“Lefu ke ngoetsi ea malapa oohle” is one of those sayings that Basotho evoke when one has passed on. A literal translation is: death is the daughter-in-law of every family. Of course, there is something to be said about the daughter-in-law comparison, but the gist of the expression is really to convey that death knows no boundaries and is an eventuality for us all—or as some Basotho would put it: “lefu ha lena hore o morena kapa mofo, bohle re tla finyella bo-ea-batho”, death cares not whether you are royalty or commoner, it is a destination all people shall reach. I know these words (and many others like them) are often uttered to bring some form of solace, but death always seems so unexpected for one to find comfort in them.
Each time death visits, we enter a new uncharted emotional territory. Random memories, mostly centred on the dear departed, flood in ungraciously, with absolutely no warning whatsoever.
In this post, I wish to share a memory that stems indirectly from being flooded by memories of one woman, worthy of being celebrated for living a life of very few regrets. Although this woman has passed on, I certainly believe her memories will live on.
But, as I said, this post is not directly about her memories: it is about a memory that decided to suddenly resurface after hearing of how her mother responded to a statement that she must trust God in the dark hours of her grief.
The mother’s response, which barely came a day after receiving the news of the tragic death of her daughter, was: “ke tla ts’epa Molimo joang?”, how can I truly trust God? After some pausing and general silence in the room, the mother continued to explain how she had been praying to be spared the pain of burying another child she had birthed, as she had already buried three.
The mother’s question was, at least to me, very profound. I suppose primarily because it was unexpected. Women, in particular, are (culturally) expected to sit, grieve and accept all words offered in condolence. Some of these words, even though they are intended to be comforting, are said with little regard to the fact that with each mourner coming in to pay their respects, as woman, mother and grandmother in this instance, she is expected to relive the ordeal of her loss through the repeated telling of a story that captures how death entered her household.
I am in no way making light of the intentionality behind any words offered in condolence. I am merely just trying to make sense of a few questions that are tormenting me.
Do I really have a basis to find the mother’s question unexpected? Is it really culture, or just evidence of my warped understanding of things? What is the possible significance of connecting the question to a memory of another mother in an entirely different context?
I have no answers. But I think I have provided the necessary preamble to proceed with my sharing of a memory that was deeply buried deep in my subconscious until not so long ago. This memory is still about words of a grieving mother. This mother, at the funeral of her son, who was being buried with his kids, literally stopped the funeral procession to the graveyard, and started praising and praying.
Even though this was years ago, I remember almost verbatim the words she started with. She said: “chehe! Ekaba ke lekoala le lekakang e re Morena a nketestse e be ke sitoa ho tlotlisa boholo bae …”. This, more or less translates to “wow! What a coward I would be if I failed to praise God and speak of his greatness when he has visited my family …” .
As she continued, I stood in absolute paralysis listening. I was captivated by the strength in her voice, but at the same time, I couldn’t believe what I was seeing and hearing was real. I suppose because I had bought into the idea that tears, within that space and time, were her only allowed form of expression. Please don’t ask me why; this is yet another question I cannot answer, especially in the context of understanding why in the unexpected, I seemingly have expectations.
I will hopefully find my answers, for I know it is no coincidence that the memory just decided to resurface…