I’ve never been affected by the death of a loved one.
My dad and I stopped communicating when I was fourteen, but that was not accompanied by a sense of loss. If anything, relief. Choice and abandonment were factors in the split.
There was no love lost.
When I was 19, Mother rather callously blurted out that my grandfather had passed on. I’d known this man up until the split, but we were not close.
We tolerated each other. He was Caucasian and racist. I was mixed race and attuned to when I was not wanted.
Even so, tears blurred my vision before I could make sense of why they had.
In retrospect, it was that he’d died 2 years prior to my informing and I’d just felt that I’d deserved to know.
On Mother’s side, deaths have been few.
A few years back, a man everyone called Thatha passed on. He was an elder. I’d be damned if he were a day younger than 90.
He was part of the extended family, and while I was moved by the strong emotions of those who were close enough to have loved him, I, myself, was only left with sparse unpleasant memories of wet kisses and being put on his lap.
Not all the kids liked being babied or hugging and kissing every relative, no matter how thinly related.
I particularly do not like this now, however, it’s a necessary greeting to those too old to distinguish discomfort from disrespect.
I like most old people anyway. Some of them have enormous amounts of spunk, being too old to be judged or condemned for their thoughts.
Like Aunty Panji, the Sharp Tongue.
My digression is partly due to how painful it is to write what I really want to say.
Mother’s family is the only family I’ve got now. Firmly, I believe relatives don’t necessitate a familial bond.
This bond is forged over time, not inherited by bloodline.
With that in mind, my family comprises my grandmother’s children and their children and their children – Gran, Mother, uncles, Brother, cousins, nieces and Nephew.
We’re all fond of each other. I even know their names.
This weekend, we all gathered from across the country to celebrate Gran’s 70th. People started to leave on Sunday morning.
Claudine, my eldest of two female cousins was the first to go. Nobody calls her Claudine.
To us, she is Tootie. Her daughter’s name is Leah.
Leah had a test on Monday. The rest of us relaxed, enjoying our Sunday. I took a nap.
Three hours into the journey, Tootie and her 12 year-old daughter, my niece, were in a car crash.
I was awoken by Brother.
“Get up. We’re going home. Tootie and Leah were in an accident.”
I shot up, then froze.
Despite how ridiculous it would be for someone to make such a sick joke, we always have a glimmer of hope that that someone is tactless, with a dark, inappropriate sense of humour.
It was no joke.
I bolted downstairs just in time to see Tootie’s immediate family leave, shaken and desperate to get to her.
Grandmother had passed out from hearing the news, and those who remained behind sat around restlessly, frustrated at being able to do nothing and worried without knowing what was going on.
It still hadn’t dawned yet.
The beauty of not knowing is naivety – thinking that conditions are better than they actually are.
The first person I spoke to downstairs broke my veil of distortion.
Leetasha had to be the one to do it.
“Leah is unconscious.”
I’d spent the previous night trying to figure out what game she’d like on my tablet so she could keep occupied. At 21, I’m the closest to her age. She was kind enough to keep me company upstairs while the party went on below.
I was ill.
She’s such a sweetheart.
I barely made it upstairs before the tears ran hot and stinging down my cheeks.
Unconscious is a lot harder to pretend is okay.
Soon, more news came.
Tootie cracked her skull in two places, and blood threatened her brain, which was swelling.
Leah fractured her left arm and cut her nose, probably on the dashboard. She’s going to be fine.
This is my family.
These are people I care about.
These are people I love.
I am scared.
My family is scared.
I cannot speak for them, but these images will stay with us forever.
Be okay, Claudine.
Just be okay.