A tribute to my father, who was tragically taken from us just before my fifth birthday…

September, the month of my birth, is a time of conflicting emotions for me. Not only was I born in this month, but my father and paternal grandmother also died in September. To me, it represents a time of both birth and death, rejoicing and mourning, joy and pain, the giving and taking of life.

How I can transition between these opposing poles will always be a mystery to me, but I must admit that I have always struggled to deal with the emotions that well up inside me at this time of the year, annually.

As my father passed away on the first day of this month, I first have to deal with the emotions of his loss. Tragically snatched from us by death’s cruel talons when I was only four years old, I’ve always felt robbed. I’ve never known how my siblings felt about his departure or coped with it because we don’t talk about it, but I imagine it must be equally painful for them. My elder brother and sister, then aged nine and eight respectively, were probably more conscious of the meaning of death than my younger brother, who was in an incubator after our mother prematurely went into stress-induced labour, and I – then only four years old and unable to comprehend much of the world around me.

Not surprisingly, for a very long time I was filled with unexplained anger. I was angry at death for stealing my dad, angry at the doctors who could have saved his life for being absent at a crucial time when he needed them most, angry at society for discriminating against widows and single mothers – for that is what my mother became after he died. For a myriad of reasons, I was angry.

That anger seethed within me for years, like a river about to burst its banks, waiting for expression but finding none. I suppressed my emotions for years, not knowing how to deal with them. How could I, for I was only a child when he died. I was too young and confused to know what was happening and years later, I felt it was too late to mourn, yet it wasn’t. My emotions finally found expression one day, in my thirties, when I just sat in my room and cried. I cried over his loss – for every year lived without him. I cried for all that could have been but was not because he was gone. I cried for the man he could have been and the man he was but whom I would never know. I probably cried on behalf of my mother and siblings too. Locked up in my little studio apartment, in a foreign country, far from all that’s familiar, I just let go of everything and cried.

On that day, more than thirty years after my father’s death, I finally gave in to the pain and allowed myself to mourn.

There is liberty in mourning. A kind of letting go that releases burdens. That day, I felt a weight had been removed from my shoulders. My anger, pain and whatever other undefined emotions I felt, dissipated and I learnt to cope with the reality of death. Yes we had been robbed, but I did not have to carry it as a weight on my shoulders for the rest of my life. I learnt to celebrate my father. Piece by piece, I put together my memories, photographs and the stories I’d heard of him and wove them into a tapestry of who he was. I developed a new knowledge of him and respect for who he was, and with that came appreciation and the evolution of his legacy. As I went through the process, I learnt to celebrate his life and who he was.

Now I think of him with fond memories. As a family, our lives our littered with reminders of him, some of which are encapsulated in the choices he made that still influence our lives today. I also see him in some pieces of furniture that my mother has held onto, our facial features, some of our habits and preferences, the decisions we make and most of all, in his grand children as his genes perpetuate. I’m amazed at how nature has a way of preserving our best qualities through future generations.

Despite the paradox of September bringing both joy and pain to my family, I no longer associate the month with negative emotions. Yes, I still take note of the first of September and pay tribute to my father, just as I acknowledge the second of September when my grandmother joined him, then on the 12th of the month, I celebrate my birth.

September has therefore become a month of celebration as I celebrate two lives, my father’s and mine.