or trauma.  After the death of little Missy in The Shack, he writes, “The Great Sadness has descended and in differing degrees cloaked everyone whose lives had touched Missy’s.” Indeed.  If I could rephrase to make it more personal, it would read somewhere along these lines, “The Great Sadness has slowly but surely settled into the lives of those who dearly loved Baby L, also known as Poppedais.”

It settled just in time for autumn. As the world around me turns into spectacular shades of yellow, orange and red, I look with eyes muted with shades of grey and dark blue.  If black had shades, I would be seeing that too.  As the colours of autumn begin to surround us like a warm, fuzzy blanket, I feel cold.  It’s a cold that is not planning to leave anytime soon as it becomes etched into my bones, like something black and greasy being injected into it with a syringe.  This cold brings along with it the profound desire to move slowly and heavily, of creeping into bed and hiding underneath thick blankets.  ‘The Great Sadness’ has a few desires.  Firstly, maybe more than anything, it wants to be kept hidden.  It also really wishes that all the billions of sounds that this relentlessly busy world so loves to make will become still.  But ironically, while colours and movements become muted, sounds become elevated.  It’s as if the world and everything and everyone in it suddenly start yelling with all available might for attention.  Then, it also wants time to stop.  Just for a while, until the ones in whose bones it settled can catch up again, somehow.

I find myself countless times trying to hear my own breath, to ground myself. Trying to breathe in and out, slowly and mindfully.  Trying to remind myself that this, too, shall pass.  Trying to create space in my body and mind for good to flow through.  But breath doesn’t seem to have the same plan.  Breath becomes shallower and more forced.  Especially during sleep.  For while sleep becomes as close as my shadow during the day, it runs away from me at night.  And then the dreams come, dreams that leave me paralyzed with anxiety.  Dreams that happen because my subconscious is dealing with the trauma of losing someone I deeply love.  Then, once sensation returns to body and mind, the ‘if only’s’ and questions commence.  Sleep no longer finds me.

‘The Great Sadness’ really creeps up on you. The initial stages of grief keep you quite busy. Denial, anger and bargaining consume massive amounts of energy and thoughts.  You don’t have time to see the still darkness of ‘The Great Sadness’ coming.  And then one day, when you’re done denying, being angry and bargaining because reality is reality and there is nothing you can do about it, it’s just there.  And you find yourself sad.  And tired.  And lonely.  And cold.  But still far from accepting the new truth that a loved one is not here anymore.  I am but a volunteer at a house of safety, but have taken a little girl into my heart, in many ways like my own.

Then there is the aftermath. A week or so ago, I visit my dear friend, the woman who has been Baby L’s mother for the past four years, the biggest part of the little girl’s life.  The women who is mother to eleven other little children at their house of safety.  I find her in a psychiatric hospital.  Her body and mind broke down completely a little more than three months after the little girl’s death.  ‘The Great Sadness’, for her, manifests in a different way.  She sits across from me, courageous, humble, sad.  Her hands rest on her lap as she sits on her bed.  She tells me how, the day before, she spoke about the little girl with her psychiatrist.

“I told her how my husband often speaks of the day he picked her up and she desperately grabbed him around the neck. That day, he cried for her because he realized how vulnerable and tiny she was, how hurt and in desperate need of love and care.”  She shakes her head, eyes turned upwards.  “I also told her how big she became near to the end.  How, when it was me and my husband’s turn to take her to therapy, we both tried to pick her up at the same time.  We couldn’t because she was too big!”  She laughs fondly at the memory.

It’s quiet for a few moments as we try to gather our thoughts.  Her face turns into a deep frown.

“I was so scared the whole time. So scared of one little bruise on her broken body.  I wanted to cover her in cotton wool.  I just wanted to keep her safe.  But I couldn’t.  The psychiatrist then said that I speak of her as if she is my own.  That I love her like she is my own child.  I know that only now, now that she is gone.  And then I started crying and I just couldn’t stop.  She was taken away from me and I could do nothing about it.  And now she is dead.”

When I leave, I promise to take her to the little girl’s grave I visited not long before, once she is better. A little of the thick fog surrounding ‘The Great Sadness’ has a way of lifting when standing in front of a grave.  Don’t ask me why and how, it’s one of the great paradoxes in life, I’ve come to learn from experience.

