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On the Couch: Grief lightened by celebration of life

BUTTERFLY rocks in Durban’s Botanic Gardens in memory of organ donors.

BUTTERFLY rocks in Durban’s Botanic Gardens in memory of organ donors.

Published Nov 27, 2021


IT’S been a year since my little sister and best friend Jan died.

While there are fewer outbursts of ugly, snot-flying crying, the hole has not diminished.

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I still pick up the phone often to tell her something funny, sad, that I love her. That wrench when you realise, is like having your insides torn out again.

I miss her laugh and humour. Her strength. Knowing I had one tough, badass woman in my corner. Lending me an ear when I needed to vent. Providing her with a well-padded shoulder when she needed one. Her help when I was overwhelmed by trying to untangle (even simple) number challenges, and her asking me how to spell something or what a word meant.

Her fierce hugs ‒ she was tiny, but her hugs could break ribs.

These days, I am mostly able to talk about her without tears. I have even had a laugh remembering some of our crazy adventures.

A lifetime together, through sibling rows and “no-speaks” to admiration, respect and blood love.

I have not been able to listen to the voice messages she sent, and I’m wary of triggers: I never look at Facebook because of those memory things they post.

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My WhatsApp will be off this weekend because I know her family and many friends will send pictures and videos of her that will make me a soggy pile. I want to remember her gently, in a quiet place.

Usually personal pain is just that: no one really wants to know about it. People are generally uncomfortable with bereavement, sympathising but not knowing what to say because there really aren’t words that equip us to deal with somebody’s irretrievable loss.

“I’m sorry” doesn’t cut it.

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But in the pandemic, millions of people are dealing with their own losses, kind of a communal time of pain. We are all trying to stitch patches over our sore hearts.

I have been trying to prepare as the year-mark barrelled towards me, finding some way that won’t hurt as much as it did the day she left.

I found a way.

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It dawned on me that even though our family is still grieving, there are families out there who are marking the day with gratitude, even joy.

They are the people who benefited from my sister’s death and the wonderful gift she left: those who received her donated organs and tissue.

They will be celebrating the first year of the day they were given their lives back. The day they could see again. Who could walk away from dialysis. The person who not only got a healthy heart, but a big, loving, kind heart.

Without my sister, they could also have been dead and their families would have been, at some stage, living with their own grief.

Donors’ families never know the people who have been given these gifts, but we know they’re out there, and hope they’re living their best lives.

One donor can save the lives of seven people and help 50, but the ripple effect is wider: some comfort for the donor’s families and the recipient is restored to their loved ones.

Visit the Organ Donor Foundation website at

It is a profoundly meaningful gift.

The Independent on Saturday

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