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How to deal with grief

Publishing Date : 05 December, 2016


When she was just 12 years old, Samukelwekahle Gaelesiwe lost her mom to a short illness. But she clings on to the memories they created together for the short years she had her.

“You are the child of the universe, no lesser than the moon and the stars…you too deserve to shine.” She remembers this line clearly although it has been nine years. These are the words from a poem her mother used to recite to her. Although she recalls clearly the lines from her favourite poem, Gaelesiwe knows too well that her mother will never come back to her-this harsh reality has led to her believing that there is no such thing as dealing with grief.

“My mother believed in dreams and felt like she deserved all good things, she had a rough childhood but that didn’t stop her from dreaming. She believed she was like the moon and stars, and she too deserved to shine. And she truly did,” Gaelesiwe said during an interview with WeekendLife. She recalls how her mother’s passing instantly turned her into caretaker for her two younger siblings.


On opening up about the ordeal Gaelesiwe, said she believes that the only thing that can help her deal with her grief is if her mother were to come back to them. “The only way to deal with grief would be to bring back our loved ones and that is impossible, no words could better us or erase the pain and life in itself will keep reminding you every day that your loved one is gone”.

According to Dr. Sithandazile Msimanga-Ramatebele, a Counselling and Psychology lecturer at the University of Botswana the loss of a loved one can be painful and bring about feelings of and an experience of negative reactions in the weeks and months or for however long period following the loss of a loved one: among them, sadness, difficulty sleeping, painful reminders of the person, activities once shared and anger as well.

She however explains grief as a normal and natural process/or reaction to a significant loss or of any kind be it as a result of a cause such as death of a loved one. “However people deal with grief differently due to an array of reasons which include contributing factors such as age, level of resilience, religion, nature of the loss and the level of attachment towards the deceased,” she explained.

Msimanga-Ramatebele stated that one’s level of resilience depends on support from friends and family or the way one was brought up, “upbringing can be a contributing factor in terms of the way one was taught to use internal strength to conquer external circumstances,” she said. Other factors she explained are the level of attachment in regards to emotional connection (the level of the relationship) and financial support from the deceased, as well as the nature of the death of the loved one(if sudden death or a pro-longed sickness).

“All these factors can lead to different reactions with reactions varying due to age as well,” she stated. Despite counselling some survivors find it difficult to adapt to the new reality of the loss of their loved one leading them to substance abuse and suicidal thoughts which research says is more than just a life-disrupting emotion response.


Grief can get complicated and it can lead to neuropsychological abnormalities such as brain changes in brain activity that can impair memory and the ability to regulate emotions and if untreated it can lead to prolonged sleep disturbances, physical pain in the heart, feeling of hollowness in the abdomen as well as suicidal thoughts. “People whom we help who usually experience this are those who have dealt with the loss of a child and those who don’t grieve,” Msimanga-Ramatebele said.

Some victims are able to cope and can keep going because of their inner strength, but it is not every day, sometimes, the pain comes back and hits you right in the face and its like it never left, Gaelesiwe revealed. “No one could possibly understand death until they have had a personal encounter with it and even though some survivors seem ‘okay’ the case may be different when you are all alone,” she said.



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