I got a WhatsApp message 18 days ago. This is what it said:

Hi. Day of tests (eg CAT scan) and stuff happening, have some rather rough news. Luckily Dad was here to hear it direct from the doctor. The fact is, subject to confirmation from Oncologists, I have cancer, and don’t have a whole lot of time. Could be as little as 6 weeks, could be 6 months, he couldn’t say without opinion of oncologist.

The message was from my mother.

So now I am sitting on my sister’s stoep in Johannesburg at 3.30AM, 10,164 miles (that’s 16,358 km) from home. At home right now the time is 5.30PM, which means it’s been dark for more than an hour. The temperature is 29 degrees Fahrenheit (that’s -1.7 Celsius) and it’s raining, but at least it’s not windy. The Hubbit has had to put heaters in the water troughs to prevent them from icing over, and he’s hung an infrared light next to the water supply in the chicken house. I am wearing a short-sleeved nightshirt and a light shawl, and on my feet I have thick non-slip socks that Himself brought back from some or other hospital visit; my legs and arms are bare and I’m enjoying the cool pre-dawn air. It’s pitch dark and not windy here too.

I have been trying to write this post for more than two weeks and I still have no idea how to proceed. How does one describe such profound dislocation? Does the language to do so even exist?

Fifty-eight years ago I slept and danced in the center of her body, just below her heart. A few months later, I rested on her breast, soothed by her heartbeat. As the years passed I shifted my orbit further and further out. I acquired my own satellite, I allowed my heart to take me to another country, separated from her by the full thickness of this planet. But always, any time I thought of it, I could hear the beat of her heart, and it beat for me … for me … for me.

I am afraid. How will I find my way in the terrible silence when her heart stops beating? How will I hold my orbit when she is no longer at the center of it?

Those questions are way too big. I cannot comprehend their answers. Instead, I focus on to do lists. I created one before I left home and completed most of what was on it – hay bought and stacked, a foster dog rehomed, filing and budget up-to-date, house cleaned, appointments canceled, Plans A, B and C in place to ensure that my crazy puppy doesn’t send Himself clear over the edge. I did all that I could to ensure the Hubbit’s well-being, even as I prepared to leave him to cope with a supremely shitty challenge on his own. And now I’m working off a new to-do list, featuring items like “Call Hospice” and “Deal with medical aid re oxygen”, and also “Birthday party for Dad”.

Focus on happy memories … The Fogies, with various dogs and Marmeee’s snow maiden – winter time at Siyabonga in 2007.

I focus on living in the now. Now she is here, and most days we work together on the final edit of her book. We have conversations about life and death and stuff that we remember and God and that peculiar woman who just walked past their unit at the retirement complex. We pray together. We go out for coffee. We are relearning how to chuckle at the small things.

I am also using this time out from the everyday to recalibrate my own life. I’m spending time with the Girl Child, reconnecting with my siblings and best friend and others that I love. I’m paying attention to my health – yesterday my sister and I started the ketogenic diet together, and I have aspirations of swimming daily in the pool at her complex just as soon as I kick the sinus infection that I managed to pick up on my way here.

Sometimes I am troubled by my calm. I feel guilty because it seems I’m not sad enough. I’m finding it too easy to make lists, to diet, to remember how to drive on the left side of the road. I get irritated by other drivers and angry with my Dad for not behaving the way I want, and I am pleased that the exchange rate is working out well for me, and I read and watch TV and go to restaurants and argue about politics.

It’s only now and then that grief overwhelms me, and I find myself sitting in parking lots or pulled over to the side of the road, with snot running down my face as I wail and bite my fist and pull my hair. A few days ago, after an agonizing conversation with my Dad, I came home to my sister’s condo and I couldn’t go inside because no one else was home. So I hammered on her next door neighbor’s door and, when he opened it, begged the poor startled man for a hug – which he gave along with tea and lemon cream biscuits and a quiet place to sit and pull myself together.

But one cannot live in that place, and I’m learning that that’s okay. I know a dark day is coming. I know that none of my puny lists and preparations will make the least difference in the horrible breathless silence of that day. But right now, as I sit here on my sister’s stoep and coming to the end of my first blog post in more than a month, I am embraced by the dawn. I hear songbirds and hadedas, and the traffic of people going about their lives in the city. In a few hours, my precious Marmeee and I will work together on her book, and the oxygen delivery guy is coming, and a friend of hers who is a nurse. Maybe I’ll take the Fogies out for coffee and cake after lunch. This evening I’m roasting a chicken and my friend is coming for dinner.

Today is a gift, and I will rejoice and be glad in it. Tomorrow’s sorrow can wait its turn.


Author: Belladonna Took

Well into my second half-century and still trying to figure out what to be when I grow up. Born South African, naturalized American, perpetually at risk of losing my balance and landing ass-first in the Atlantic.

32 thoughts on “Dislocation”

  1. Belladonna, I am so sorry to hear about your mom’s cancer. Your blog post was very touching and spoke very well of the connection between you two and the agonizing grief you’re experiencing. You being there and helping your momjourney through this is a very sacred time for you both and it sounds like you are doing what you can to make good out of bad.