I drive away and my mind circles around ‘The Great Sadness’ and why we descend into it. I realize that the biggest reason for it is because we love.  We love with all our beings.  Our love might not always be unconditional, but still, we love with everything we have while being flawed human beings.  We give ourselves fully to others, especially our children, because we know that our greatest joy in life is to love and to be loved.  The loss that walks hand in hand with love is inevitable.  Kahlil Gibran wrote, “When you are joyous, look deep into your heart and you shall find it is only that which has given you sorrow that is giving you joy.  When you are sorrowful, look again in your heart, and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight.”

As I drive further, I think of my dear friend I just visited. Of her laughter at the memory of how big the little girl became.  Of ‘The Great Sadness’ that also settled in her bones because she loves the little girl as her own.  Of how she cared and nurtured her like only a loving mother can.  I thank the Lord that I can talk to her about my love for the little girl and that she understands.  And I know that as time goes by, ‘The Great Sadness’ will lift a little, and then a little more, then ever so slightly, even a little more.  But I also know that it will never quite leave us.  And we will never forget.

Because we love.

And that is all I need to know now.


** During the past two weeks, the case of a little boy under the pseudonym ‘Baba Daniel’ was finalised in the South Gauteng High Court. His mother was sentenced to 20 years in prison for neglect of the child.  Her boyfriend was sentenced to life in prison for the abuse and murder of the child.  Read the full story here:


** A similar story about the death of a little girl and the subsequent arrest of her parents also made headlines. Read the story here:






A tale of three houses

It’s Sunday afternoon at my grandparents’ house.  Our hearts are overflowing.  Family gatherings like these are the source of most of the fondest memories of my childhood.  Between my mother, her three siblings and their respective spouses, twelve cousins were born.  All of us are more or less the same age.  We are partners in almost everything in life.  There really is no family like my own.

The smell and smoke of meat on barbecue fill the air outside on the veranda. From the kitchen comes endless conversation mixed with the sounds of delicious dishes in the making.  My grandmother’s love is in every single thing she makes for us to eat.  All of us have a chore of some sort to help set up lunch.  Then, we all take our seats around the round table that seems as endless as my grandparents’ mentality of abundance.  As always, I am blown away by the conversation.  The jokes flow like the soda stream in the kitchen that is working overtime, pouring cool drinks into round glasses that look like tennis balls.  Amazing, how we can each choose the flavour of our liking.  We are all so different, yet the same.  We love the same people.  I take pride in the fact that my grandparents, uncles and aunts are the most clever and funniest persons on the face of the earth.  Our bodies are filled with food that is love.  After lunch and desert, most of the adults mysteriously disappear as us children do the dishes.  Songs fill the air…  Songs with words such as, “to work is to feel glad, it fills our hearts with joy as long as we do it together.”  These are special times.

Fast forward almost ten years later and I drive past the very house that was my grandparents’.  I am shocked to see the state that it’s in.  It seems desolated, as if a giant void surrounds the house, hiding in its midst all signs of life.  The plants and grass are overgrown, the paving covered with weed.  I remember how well my grandfather took care of the garden.  I think of the roses that he found so much pride in and that he often picked for my grandmother.  I see the sharp corner that our cars had to pass by to get to the back of the house.  I smile when I think how often my grandfather misjudged that very corner and drove straight into it.  The very song we used to sing in the kitchen plays in my mind like a tired turntable with a scratchy point.  My grandparents have passed on from this life and all of us are scattered across the country, and now the world…  Their old house has an air of mourning around it, as do I.

I visit the house of safety where little Poppedais used to live. It’s the first time I go there after her little body left this house and her soul the earth.  Again, I am shocked to see the state that it’s in.  To make sure that any viruses that may have been hidden between these walls were destroyed, certain precautionary measures had to be taken.

“The Department of Health said we should get rid of all soft things,” the   tells me.

The house have been uprooted.  All of the many soft toys are gone, toys that brought comfort to little children.  All the mattresses and bedding had to be thrown away.  All loose carpets and the one that covered the entire floor in the playroom have been thrown out.  Softness and with it warmth have left the house.  Bare and cold tiles look at me in despair.  The house has been fumigated and carries a distinct, sterile smell.  Again, I feel the void of life gone.  The little children seem confused by the transition.  Up until two months ago, this very place buzzed with life and colour and textures.  I drive from there and think that this is what mourning looks like, it cries out through the earth and the things on it.  Cold, bare, lifeless, colourless, confused.  It’s as if everything and everyone at the house literally wear the reality of a breath that breathed with them that is now gone.

