TALKING WILL SET YOU FREE
Ayanda Bless, 18, lost her father when she was only six years old. She tells the story of how this has affected her life and the struggle she has faced to overcome the tragedy.
‘I have lived in Gugulethu all my life,’ says Ayanda. ‘I lived with my mother, my father and my two sisters in a shack in an informal settlement. Despite our living conditions we were happy; both my parents worked hard to make a better life for us.’
Ayanda’s mother was a domestic worker and her father was good with his hands, so he would make musical instruments such as marimbas and guitars from wooden planks and whatever he could find lying around. ‘My dad would often take me to the Waterfront to sell the instruments with him. It made me so happy. I felt he loved me more than my other sisters because he would always invite me to go with him.’
When Ayanda was six her father was killed. ‘He was stabbed several times by members of the community. To this day I do not know why and this has left many unanswered questions. I loved my father and couldn’t understand why he had been taken away so tragically.
‘There were not many people at his funeral. You could see that it was the funeral of a person who did not have money, and the service was very short. I was sad and I wanted to cry but my granny told me to be strong and not to cry. So I didn’t, but I do regret it; I wish I had had the freedom to express my grief.’
Her father’s death was heartbreaking for the whole family. Ayanda’s mother started working night shifts as well, to support the family the best she could. This resulted in Ayanda and her siblings having to move in with their grandparents. ‘They also lived in a shack, but it was a bit bigger. My sisters and I even had our own room,’ she says. ‘But the place always felt overcrowded with my grandparents, my aunt and five children all living together.’
Ayanda lived with her grandparents until grade 8 when she was able to move back with her mother. ‘I was overjoyed. I didn’t realise how much I had missed having her around. It was also a relief to be a small family again.’
Despite the good relationship with her mother, Ayanda struggled to cope with the loss of her father. ‘I would often avoid conversations with friends when they started talking about their fathers. To be honest, I used to get very jealous. I didn’t want people to feel sorry for me, but I felt as though a part of me was missing.’
What made her struggle even more was the lack of communication within her family. ‘There were many times that I wanted to talk about my dad,’ she says, ‘but if the subject was ever brought up the conversation would quickly change to the next topic. I never understood why, and this hurt me.’
In grade 11, Ayanda started experiencing outbursts of anger. ‘The fact that I hadn’t accepted my father’s death began to catch up with me. I would get very upset over things that would not have affected me before. I realised that I had a problem. I couldn’t speak about my feelings at home, so I decided to ask for help.’
Ayanda decided to talk to the therapist at an organisation based at her school. ‘Talking through my problems felt like a weight was being lifted off my shoulders. I learned to accept the events that had occurred and that I did not have the power to change them. I felt more free and my life started to feel better. I became more positive and my confidence slowly returned.
‘My mom has been key in helping me stay motivated. I now understand that although I can’t talk to her about how I feel, I know she is doing her best. I admire how hard she works to support us. This drives me to succeed in my own life so that I can one day support my family.’
Ayanda improved at school and last term became the top student in her class. Her advice to other young people who may be struggling to accept the loss of a loved one is to understand that those feelings are part of the healing process. ‘Find someone to talk to about it,’ she says. ‘The more you talk and share your pain, the more free you will feel. The cloud begins to lift and life starts to feel positive again.’
Ayanda is a former Leaders’ Quest participant, an intervention offered by Salesian Life Choices.