Doing it for the elderly, doing it for me

Monday, July 28, 2014

By More Matshediso

We are often taught that doing something good in someone’s life will make a difference to them. For example, if you help someone paint their home – they will have a home that looks beautiful and you would have contributed to that beauty and the joy it brings them. What we don’t really bank on though is the impact that a single selfless action can have on us.

When I set off to do my 67 minutes for Madiba on 18 July, I knew I would be cleaning an old age home to make a difference in the lives of the elderly there, but what I didn’t bank on was the healing this day would bring me and the peace it would help me make with the loss of my own grandmother.

When I was four years old, my mother abandoned us. It was tragic for my sister and me. My dad took us with him to live with his mother, my loving grandmother, Seinelo Matshediso.

I called her Mme (mother), and all her grandchildren called her that. She was our mom.

We lived in a two-roomed shack owned by my uncle in Thaba Nchu. We later moved to a two-roomed brick house in the same village. My dad stayed in the backroom.

During those days, my grandmother did all the house chores. I loved her cooking. The smell of food from her kitchen made our evenings memorable despite the difficulties we faced as a family. She would bathe me every day until I was old enough to take care of myself.

She later taught me how to slaughter a chicken when I was a teenager.

Every night before we went to bed, we would listen to Mme sing church hymns, before we all prayed as a family.

Like many families in our neighbourhood, on Sundays we all went to church, except for my dad. He played soccer on Sundays.

My grandmother insisted on good principles, discipline, love, respect, confidence and humility.

Even though sometimes I feel she left us too soon, at the age of 83, I will forever cherish the love she gave us as her grandchildren.

I have not been to her grave since then. I feared that I would get flashbacks; and memories of her would come back to me, making me feel ill, depressed and morbid.  

Whenever I miss her, I sing her songs to feel her closer and whenever I achieve something I know she is looking over me with pride. You may wonder why I am writing all of this.

I was not prepared really for the flood of memories that washed over me on 18 July. But it was not the morbid type that I had come to dread. When the world set out to do their 67 minutes for Madiba, I found myself with Mme Ellen Masango, a resident at Tender Loving Care Old Age Home in Hammanskraal. The place, I believe, had chosen me; I had not chosen it.

As is synonymous with most elderly folk, the 80-year-old Mme Masango ranted on, hardly stopping for a breath. Or long enough for me to put in my two cents worth. How glad I was that I could be the listening ear that she obviously was lonely for. A smile was permanently etched on her face as she couldn’t contain her delight at the number of visitors she was so blessed to have around the home, all on one day.

“If I could, I would dance… I feel so much happiness inside. We appreciate the visit from all these people and government,” said Masango, who has only been living at the centre for two months.

It reminded me of the joy my grandmother had when I came back home from holidays. She loved having me around. And yes, she also could not stop talking!

So, as I got on with the task of painting the dining hall at the old age home, and washing windows, I did so to the melody of Mme Masango’s lyrical voice. She didn’t care about whether the conversation was boring, or the number of topics she was exhausting, or not completing, before she happily moved on to the next – all she cared about was me as a committed audience. At that moment, I was the centre of her world. And she basked in her own importance. No number of windows I could have washed or walls I could have painted would compare to the importance that showed on her face. Priceless.   

When the sun set and it was time for us to pack up – the sun had set too on the restlessness I had felt in my spirit since my grandmother’s passing. I felt a deep peace overcome me. I realised that the spirit, joy, fortitude, beauty and timelessness of the rock I had called Mme was still alive in people like Mme Masango. And if I longed to be touched by that again, all I had to do was take a drive to a place like the Tender Loving Care Old Age Home. 

As we drove away from the home, I knew that I could at last visit the grave of my grandmother with a smile, peace and joy in my heart. I am ready. –

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