I became acquainted with loss at an early age. Both my parents died when I was a child, my mother before my father.
My father had once forgotten to collect me from the infants’ boarding school where I had been sent at the age of five.
Six decades later – three decades after independence – I decided to go and look for his last resting place in the gardens of remembrance at the crematorium outside Harare. But over the years the brass plaques had been stolen; pages of the 1955 leather-bound ledgers recording the date of his death and the site of his ashes had been eaten away by ants, mice and the damp of the rains. I would never find him now.
My father’s spirit came to me in a dream that night. ‘What took you so long to look for me?’ he said.
‘I never wanted to. I never had a mind to. I was angry. You forgot about me and left me all alone when the other kids were collected and taken home. What took you so long then?” I said.
‘I was upset about your mother.’
‘Couldn’t you have loved me as much?’
‘Touché,’ my father said, and vanished in a puff of smoke.
It was said that he had succumbed to a broken heart, but it was to cirrhosis of the liver and cancer, the hazards of the colonial life. In a way, his ruin was caused by a broken heart, so deeply had he loved my mother and so deeply had he drunk his sorrow away.
I got over my parents’ deaths. So, a loved one has died? You’ll get over it, just as I did. One has to move on…
But it isn’t that simple. Time may be a great healer, but residual scars never disappear entirely. There is always regret – often deeply buried – that things could have been different. How it could have been different if a loved one had lived on, if their love, care and influence had lived on and prevented recklessness or ill-thought-out decisions and deeds that shape the course of the later life of anyone suffering from tragedy and loss.
Although they may be hidden or kept in denial, scars are found in the souls of all survivors.