Sharing her grief over the loss of her son helped Florence Masebe heal other women who were going through the same experience.
Today, November 14, marks two years since the death of 18-month-old Masakona, who drowned on Masebe’s birthday at their home in Bramley, Joburg.
On Monday, at the breakfast launch of her book The Heart Knows, friends and family came together to honour the actress during this trying time.
The book, a collection of poems Masebe wrote during the course of her grief, has brought together other women who have gone through the pain of losing a child.
“This was a form of therapy for my sister. She pours out on pen and paper. It’s difficult to compile your feelings so the whole world can read about it,” said Dr Phophi Ramathuba.
She said Masebe’s strength was in helping others. Ramathuba insisted Masebe keep a notebook and write down her thoughts. Soon after her son’s death, she made sure that Masebe penned her feelings as part of the healing process.
“She insisted I write I am not the brave soldier you say I am. Don’t expect order in this book; grief has no order,” said Masebe when she addressed her guests at the intimate launch at Bellagio restaurant in Illovo.
While the book was still in production and a draft version was sent to her, she noticed that the numbers from the poems had been removed.
“I almost fired everyone. They didn’t get it. The numbers matter They tell me how many candles I lit in grieving my prince.
“The numbers tell me where I was on what day. I may seem fine on day 20, but be a mess by day 95. They remind every mother that there is no pressure to feel better. The numbers say to me, you count. I held on to those numbers, they kept me sane.”
It was around this time last year that Masebe’s home was flooded during a heavy storm. The notebook in which she jotted down her first few poems in Tshivenda got lost in the chaos. She eventually found them and sent them to her publisher, Thabiso Mahlape.
“I had to fetch her many times when she was hiding from me. This book was not an easy thing to do for her and sometimes she wanted to just quit. When someone is publishing a book about the most difficult times in their lives, you have to be strong, and when they break down you are there, you carry their tears and emotions.”
Mahlape added that this was the first time Masebe was talking about the tragedy publicly, and said she hoped it would heal many hearts.
“The back pages of the book have been left bare as a notebook for people’s thoughts. Writing helps you work through your healing.”
Masebe shared the day with women who have experienced a similar loss. Some she met on social media, others were her friends who had been with her for decades and others she met on the day of the launch. Each of them shared their stories and read an extract from the book that they related to the most.
“One thing that has happened ever since the book and part of the reason I decided to put my mourning diary into a book is that I started to attract mothers who have lost their children. I have earned sisters in grief,” she said.
Close family friend Basetsana Kumalo said Masebe was an example of how God was a restorer.
“You are beyond extraordinary Grief knows no gender, no race, no culture. Grief is unkind and has broken many people. You are a testament that in each one of us we have that inner strength to keep walking.
“I want to applaud you and celebrate you, you have been through storms and floods - literally - and you never complained. You continue to be an example to many of us.”
Kumalo shared her own experience with grief, revealing that she went through eight miscarriages and lost twins in 2007 at 20 weeks.
“But I never held these children in my arms. I don’t know how, with Masakona’s passing - having held him and loved him and seen his beautiful face - how you still manage to get out of bed, when some of us couldn’t at the best of times.”
Masebe said she was a closed book and didn’t normally share.
“But if there is one thing I can tell you is I am most honest when I write poetry. I wrote this because it is my most honest form of expression of what grief meant to me as a mother. I’m hoping that my book touches you and gives you an opportunity to be truthful within yourself, find a way to reflect your feelings and your grief.”
The book retails at R200 and is available at Xarra Books and African Flavour Books, or order it at [email protected]