‘Tidal wave of grieving’ takes toll on everyone’s soul

24 January 2021 - 00:00 By Sipokazi Fokazi
Sindiswa Lugulwana, right, and her son Mwezi with a portrait of twins Phumla and Phumeza Lugulwana, 45, who died of Covid within hours of each other.
Sindiswa Lugulwana, right, and her son Mwezi with a portrait of twins Phumla and Phumeza Lugulwana, 45, who died of Covid within hours of each other.
Image: Esa Alexander

Sindiswa Lugulwana of Langa waits for everyone in her home to fall asleep before she weeps for her twin daughters, who died of Covid-19 within a few hours of each other.

“Losing my children at the same time is very painful, but I can’t cry when everybody is around me,” said Lugulwana, 70. “I have to stay strong for my four grandchildren who are now orphaned.

“I also have to be strong for my own mother who is 94 years old and quite fragile. If they see me cry they will lose hope and I can’t let them lose hope.”

Lugulwana said she was still coming to terms with the death of her daughter Phumeza, 45, on Wednesday last week when a doctor called to say her twin, Phumla, had also died.

“The doctor told me, ‘I have bad news for you, mama.’ I couldn’t listen to him any further. It was just too much to bear, and I gave the phone to my son,” she said.

“That was the only time that I cried publicly, and since then I’ve been holding back my tears as I saw the devastation and the loss of hope that my grandchildren had when I wept.”

Kenwin Lombaard, of Gordon’s Bay, Cape Town, lost his father Selwyn Windvogel, 58, to Covid-19 on New Year’s Eve, and a cousin, Jerome Lombard, 40, two days later.

Lombaard, who has himself recovered from a bout of Covid, said the family felt prepared for the possible death of his father, who had diabetes. But “the death of my cousin, who was the same age as me and was much healthier than I am, caught us by surprise”.

South African Depression and Anxiety Group operations director Cassey Chambers said people were struggling to adapt to the mourning process of the Covid-19 era. “We are used to being able to pay our respects in person, visiting families, attending funerals … Now it is incredibly difficult because people can’t even see their loved ones in hospitals, they aren’t able to say goodbye, and can’t attend funerals.

“So people find it harder to process the grief … Many people don’t know how to grieve in this new limbo and it feels like it is all on hold,” she said.

Johannesburg clinical psychologist Chris Kemp said mental health issues were already “widespread”. “The lack of resources and support for those in need is at a point that I would already consider an epidemic. The impact of Covid-19 in terms of bereavement, financial stress and social isolation will only further exacerbate these issues,” he said.

Ilana Edelstein, a Cape Town clinical psychologist, said: “It feels like there is a tidal wave of grieving and that long-term emotional damage is being inflicted on our community.”