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Saturday, 4 March 2017

Grieving on a farm in Kimberley

Rock embedded in the gravel driveway leading up to the farm

I grieved on a farm in Africa for a man I barely knew, and friend I had yet to learn to know. Life sometimes travel along strange and unforeseen routes with us, but when we allow God to truly direct every step we take, there are invaluable treasures to be found in these journeys. My stay on a farm in Kimberley turned out to be one of these hidden gems. Let me start this journey at the beginning.

A rustic old ruin on a neighboring farm

I first met J and L on the last day of an outgoing year, when another friend and I were invited to come spend a few days with them at their lodge. We were already vacationing not too far from there in Mokala SAN Park, and agreed to spend the new year's eve with them. For me, it would be the first time meeting this lovely couple, and, as it turned out, the only time I ever got to meet J. My traveling companion and L had been friends for years, and were the only common denominators in the company, but sometimes this is all that is needed, for when you have friends in God, you often find unfamiliar friends in strangers.

New horizons inevitably hold lovely sunsets in their wake

A couple of years passed and I had no more contact with either J, or L. This acquaintance could very easily have passed into one of those casual meetings in life, where we enter and exit each others' lives without much impact. Yet it was not to be. Behind the scenes, a loving Father knew what was coming and how to prepare us for it. I can not account for how J and L were prepared for what followed, but I can tell you my side of this story. A therapist friend of mine, Melette, suffered a very personal loss of a loved one. As a result, I spent many hours talking with Melette about grief and the grieving process. Finally, the two of us decided to develop a series of Art therapy blogs on this process. I would be in charge of the art side of this, and she would oversee the therapy side of things. Inevitably, this forced me to become intimately acquainted with a process I was hitherto largely unfamiliar with.
(I have provided links to the art therapy blogs at the bottom of this blog, for those who may be interested in learning more).

Daily afternoon game drives on the farm

During this same period of time, J was diagnosed with cancer and the doctors gave him roughly three months to live. L, who is a medical practitioner, was the ideal companion for him during this last leg of his journey on earth. She made life as comfortable as possible for him, until he finally passed away. During this time, I was aware of what was happening through communications with the friend we had in common, but I was not a direct part of the process.

Life persists, even in the midst of a drought

After J's funeral, L took a week-long retreat in a spa, to simply sleep and cry. She went alone, and this was important for her. L is someone who believes in keeping up a strong front for others. I believe she would not have been able to do the necessary crying and grieving if she had been with someone else. She needed the space that solitude affords to simply cry and mourn the loss she had suffered.

Meerkat/Mongoose family keeping a sharp lookout over the farm

When she returned to the farm in Kimberly, a mutual friend suggested that I go stay with L for a couple of months, so that she wouldn't be all alone on the farm while sorting out the aftermath of a life lived to the full. Even though the two of us were little more than acquaintances at this stage, I readily agreed. It is easier for me to take my work with me, than it is for most, and where I work from has little impact on the results. During the time I was there, the bugs came crawling out of the woodwork. I was astonished to see how many people were willing to cheat and lie a vulnerable widow out of her money and inheritance! I spent a large part of each day in intercession for her in this onslaught of betrayal by previous friends and family, so that she was quite ensconced in prayer. Finally, she'd had enough. She walked into my room one night as I were laying in bed, and said that she felt like taking a road trip. Without thinking twice, I agreed. I knew it would be the best thing ever for her, to simply get away from it all.

A place of solitude where many a prayer was voiced and answered

I can not tell you that we spent the next days, or even hours, planning our trip. We simply didn't. Instead, we picked Hondeklipbaai on the coast of the Northern Cape as our first destination, simply because another friend of L's, had a guesthouse standing empty in Hondeklipbaai, which she had offered to us. We loaded the back of the bakkie/pick-up with luggage (after all neither of us travel light) put Janneman, the Capuchin monkey, in his cage on the back seat, and off we went on a journey of discovery. I will need much more space than one blog to tell you about the people, places, and events of this journey, but for now I will leave you with a single idea about undertaking such a journey of restoration.

Janneman taking a keen interest in photography

You need to pick your traveling companion(s) carefully. Fortunately, God knew this and He was in control. There were times when L and I reasoned and tested theories against each other, philosophizing about life, death, predestination, and the afterlife. However, for the most part, both of us kept quiet. It took me years to learn to appreciate silence, but it is something I have become very comfortable with. I knew that L had to figure things out for herself. I realized she had to find new sense in a life that no longer made sense. I also knew it was a process that could not be rushed and would not be forced. My own ideas, wisdom and knowledge could never fit her. We each have to weave a cloak of ideas, wisdom and knowledge for ourselves if we are to make sense of life. If pushed to give an answer, I would keep it short and open-ended, but for the most part, I was simply there to serve as a sound-board for her to test her own theories against. Most of this process happened in silence. Never fear silence; it has the ability to reach deeper than most words will ever reach.