    Don’t feel shame about remaining calm either. It’s a gift you know to be able to stay level headed in rough situations and it doesn’t mean you are not grieving as deep and hard as someone who shows this more visibly.

    Love and blessings to you Belladonna and your mum too.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Tricia, for some reason your sweet and encouraging comment made itself invisible just as I started responding. Maybe it’ll reappear … I don’t know. In any case, thank you so much for stopping by, and for the kind words.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. No problem Belladonna. I was glad to see your name finally pop back in to my cue, even though your post brought sad news. Did my comment show back up? I can see it now but if you can’t I’ll repost it.

        Take care. 🙂


  2. Hi Val,

    Wow! We feel very deeply for you.

    Please let us know if there is anything we can do. I know we are not near at hand for your folks but would love to be of some help at this potentially very trying time. Please be sure to give your mom our love.

    I must say when I read your blog my macho man gave way and this cowboy did what we were told was not allowed.

    We love you Val.



    1. Bless you, Deej. Please forgive me for not writing you a personal note about this – I meant to, but the past few weeks have been harrowing, and not helped by a nasty dose of somethingitis that’s had me coughing, sputtering and weary. Please let me know if you’re planning to be in Joburg any time in the next few months – Mom would love to see you, as would I. And … well … it’s possible that I may need a quiet place to hide away a bit before I go home. If that’s so, I’ll be calling to find out if you have an empty corner … 🙂


  3. I thought of you this morning and wondered what you were up to, and now here you are, writing in your usual beautiful way about the difficult time you’re in. If a hug from someone you’ve never met in real life will help, here it is. I thought of you this morning and will continue to think of you, and wish you and your Mum many good things in the time you have left.


  4. I’m so sorry.

    You’re exactly where you need to be, in space and in each moment.

    Sending much love, through all the wheres you are and will be ahead. ♥


  5. Dislocation is a good word for it. That sudden jerk out of alignment from the world you knew and were familiar with. The best advice I ever got was “to hold his hand while he is still with you.” The greatest gift you can give is your presence–even if at times it is equal parts aggravating, boring, inappropriately funny, macabre, or weepy, especially when it happens all at the same time. May you find comfort in all of those emotions. There will be time for ‘real grief’ later.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh my word, such very wise advice! Thanks, Kiri … I will remember this when I’m wanting to bop the Olde Buzzard over the head! (I don’t ever feel that way with my Mom – she’s truly an exceptional woman, I love being with her and am so grateful to have had her all this time. But my poor bewildered Dad … oy, that’s a whole other blog post.)

      Liked by 1 person

  6. My heart aches for you, so deeply. I am so sorry to hear about your mom’s illness. I pray you find comfort amongst loved ones as your mom lives her final days, knowing how very much you love her.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. So fabulous to have spent some time with you today. Can’t believe how much turf we covered. The Husband sends greetings too. You will be in our thoughts as you all go through these times.


    1. Thank you, Fiona! I’ll be honest, our visit felt more like meeting up with an old friend than getting to know someone new. So glad we managed to connect while you were up here. And thank you for the support and encouragement – you lifted my spirits during a difficult time.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Belladonna, you are a beautiful soul, and I am so sorry to hear of your mother. May you continue to find the blessings in this journey, and be comforted in those times when the understanding of loss overwhelms them. Your perspective is wonderful, and I hope you can continue to live in the moment and enjoy these times with her.


    1. Hi, Karen, thank you for stopping by, and for such encouraging words. The great blessing of course is just having time to spend with her. That, and working with her on the shared project of the book she has written (that I’m helping to edit) are like a gift.


  9. I never visit your place, Belladonna. I didn’t even know until now that your name is Valerie. Finally made it over here tonight, and here is this, about your mom. I’m so very sorry for the loneliness and heartache you’re feeling in advance for the loss you’re about to experience. You wrote with such clarity and beauty about this awful thievery that’s happening: To her, and your dad, and you.

    I think that most of us, as we age, are not as afraid of death as we think. We are more afraid of dying: Of a “bad” death. We prefer a quick death.

    But what is happening with your mom is, perhaps, not entirely a crueler way. Your mom, your dad, and you have time. Time to spend together, knowing now how important that is. Time to get used to the idea that you won’t always all be there. Time to say whatever you wish to say. Time for many hugs. Time to cry. Time to do everyday entirely unimportant family things together, just like families do. Get bored with each other. Maybe even have a few arguments.

    I wish for you, Valerie, that this remaining time goes as well for you all as humanly possible.

    –O. Babe

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks so much for stopping by, Babe, and for the wise and encouraging comments. It turns out that the news about my Mom is really good … I hope you’ll stop by again in the next day or two and share my happiness… 🙂 As for my name … lol … Here in Blogland I’m content to go by Belladonna, but when my friends out me as Valerie that’s okay too.

      Liked by 2 people

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