This week, I visit my dear friend.  I enter their beautiful house and think of evenings spent there in sheer joy.  I think of music that fills the air.  I walk around the corner and think of her husband standing behind the counter, laughing and filling our glasses with wine.  I think of her in the kitchen preparing wholesome, delicious food in her unique and loving way.  I think of the conversations outside under the stars that lasts well into the night and the wee hours of the morning.  I think of the long table that groans under the weight of all the food and privileged friends sitting around it.  I think of endless wonderful memories made here in their midst.

Today, though, the house is silent.  Silent as a grave.  Curtains and blinds are drawn, doors are shut.  Our voices echo somewhat into the high ceilings.  She is alone in this beautiful house that they built not too long ago.  The house that contained their personalities and beautiful sense of style, the house that they dreamed about and made their own.  The house that they worked very hard towards completing.  The reality of her and her husband’s impending divorce hits me like a bucket of ice-cold water.  Indeed, the house is silent as a grave.  For someone left, a breath that used to fill these rooms is gone.

All three places are sources of profound joy for me.  All three places at some stage or another carried with them the intense hope that some things in life will never change.  Somehow, I always thought that the people I love that dwelled in these places would always be there.  Up until a few years ago when my grandfather died, I still carried this hope like a little girl looking with a heart untainted by life.  And so I mourn.  I mourn because I love.  I mourn because these places and these people are also the source of my joy.

To love is to mourn and to mourn is to love. For when I love someone, their passing will cause me to mourn them for the rest of my life.  But also, when I mourn, I learn what love truly is.  My love will never be the same again.  It now looks with softer eyes and a broken heart.  My love now reaches the heavens.  It is deeper, wider, stronger, ever expanding.  It leaves me ever vulnerable, yet with absolute reverence in the wake of what love truly is.

For now, this is where I am.  I dwell in these places of mourning.  I miss the people I love.  It is where I should be for now.  I think of all the others who are also there with me.  In mourning, in places that once carried the hope that everything will be as it always was.  And I can only take to my broken heart the promise given to us:

You have turned my mourning into dancing for me;

You have taken off my sackcloth and clothed me with joy,

That my soul may sing praise to You and not be silent.”  Psalm 30:11-12

I can’t, not for a single moment, go through this life without my Father who gives me this promise and delivers it to me in His time.

And this is all I need to know now.

Saying goodbye to a precious little girl

I’ve written a blog named ‘Perspective’ on 20 June of last year, as well as ‘Dear Mother of L’ on 29 June 2018. Another piece relating to this topic was ‘Blessed are those…’ on 23 August last year.  In the past week, everything written in these blogs have reached a whole new level, one that, in my mind, can only be described as ‘bewilderment’.  For a week ago, a beautiful little girl died and went to heaven.  She wasn’t just any little girl, not that any little girl is just any little girl.  But this little one changed my life in the most significant way.

I met her more than four years ago.  My children and I attended a birthday party at her place of safety.  We walked in, said hallo to the other little ones and fussed over the birthday girl.  Then I turned around and there she was, almost three years old, breathtakingly beautiful with her curly hair and skin as white as snow, in her wheelchair.  She was recently admitted to the house.  I asked the mother of the house who she was and can barely remember anything after she uttered these words, “She was a normal child before this happened…”

Everything happened in slow motion afterwards. I remember looking at my son, who, a few months younger, was running around and laughing abundantly.  Then I looked at her and back and forth again and went completely numb with the realization of what must happen to a child to go from where my son was to where she was.  That place of realization is indeed a very dark one.  It was unavoidable that my life changed completely that day.  I wrote that same night, “Tonight, somewhere in Pretoria, there is a little girl, blind, brain-damaged, paralyzed…  Mercilessly battered, neglected and abused by people who were supposed to protect her.  With her there are other children, abandoned, rejected…  My world as I have known it has changed forever.  I can’t be naïve and blatantly ignorant anymore.”

In the weeks following this, her story slowly unfolded. At two years old, her mother left her in the care of her boyfriend who hurt her incredibly and left her for dead.  She miraculously survived, showing the immense courage that we have come to know and admire over the last four years.  She had severe brain damage, her stomach and everything in it was beaten to a pulp and she was in a vegetative state.  Doctors found many bruises on her body in different stages of healing.  The mother was acquitted in a court of law, which is not a court of morals, of any wrongdoing, as she apparently didn’t know about the abuse and was never present.  The police failed miserably to do their work properly.  The boyfriend was sent to ten years in prison and he became eligible for parole last year.  We do not know if he was released.  In dealings with the mother over the past more than four years, she has always shifted blame for her daughter’s situation to others.

