The agony of loss makes things fall apart
An ear-piercing scream erupts like a volcano from the bedroom, where 35-year-old Angela Murinda (not her real name) had been sitting on the floor knitting a woollen cap for her unborn baby, who was just six months away from entering the world.
Angela had just received the news that her husband, Daniel (not his real name), had been killed in a hit-and-run accident on his way home from his civil service job.
For Angela, it is easy to recall August 1999.
Before the tragedy, the promise of an eternal spring had loomed large for the couple who had been happily married for seven years.
Life had finally begun to smile on Angela when she married Daniel. She had been under considerable pressure up to that point as she was a single mother trying to make a better life for herself and her daughter.
The father of her child had abandoned her and she was struggling to manage things on her own.
Daniel, who was 37 at the time of his death, had taught her what love was really about.
“It was a really good relationship, considering that he had accepted and loved me and my daughter. He was caring and attentive. He loved Miriam (the daughter) as if she were his own. He took care of the household. Later when we had our son, he was an amazing father to both children. He enjoyed watching football. He would take both kids to soccer matches.
“He was a very romantic man. He would shower me with small gifts. He really took care of me,” Angela said.
But on that late afternoon in August 1999, her life fell apart.
Adding insult to injury was the fact that the driver of the vehicle that killed Daniel did not even bother to stop, leaving him to suffer and die alone in the dirt on the side of the road.
She said that initially, just after her husband’s death, there was numbness.
“I was in denial; I was conflicted. Because I was pregnant at the time, people were telling me to take it easy and not become too stressed, as I may end up losing the baby.
“But, I had to arrange the funeral. Daniel had a funeral policy and that was a great help, but I had to do everything else. I was also very scared about the impact of his death on my ability to take care of the children. I had a small sewing business at the time, which was not generating much income,” Angela said.
Her story, especially the initial shock and worry about the financial impact of a breadwinner spouse’s death, is not uncommon.
And yet, as the bereaved mourn, they also have the responsibility to deal with the practical and administrative side of things.
Experts say that dealing with the death of a loved one is stressful enough, but not knowing what to do about business issues, family conflicts, the deceased’s estate and dozens of other issues after a person has passed away, poses an additional burden on a grieving family.
Just having enough cash to pay that month’s house bond, buy food for the table or honour account payments are realities that don’t stop because someone has died.
Even taxes owed by the deceased on money earned in that year must still be paid. Sometimes bank accounts and other assets of the deceased are frozen until the probate process is finalised.
Other times, particularly if there is no will, how to manage the possessions of the deceased can be an extreme point of duress.
Quickly obtaining death certificates, finding insurance policies and other death benefits documents can be a nightmare for the grieving family.
The shock of it all
After losing a spouse, counsellors often state that people’s reactions are very strong in the days and weeks immediately following the loss.
This is particularly true in cases where the death was very sudden.
Most people find it hard to believe that they will ever feel better. But as time goes by, those suffering loss usually begin to heal.
Even though people who have endured the death of a loved one might slip back into tears or moody silent spells from time-to-time, slowly, options for moving forward begin to take shape.
Those getting over a loss will begin to feel increasing control and power over their emotions. In Angela’s case, even now, 18 years later, the hurt lingers.
She says that it is particularly bad at certain times of the year, like Christmas, his birthday, or during celebrations of important milestones in their children’s lives.
Angela keenly remembers the shock of receiving that fateful telephone call in August 1999.
“Because of his job, many people knew him and when the tragedy happened, the police first called his older brother to tell him the news. I was notified afterwards.
“The police officer told me that there had been an accident and asked me to come to the police station, and afterwards, I went to identify the body.”
Psychologists say that when a spouse dies, your world changes, and you may even feel guilty or angry for being the one who is still alive.
Family conflicts during
Nothing could have prepared Angela for what happened next, as Daniel had acted as a bridge between her and her in-laws.
She said her in-laws were originally against their union, because according to them she was not good enough for their son, as she had a child with another man.
The stress with her in-laws was ratcheted up in the days after her husband’s death, as they tried (and failed) to lay claim to the few assets that she and Daniel had accumulated together.
After the funeral, she broke the news to her in-laws that she was three months pregnant, and they were far from overjoyed.
She is especially sad that their last born never had the opportunity to meet his father.
In all of the pain of losing her beloved husband, rumours started that her unborn child was not Daniel’s baby.
Thankfully, the support of her own family and friends as well as those in her church made a huge difference as she struggled to get through it all.
It was after this that it all sank in that her husband was truly gone.
“I kept waiting for him to come walking through the door and when he didn’t, that is when it finally became clear that he was gone for good.
“I won’t pretend that the pain goes away or you miss them or think of them any less, you just get hardened to the fact that they will not be coming home. Daniel was such a wonderful person, so the pain of his passing is all the more severe.” Angela has chosen not to date or seek another partner since Daniel’s death, and she remains a widow to this very day.
According to Windhoek-based psychologist Joab Mudzanapabwe, grieving is a natural process and losing a spouse is a highly stressful event, because of the attachment, time spent and activities done together.
He said it also has a profound effect on the children.
In African culture, even after the funeral, people remain with the bereaved and help them grieve while sharing their mourning experiences.
Mudzanapabwe said one of the ways to cope is through finding meaning in these types of tragedies. “Death has never been pleasant, but one should learn to look at the positive things that the deceased used to do and remember them through that. One must look at the legacy that the spouse left and carry on with their activities,” he added. If however one experiences a complicated and overwhelming grief where the bereaved becomes a danger to themselves or has thoughts of suicide, then that person and those around them need to seek professional help.