Taking long walks on the farm

I have not discovered any better roads to travel than those long empty stretches of road in the Northern Cape, for coming to terms with your thoughts. As diverse as the landscape is, the changes are subtle and it never forces its impressions on you. Instead, it smoothly glides its gentle fingers over your eyes, allowing you respite in its stillness and quiet beauty. These were the roads L and I traveled in her search for answers.

Somewhere between Kimberley and Springbok

It was this trip that inspired me to write a poem about finding peace in this harsh, yet soothing, landscape:

 I have visited great cities in this world
and found them speechless, silent,
hoarse, with voiceless laryngitis
I strained my ear, but could not hear them.
Dubai opened its mouth and gurgled strange noises at me
through a gaping hole of opulence and luxury.
Amsterdam confused me with too many streets,
too many faces, and too few fixed opinions.
Glasgow sputtered about old and new
and lost its voice in compromise.
London, Paris, Jo’burg, stared at me in silence,
with no introduction and no identity.
It was only when I stood in the open field of the Karoo,
with my toes curled into its warm sand,
with endless emptiness, stretching before and above,
that I heard a clear and distinct voice calling loudly,
welcoming me home and stretching its embrace wide.
My soul responded with a resonating ‘yes!’ and I was at peace.
An original poem by Miekie, titled Voiceless Cities

Leaving Kimberley - setting off into a sunrise filled with new possibilities

You can find the Art Therapy blogs on another daily blog I write, titled A Pretty Talent:

Art Therapy 5: Understanding Grief Part 1 of 8 - Creating A Journal
"There is probably not one of us who have not had to deal with the devastating effects of losing someone dear to us. Everyone grieves in their own way and it would be a cheap attempt to say that one formula fits all. Yet, numerous attempts have been made to identify the phases that people in grief pass through and seven have been agreed upon to be more or less universal. We will take a look at these phases in an attempt to gain some form of understanding for the process we are passing through. We take this journey in the form of an art journal, attempting to somehow find a means of dealing with the loss we have experienced, and continue to experience still. In this first blog of the eight part series, we look at creating the album that will house the process.
This blog is co-authored by Marietjie Uys (artist) and Melette Els (therapist)."


Art Therapy 5: Understanding Grief Part 2 of 8 - Shock & Denial (Phase 1)
"In this second blog of the eight part series, we look at the first phase identified, namely shock and denial.
This blog is co-authored by Marietjie Uys (artist) and Melette Els (therapist)."


Art Therapy 5: Understanding Grief Part 3 of 8 - Pain & Guilt (Phase 2)
"In this third blog of the eight part series, we look at the second phase identified, namely pain and guilt.
This blog is co-authored by Marietjie Uys (artist) and Melette Els (therapist)."


Art Therapy 5: Understanding Grief Part 4 of 8 - Anger & Bargaining (Phase 3)
"In this fourth blog of the eight part series, we look at the third phase identified, namely anger & bargaining.
This blog is co-authored by Marietjie Uys (artist) and Melette Els (therapist)."


Art Therapy 5: Understanding Grief Part 5 of 8 - Depression, Reflection & Loneliness (Phase 4)
"In this fifth blog of the eight part series, we look at the fourth  phase identified, namely depression, reflection and loneliness.
This blog is co-authored by Marietjie Uys (artist) and Melette Els (therapist)."


Art Therapy 5: Understanding Grief Part 6 of 8 - Upward Turn (Phase 5)
"In this sixth blog of the eight part series, we look at the fifth phase identified, namely the upward turn.
This blog is co-authored by Marietjie Uys (artist) and Melette Els (therapist)."


Art Therapy 5: Understanding Grief Part 7 of 8 - Reconstruction & Working Through (Phase 6)
"In this seventh blog of the eight part series, we look at the sixth  phase identified, namely reconstruction and working through.
This blog is co-authored by Marietjie Uys (artist) and Melette Els (therapist)."


"In this last blog of the eight part series, we look at the seventh phase identified, namely acceptance and hope.
This blog is co-authored by Marietjie Uys (artist) and Melette Els (therapist)."


Marietjie Uys (Miekie) is a published author. You can buy the books here:
You can purchase Designs By Miekie 1 here.
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