TWSC Series: Footprints of a Survivor – A Different Kind of Grief

Photo: Kim Mukwa

Footprints of a Survivor is a weekly column written by Kim Mukwa, a survivor of childhood physical, emotional and sexual abuse. Each week, she reveals the layers of pain she lived through, the damage it caused and the steps she is taking to heal emotionally.

When I was told that the month of October was going to focus on grief, it gave me a lot to think about as one who has lost loved ones as well as other things.

I have attended quite a number of funerals that leave me torn. The most common statement told to those closest to the deceased is “do not cry like that; control yourself.” But how does one control themselves when it feels like their heart has been buried with the deceased?

My grief is of a different kind. A grief that many don’t even know is there.

The first grief for me was the absence of my mother. I remember seeing her very few times, and it just stopped, and I didn’t know why. But because I was young, I couldn’t ask questions. I only discovered when I was a teenager that she had actually passed away in 1997. It was during a whispered conversation between the adults.

My heart broke. With no one to confide in, I had to try and sort out my feelings on my own. I had to accept that the person I thought was alive somewhere and would come to rescue me someday was in fact dead and gone! I moped around with no one knowing that I was grieving. This is the time I attempted suicide.

In late 2007, I went to visit my stepmother, whom I hadn’t seen in years. I was basically forced to do it because she had been asking about me and I wondered why. Why would the person that had inflicted the most pain in my life ask after me? I refused to be subjected to that torture again.

Eventually, I relented and paid her a visit with the intention of confronting her, which is something I deemed necessary. When I got there, her condition stopped me in my tracks. I went mum but vowed to do it when she got better.

But that day never came because she passed away early the following year, which left me with unresolved issues. Issues that haunt me even to this day. Issues that have caused me endless tears and questions with no one to answer.

Feeling caged is one of the things I have had to deal with. On one hand, I’m grieving a mother who disappeared and eventually died without my knowledge, and grieving how my innocence was taken away by someone who was meant to protect me.

Mother’s Day is one of the days that brings my grief to the surface. For me, it has nothing to do with the mother that bore me but more to do with the mother that I am and for those who played their part in raising me. I fail to celebrate my birth mom, and that makes me feel so bad, but I cannot help it.

2011 is the year that I learnt that I had harboured years of unresolved tears. How come no one sat down with me and told me I had lost a mother. I recall a family function where we were lined up and called “complete orphans.” It was a fun exercise for the adults, but it cut me deep that day. It made me realise more that grief is an individual walk.

Grief, I have learned, never goes away and only trickles down to moments because of the memories we have of the loss. All we can do is restructure our lives around the loss and somehow move on.

Read Kim’s story below:

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