The sting of death during a plague

Woman wearing a face mask looking out window

“To weep is to make less the depth of grief.”

William Shakespeare, King Henry VI, Part 3

Several people I know have lost loved ones during the Age of Corona to both the virus and other causes. Our particular lockdown levels have strict limits on mourning though: funerals are limited to fifty persons, wakes and night vigils are prohibited even under Level 3. You can’t hug the bereaved or cross provincial borders unless you are close family. I have not attended funerals of a few people I might otherwise have gone to to pay my respects.

It is bad enough to face the sudden or even expected death of someone you have loved, but not to be able to celebrate their lives and be comforted is especially hard.

Two deaths of famous people this week brought home to me how difficult it must be to grieve in the middle of a pandemic, as well as how sad it is that the lives of two people who spent their whole lives dedicated to our country should not be commemorated with appropriate ceremony at their passing.

Both Zindziswa Mandela and Andrew Mlangeni have passed away this month and I am moved by the fact that both have lost out on the kind of farewell that would be fitting – because of the COVID-19 pandemic. I wrote about them in this week’s school newsletter:

I have often wondered about the childhood Zindzi endured as her parents sacrificed so much for the freedom of the nation. Yet she proved her mettle time and time again, missing out on her schooling in the struggle, advocating for her mother to the United Nations (when she was just 12!) and boldly defying PW Botha on her father’s behalf.

Mr Mlangeni stood at Madiba’s side at the Rivonia trial and suffered with him on Robben Island for over twenty years. Our flags at school are flying at half-mast until Wednesday to honour his quiet strength and life of sacrifice for us all. But it doesn’t seem enough.

Our children can learn so much from his wisdom:

“One of the biggest prisons we were afraid of being locked up in though, was the jail of ignorance.”

Andrew Mlangeni, ‘The Backroom Boy: Andrew Mlangeni’s Story

What power there is in learning from the great people who gave up so much for freedom. To our learners I say, respect the education that comes so easily to you now. Those who made it possible studied sporadically, far from home and, in many cases, in prison.

How small these deaths (and their lives) make me feel about moaning about corona-stress; and how sad I am that neither of these two leaders who fought for us with such courage and wisdom can be publicly celebrated as they deserve because of the enemy-virus.

But I take from their lives the knowledge that a life relinquishing selfish goals and focused on the greater good will make a difference; will have an impact and will change the world.

“We need to live in a world that is ego-free and humble ourselves to talent, wisdom, and courage, when it reveals itself.”

Zindzi Mandela, activist, diplomat, poet, daughter, mother

Mourners have only the comfort that Cicero referred to when he said that the life of a person is implanted in the memory of those left behind, and the knowledge that their passing changes us and becomes part of us too.

There is hope in that.

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