OPINION: Grief, peace and justice
In the early hours of a Monday morning, news came that my husband and our friends who were doing a business road trip to Namibia had been involved in a serious car accident. One of our friends had died at the scene, and my husband was seriously injured, but talking and treatable.
I was about eight weeks pregnant and had my first gynaecologist appointment that morning. Shaken and clear that all would be handled at the hospital in Springbok, I chose to go to my appointment assured that plans were being made to airlift the injured to Cape Town. It is a bittersweet thing when a doctor gives you a scan photo of a planned new life in the same hand as a script for calmatives and his private number in case of a personal emergency.
On our way home, my sister and I switched on the radio to break the deafening silence in the car. I drove, sure that after these hours, all arrangements had been confirmed and were being carried out. It was all under control, I repeated to my unsure self. Halfway home, the radio disc jockey sent out a sympathy message and played an appropriate death rattle song for his friends Robin, Mike and Andre who "died in a car accident in the early hours of this morning". Robin was my husband.
My sister became hysterical, I fast forwarded to denial and comforted her, and I assured her they would have to tell me first, in person. Right? Besides, I had numerous assurances he was OK to be air lifted home.
I drove up my driveway, my mom waiting for us at the open door. I told her what they said on the radio and she called the hospital to confirm everything was still on track. She asked about the progress, listened, looked at me and dropped the phone. I found myself on my knees, unable to speak or think or move as she told me what the nursing sister casually said, "Oh, daai groot Indier ou, hy is nou net oorlede"(Oh, the big Indian guy, he just died).
What followed is as clear as daylight for me. I remember every minute detail like it happened this Monday. An investigation followed and many people who surrounded me were helpful. At 28, with a nearly two-year old son, a first trimester pregnancy and many unmet plans until death was meant to part us, I was shocked, fearful, overwhelmed, abandoned, anguished, aggrieved and grieving, but most of all, I was angry. Very, very ,very angry! I wanted someone to pay for doing this to us, I wanted to blame someone, and I wanted them, not me, to deal with widowhood. This hood is not a likely place for a young mother to have to unpack and move her children to. It wasn't in the plan!
One of the many loving people around me concluded that a simple tracheotomy could have saved his life. My husband kept telling those treating him that he was having pain across his stomach and was struggling to breathe. He was alert, articulate and clear about what was happening to him. People said his symptoms were clear internal injuries and his breathing should have been secured with an incision in his windpipe and artificial help to allow him to breath. THERE, I had it! It was negligence. Somebody was going to take responsibility for leaving me widowed and my children without a dad.
I made an appointment with the state pathologist. He was very empathetic. After our meeting, it was more like me pouring my broken heart and words onto him and him nodding and listening. He took my hand, looked in my face and asked, "My dear, what do you want out of this?" I had to think. I had to go there. I wanted to not be in this scary place where I now lived. I wanted to not deal with this by myself. I wanted us to raise our children. I wanted to undo the fractured pieces of the hearts of his parents and sister. I didn't want people to feel sorry for me. I didn't want to comfort my son as he raced to the window every time he heard a loud car passing, calling for his dad. I wanted it to all go away. THAT is what I wanted. He said something like, "... we can do an investigation if you want to be compensated financially, but he is not coming back..."
In that precise moment, I had to step into my new reality and make some choices. I chose my grief, my son and my unborn baby. The freedom of giving up the fight and showing up for an unchartered journey was complex, frightening and the only option left.
Sometime before the funeral, someone made an appointment for me to see the lady who supported parents who had lost children. I remember walking down her hallway and seeing her husband trimming roses in their beautiful sunny garden. During our session, she said, "You must believe me that it is much harder to lose a child". I couldn't react. I did think, "…how would you know, your husband is in the garden and mine is not buried yet?"
Naturally, with twenty years between that moment and now, I agree with her. I cannot get my mind around losing a child; none of my four children are available for that! I'm not built for a loss like that, I am not.
I find myself wondering a lot about Mr and Mrs Steenkamp. They probably need time to grieve; long for, love and remember the blessing they had named Reeva. Is there not a point as a parent at which you want to sit with your fractured heart and be soothed? Soothed, not hounded by the media, the persecutors whose interest may be justice or perhaps self-interest. Surely the public persecution of Reeva's murderer, the gruesome details of her passing must interrupt, not bring healing, to this now unknown path of their existence. Is it not possible Reeva's spirit can ignite in them a place to meet their new reality, are we prolonging their pain with curiosity, sensationalism, ego, the relentless fight for more and other justice? Who decides how that justice looks?
Grief is personal and can't be measured. The arm of the law is long and patient. In whose interest was the appeal of the second judgment? Not the Steenkamps, not her loving parents. Their daughter will never be with them again, no court judgement will change that.
Grief is grief, loss is loss and natural death is unavoidable. When as a family you have to survive a sudden, unnatural death it is possible for the law to take its course and for you to reach acceptance and find peace. This is what I wish for the Steenkamp family and bereaved spouses, children and families. We get to choose if we will be sad or if we will suffer by how we treat those who are alive.
Lisa Joshua Sonn is a social activist. Follow her on Twitter: @annalisasonn