Gugu Zulu, who was a racing champion, died suddenly on July 18, 2016, while summiting Mount Kilimanjaro together with Letshego along with a 42-strong team of the Trek4Mandela initiative.
Tragedy struck, and she had to abandon the climb, rush down the mighty Kilimanjaro in the middle of the night, filled with fear as her
"‘Gugs", as she fondly called him, was struggling to breathe. Days later, she returned to South Africa with her husband's body in a coffin.
It's been three years since the passing of the love of her life and her partner of 15 years. It's difficult to comprehend that she is also the young widow who divided social media and went against the cultural status quo by bravely taking to the podium during her husband's funeral. She faced a backlash for not "mourning the right way as an African woman."
Zulu, the mother of a four-year-old daughter, said with great wisdom that dealing with death is a mindset.
“The truth of the matter is that we are all born. And it's a cycle of life that we will all die. And as soon as we human beings are open to the fact that we are all here for a purpose, for a duration that is unknown to all of us, and that date is imminent at any given time because tomorrow is not guaranteed. Hopefully, in time, we will learn to handle the departure of our loved ones.”
Zulu's advice to women dealing with the loss of a husband is that they must travel their own journey because there's no handbook on mourning.
“People pressurise those who have lost a loved one. I'm a talker, I'm always talking. So for me to stand up at his memorial and funeral and say a word or two was a natural thing to do.
“The truth is, when you've lost a loved one, it is the end of their journey, yet your journey still continues. They wouldn't want you to put brakes on your life. They would want you to continue living life and not be stuck in a dark hole,” she said adding that one of the important lessons she's learned is to embrace the spirit of the dead.
“I have always heard about embracing the departed as spirits, and I only really became in touch with that now after I lost him. I considered connecting with him through a medium and opening up myself to that world also helped with my understanding and acceptance. I came to understand that the spirits of our departed loved ones are amongst us and that it's entirely up to us to accept or deny this,” said Zulu.
“I don't like using the word ‘widow.’ It is such a dark term,” said the 35-year-old biokineticist and Survivor reality show contestant.
“I am making memories for myself and my daughter, Lelethu. I am open to opportunities, and I am grabbing them with open arms.”
To preserve his memories for their daughter, Zulu said she asked relatives and friends to each write a letter about Gugu to Lelethu, and explain the relationship they had with her dad.
Asked what she misses most about him, she said Gugu was quite the quirky guy and silly and always kept her laughing.@LesegoMakgatho
The Sunday Independent