Grief postponed


My first day here, around the middle of last November, I didn’t think she’d make it to her birthday. I walked into the Fogies’ little house at the retirement complex, and there was noise and excitement and hellos, and a hug from the Old Buzzard, and the Girl Child finding a vase for the flowers I’d brought, and she stood quietly waiting behind all the fuss.

She looked so small.

I put my arms around her and it was like hugging a baby bird. So small. So fragile.

IMG_20151201_170217Those first weeks, when I sometimes wondered whether she’d even make it to Christmas… they were hard. There were days spent waiting for x-rays, for CRT scans, for medications to be ready to pick up. There were arguments with the medical aid, whose protocols  demanded this, that and the other painful and pointless test. There were tears and Serious Talks and figuring out what-to-do-about-Dad. There were visits to doctors who were compassionate but not encouraging. There was Hospice, a nurse who was warm and so kind, who gave us things to read with titles like “How to cope when someone you love is dying”.

There was oxygen. It perked her up. There was time working together on editing her book. That tired her out, some days we couldn’t manage more than a few paragraphs, but it made her smile. There were flowers. Visits from friends. Meals she enjoyed, at least for a few mouthfuls. A whole chocolate milkshake at the end of a morning’s shopping.

When we finally saw the oncologist (actually we waited only ten days for an appointment, but it felt like forever – Christmas was close, and I wanted, needed him to work a miracle and ensure she was able to celebrate) I pummeled him with questions. “Should we change her diet? Cut out sugar? What about exercise? Is it good or should she rather rest? We have a source who will sell us cannabis oil – she doesn’t like it but… will it help?”

He looked at her and said, so gently, “It doesn’t matter what you eat. You can eat as much ice cream as you like – and if you don’t feel like eating, you don’t have to. Exercise if you want to. Rest when you need to. Don’t let anyone bully you – you can try whatever magical remedies you like, but you don’t have to do anything that makes you feel bad. Rather, spend time with your family. Enjoy the time you have left.” And then he prescribed hormone therapy, since that worked 20 years ago during her second bout with breast cancer, along with various other medicinal compounds, and he went off on a skiing trip, and it was Christmas.

She celebrated with us.

At the beginning of January we went back to the oncologist. When she walked into his consulting room, still small and somehow fragile but walking on her own two little short stubby legs (sorry, Ma – you passed them on to me; I can be rude about them if I want to) his eyes lit up with surprise and pleasure. The x-rays showed that her lungs were almost clear of fluid, and she was breathing just fine. He didn’t stop beaming at her the whole time we were there.

When I came to Johannesburg in November, I thought for sure we’d be planning her funeral by January. Instead, we went on a road trip.



The tiny church in Reenen


A walk in the woods


A stroll on Ballito beach


Paddling in a rock pool


A visit to my nephew’s boarding school. He played one of his own compositions, which he had written specially for her.

Last week, when we visited her oncologist again, he told her to get more exercise. He said, “You’ve been really sick, and now you’re going to have to put some work into getting better.”

Of course, technically she’s still sick. Stage 4 cancer doesn’t just go away. So she uses a wheelchair if she goes anywhere that requires a lot of walking, she takes her medications, she rests often, and she spends around 12 hours a day hooked up to oxygen.

But she’s not letting a mere disease take one flicker of the sparkle out of her life. Last week she had cataract surgery, because it looks like she’ll be needing her eyes for a while yet and she doesn’t want to miss seeing anything. On Thursday, undeterred by her eye patch, we celebrated her birthday by wrapping up the edit of her book, then we went out for dinner with the rest of my siblings. On Sunday we celebrated again with a picnic for 25 friends and family at one of her favorite places, the Walter Sisulu Nature Reserve.

Just look at her.

Isn’t she lovely?



About Belladonna Took

Into my second half-century and still trying to figure out what to be when I grow up. Born South African, naturalized American, at constant risk of losing my balance and landing ass-first in the Atlantic. A wife, a mom, a daughter and sister, kind of a grandma. Until recently a full-time dog rescuer, now more concerned with rescuing myself. User of dog hair as accessory, decor and garnish. Technical writer, strategic thinker, occasional entrepreneur. Voiceless poet and storyteller. Born again Christ-follower and former missionary schoolteacher chewing on some uncomfortable questions. Ignorer of rules, challenger of assumptions, believer in miracles. Skeptical libertarian, equal opportunity despiser of politicians and assholes. Gonnabe gardener, wannabe beekeeper, Monsanto-hating tree-hugger. Morbidly obese chocaholic, with a horse I don't ride because I might break him, and if not he would probably break me.

49 responses »

    • Fiona, hello! Thank you for stopping by and for being happy with me. I got your email – please forgive me for not responding; it’s been a little nuts! Just now I was grateful for your concern and your kind thoughts. Chat again soon!

      Liked by 1 person

        • Hi Fiona! Like you, Belladonna’s latest blog made wetness in my eyes. Her “Marmee” is truly a special person…and I love her dearly.
          However I’m happy to say that, after a 3 month visit, Mz Took will be returning to the USA in just one week’s time. She’s been greatly missed by me and by our furkids…. all of whom want to regale her with some more dog-hair on her clothing.

          Liked by 2 people

  1. How lovely!

    When my grandmother was diagnosed with cancer, she wrote the family a note telling us all how much she’d loved her life and all of us and we wept. Three years later, she wrote another note. It opened with “well, I’m still here,” and the tears were replaced with smiles. I am glad to see she’s been given time to do the same even if the sickness still is there.


  2. Your typical loving tribute! Thanks for writing it and sharing the pictures, I am so happy that you have had this precious time together and that your Marmee is doing so well. –I am sure, in large part, due to your loving care! You will soon be celebrating your birthday! HAPPY!!!! You have been in my thoughts and prayers!– never did figure out Skype!


  3. Such a wonderful real life story about living each day to the fullest…wishing you and your mom many more beautiful days together.


    • Hi, Karen – thanks so much for stopping by. Now that I’m back home (I arrived last week) I hope I’ll become more active again – visiting other blogs (yours is always such an encouragement – and my Marmeee loves it too!), as well as writing more here. I have so many stories to tell from my time back in South Africa! And am in such a happy place for sharing stories … I miss my Mom so very much, but can’t complain because after all she’s only a planet away… 🙂


    • Thank you, Ben! She is an extraordinarily strong woman – the more extraordinary for not seeming to be especially strong. In fact, she’s gentle, and sometimes quite self-effacing. I think her faith is what makes her strong. She simply will not quit trusting and believing.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I’ve recently been talking to some other people about the idea of eternal recurrence – the idea that the measure of a life well lived is a willingness to do it again. I think your mom would pass this test with flying colors. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Oh, I love this post Belladonna, I can feel the energy and hope just from reading it. I love the pictures too, your mom is a beautiful woman and so are you for sharing her story with us.

    I hope she’s still doing ok.


  5. Oh, you made me cry. At work. I loved the pictures of your mother and father at the beach. The story tugged the heart strings too. I’m glad she made it through the holidays and was able to finish her book. That is a big deal to feel so accomplished and still looking to the future. Even though the challenge of loss still faces you, it hasn’t come yet. Celebrate the minor miracles as they come.


  6. Would love to get in contact again – can’t find your email address and have no method of contact that will work!


  7. Pingback: Running ahead of the storm | American Soustannie

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