Over the past four years, I was privileged to be part of an incredible team of caretakers and therapists who have looked after the little girl. Women who stood in the space where her father, mother and family should have been.  People who cared for her every minute of every day, fed her, bathed her, stroked her face during fits and prayed for her when she cried inconsolably.  People who stayed by her side when she went back to hospital for further operations, who tried their best to relief the incredible pain in her little body.  People who interceded for her and loved her unconditionally.  We experienced the immense ups and downs, the divine protection over her life, the miracle of hearing that returned and how she recognized our voices.  People who have over the years became her eyes, ears, legs, hands and voice.

Last year, her mother applied to have her placed back in her care permanently. We tried our best to voice our concerns, but it fell on deaf ears with people of the organization who oversaw the process.  She was placed back in her mother’s care a little more than a week ago; the same mother who a judged established was incapable to take care of her child and said in so many words, “You are a bad mother.”  Three days later she died.  This story will take its course.  What must happen shall happen and I pray that there will be justice for this little girl.  I can’t elaborate much more than this.  This past weekend, at her funeral, I read this letter to her to try to put in words what she meant to me.


Dearest Poppedais

I know that you are here with us. Of course I also know that there are much better things to do in heaven where you are, but please, just sit with us for a moment.  Listen carefully when I tell you how much we love you and how special you are to us.  Keep it in your little heart until the end of time. 

When I think of you, my whole heart wants to burst. You changed my life completely when I met you more than four years ago and every day since.  I remember vividly when I saw you for the first time.  You took my breath away; you were beautiful, beyond perfect.  Of course, I cried many times over the pains you had to endure.  I wished that you could see the beautiful world that God has created.  I wished that you could dance as only a little girl can.  I wished you all the best and most amazing things that this world had to offer. 

I remember, one night when I cried again over your pain and asked God why you had to go through this, He spoke to me in the most profound way. He told me, “Do you know that she is actually okay?  No, she is more than just okay.  I am holding her in my big, loving hands and I will not let go of her.  I am with her, every second of every day and night and she is with Me.  She is better off than any of you who can see and walk and do a lot of things.  Of course, you see mostly through eyes contaminated by this world, but I do not.  Her little eyes do not have to see ugly things.  Her feet do not have to go where she can be hurt anymore.  I can keep her heart pure.  She doesn’t need the best and most stunning things in this world for what I have for her is much better.  All that she needs is the love of people who are my hands and feet here on earth.  She survived in order for your and others’ hearts to change for the better.”

I was so happy that He told me this. Afterwards, I could really focus on your special little heart.  Your incredible heart was meek, yet strong, courageous, yet fragile.  Your heart spoke to us in the special way you handled your pain.  You were the most courageous little girl that I have ever known.  Your smile could light up any darkness in the blink of an eye.  And do you know what?  You were far above the rest of us.  You were on the highest mountain, with God.  He says in Deuteronomy that He “set you high above all the nations which He has made, for praise, fame and honor: and that you shall be a holy people.”  Every person that was privileged enough to be in your presence were elevated to where you and God were, on the highest mountain.  Now what on this earth can be better than that?  There, on that mountain, incredible healing and joy took place.  Without saying a word or walking a step, without being able to do anything, you showed us where you were.

Little Poppedais, I want to thank you that you shared your heart with us. We needed you these past years.  We needed you to change our hearts, to make them soft.  We needed you so that we could look at life through different eyes.  Thank you for teaching us what simplicity, courage and being brave are all about.  Thank you for showing us that nothing is more important in this life than to be with God.  You have shown me what I want to learn my little children about life.  You took away all the noise that the world so often wants to teach us.  Thank you for fighting to stay alive so that you could be with us for a while. 

Remember how we always sang this song, “Do you know that Jesus loves you? Do you know that He likes you a lot, just the way you are?  Because you are precious to Him.”  And now, you are with Him.  You have completed the work that He has given you and you have done it well.  Now you can rest.  He dances over you with joy.  He is proud of you and so are we.  But we are going to miss you with every breath we take.  We promise to make you part of our lives until the day that we put down our heads after our work has been completed on earth.  I promise to tell my children about how every moment I can.  I will tell them how you changed my heart.  And I believe that their hearts will also be changed and their children as well.  In this way you will always live.  This is just how precious you are, not was.  You will always live in our hearts.

