Birthdays were always a big celebration in our family. Members of the family would gather quietly before the closed door of the one who had another notch on their life tree. We would walk in singing “happy birthday” with a gift ready to be placed in sleepy hands. In the afternoon the neighbourhood’s children would be gathered for a party with hours of playing games like musical chairs and hide and seek. For dinner you had the opportunity to choose your favourite meal. You got the message that you were loved and considered special. Until the age of five, when it was the one sister’s birthday, the other would also receive a small gift. Life in the de la Porte household was fair.
In the beginning of 2020, Githa announced that her 30th birthday was coming up in October and she would love a family reunion for a long weekend on my family’s farm outside Oudtshoorn. She had a thing about age. As a teenager she considered becoming 30 as being ‘ancient’. After André’s death, she reaffirmed her wish for a family get together. Danica and Sean still had flight tickets booked for her baby tea the first Saturday of April. This had to be cancelled due to Covid-19 and replaced by a virtual Zoom-tea. Those tickets could now be accessed and changed for destination George.
I suggested that we also use our time together to scatter André’s ashes at the sea at Great Brak River where we used to go for holidays when the girls were small. This started a conversation on how we would structure this physical goodbye that would be our funeral ceremony. And so it was that we looked forward to being together, yearning for physical touch and eye-to-eye connection. We also felt heartache and trepidation about this next step of mourning that we would experience together. When we arrived in Schoemanshoek and drove the familiar road across the bridge to the church, I suddenly remembered that this is where we got married, my Beloved. I told the children the funny story of how we were talking to our guests and then found ourselves alone in the reception hall with no car to drive back to the house. It was only a five minute walk away. You took the slip of my wedding dress and folded it over your arm. I hooked my arm into yours and together we walked the dirt road to my family home with starry eyes.
My family welcomed us with open arms. The first evening my beloved sister-in-law, Annelie Spies, treated us to barakat. She learned the word from one of their overseas guests. Food is a blessing. When you have food left over, you share it with your guests. After your death, my Beloved, we are still getting used to being five people and not six anymore. Your chair at the table is empty. The five of us sit down, happy to be together, sad about your absence. There are paraffin lamps on the table. I think of the scripture in the Bible that talks about having oil in your lamp when the Bridegroom comes. The oil in my lamp is low for this part of the journey, Papa God. The pit makes black smoke that discolours the glass and dampens the light of my lamp.
On the Friday evening Sean and Simon, (our sons-in-love) treat us to a braai. We sit down at the table in my family home. Our ancestors look on us from their framed photographs against the wall. I am aware of the blessings of the lives of the generations that went before us. God-fearing people. I remember our family value of “boekevat” (doing a reading from the Bible and all kneeling down at our chairs to pray). Our family on the wall are all in heaven now. Part of the cloud of witnesses who cheer us on. We talk, we laugh, we cry. We lift our glasses to you, beloved Daddy and husband, and say: “Lavita” – to life. Immediately after your death we considered all getting a tattoo that said: “Choose life.” It was the name of the HIV/AIDS course that you developed, based on sound moral values. Would that not become a bondage to us to remind us daily of your self-death? We decided against it.
When I walk outside to go to bed after dinner, I notice a bright yellow star in the sky. From your telescope teachings to me, I remember that it is the planet Venus. Tonight that star is a symbol of you, my stargazer, a shining light to us. We are redefining our context without you. Your death was not fair to us. How do we make sense of the unfairness of the world which now crept into the core of our circle where fairness was our family value?
I read the parable of the ten virgins in Matthew 25. In my mourning I do not feel wise and sensible. All my glib answers are wiped out. About death I am foolish and ill prepared. I thought I was ‘prepared’ for the scenario of self-death because we talked about it so often. Sometimes death loomed larger than life in our togetherness the past two years. Your death still caught me off guard at a time when you were symptom free. You broke your promise to me and your psychologist that you are taking self-death off your menu of choices. I will always revert back to my three decisions when I found you: I accept your choice. I forgive you. I release you into the eternal joy of being with the Trinity in heaven. And in between there will be times when I wrestle with your choice and the impact it continues to have on our lives.
Matthew 25:6 “Then suddenly, in the middle of the night, they were awakened by the shout ‘Get up! The bridegroom is here! Come out and have an encounter with him!” My Lord God, would you have mercy on me and fill up my lamp? My earthly bridegroom has died and I feel so lost without him. I am ripped out of my role of care-giver and survival planner. Would you fill my lamp supernaturally that I may come into Your presence and have an encounter with You?