I know you want to go now. I know that there are so many better things to do there where you are now.  Go, precious girl.  May you dance in heaven as only a little girl can.  We love you.

And this all I need to know now.


Dear mother of ‘L’

The day I met your daughter seems like yesterday, although it’s more than three years ago.  It was one of the most profound moments of my life.  My children and I attended a birthday party at your daughter’s home.  We walked in, said hallo to the other children and fussed over the birthday girl.  Then I turned around and there she sat, three years old, breathtakingly beautiful with her curly hair and skin as white as snow, in her wheelchair.  She was just admitted to the home.  I asked the house mother who she was and only remember the words, ‘She was a normal child before this happened…’

I looked at my son who, a few months younger, was running around and laughing abundantly.  Then I looked at her and went completely numb with the realization of what needs to happen to a child to go from where my son was to where she was.  That place of realization is a very dark one.  That night, my Facebook post read,

‘Tonight, somewhere in Pretoria, lies a little girl, blind, deaf and mercilessly battered and abused by the persons who were supposed to protect her.  With her there are other children, abandoned, rejected and neglected.  My world as I’ve known it, has changed forever.  The harvest is big, the workers few.  I cannot be naive, self-centered and blatantly ignorant anymore.’’

Over the next few weeks her story unfolded, one of her being left by you in the care of your then boyfriend who hurt her terribly and left her for dead.  How, miraculously, she survived, but with severe brain and organ damage and in a vegetative state.  How doctors found many bruises on her body in different stages of healing.  How you were acquitted of any wrongdoing in a court of law, as you apparently didn’t know about the abuse and was never present, how your then boyfriend was sent to ten years in prison.

Over the past three years, I became part of an incredible team of caretakers and therapists who have looked after her.  Men and women who took your and her father’s place.  People who cared for her every minute of every day, fed her, bathed her, stroked her face during fits, prayed for her when she suddenly started crying unconsolably, talked to her.  People who stayed with her when she had to go back to hospital for further operations, who tried their best to bring relief to her aching body.  People who interceded for her, who have started to love her unconditionally.  We experienced her ups and downs, the divine protection over her life, how her hearing returned and how she slowly but surely started to recognize our voices.  People who have over the years became her eyes, ears, legs, hands and voice while taking care of her.

I mentioned before that my world has changed when she entered it.  Motherhood has taken on a whole new meaning.  I realized that God has given me the power to create life or death for my children.  I realized that this power I have is sometimes frightening.  I realized that I have to take responsibility for this power and use it wisely, with God’s grace, and that I will one day have to account for what I’ve done with it.  I also started contemplating the all-important question, ‘What makes me a mother?’  And I came to understand that it has very little to do with giving birth.  It has to do with waking up every morning and deciding anew that I will take care of my children, in the big and small things, every moment of that day and that I do it again the next day, and the next, and the next.  It has to do with protecting them from any harm for as long as I can with the power that I have.  And to sacrifice my selfish self for their greater good.

Timing is an amazing thing.  Two days ago I met the advocate who fought for justice for your daughter when you were acquitted.  I once again realized how severely she was hurt and how you failed to protect her.  Yesterday we received word that you are applying for permanent custody of her.  I pray that it will not happen.  Not that it shouldn’t happen, don’t get me wrong.  Just not yet.  I pray that before this happens, you will make a choice to see her more than once or twice a week.  I pray that you will take seriously what it truly means to take care of her, to equip yourself and to maybe not choose to always have a caretaker present who care for her when you are supposed to.  But even more, I pray that you will find yourself able to take responsibility for your role in what happened to her.  I pray that you will find the courage to confess that you failed miserably to protect her when she needed you most.  I pray that you will ask for forgiveness and forgive as well.  I also pray that you will start to be thankful for those who have tirelessly loved and cared for your daughter over the past years, those who sustained her.  I pray that when you do this, healing and rehabilitation will start to happen.  And I pray this especially because this is the only way that you will give your daughter her rightful place in your heart.  I pray this because then you will find that you carry her best interests at heart and you will be able to start sacrificing yourself for her.

Until this happens, I pray that she will stay where she is just a while longer, where she is safe.

Yours most sincerely.