Like many of you, I awoke on Sunday morning to the harrowing news of the passing of 21 teenagers at the Enyobeni tavern, in East London. I couldn’t help but reflect on the moment reality hit and the log-like lump of grief sunk into the pit of my stomach as I remembered the call from my cousin informing me of my elder brother’s death. I remember grappling with the words as I tried to gently break the news of his passing to my half-sleeping mother. Is there a proper way for a teenager to break such news? Truth is there is never a proper or easy way. I will forever carry the agony of that moment and it’s especially apparent when I hear of or read about other mothers having to grapple with the reality of burying their young. 

In an ideal world, parents are not supposed to bury their children and their child should not have to bear the responsibility of breaking such devastating news. In an ideal world, teenagers are safe to rebel and learn from their mistakes. We’ve all done naughty things in our hormone-crazy teen years. Yet here we are,  21 + families facing the arduous journey of grief, a journey they did not willingly choose. Hold space for that. For them. For you! 

Why is it that when tragedies like these strike our immediate response is to cast blame? We become overnight experts on how the tragedy could’ve and should’ve been circumvented. We conveniently seem to forget that every single one of us sits beside an invisible pool of tears. We are ALL going through the most and doing our utmost best at showing up in life. What happened over the weekend, what has been happening in this country and world at large simply put is tragic and we need to sit in that. 

Many of us are familiar with the saying, “hurt people hurt people.” We have all at some point misdirected our pain and subconsciously projected it onto others. As another popular saying goes, “when you know better you do better.” So the next time someone’s misplaced pain is channelled towards you, instead of reacting ask yourself, why is this person spewing this vitriol at me? Try to see their pain at that moment and respond accordingly. Now I’m not saying you must tolerate abuse, withstand toxicity, or turn the other cheek. What I am saying is that we can communicate our experience, disappointment and boundaries without continuing the cycle of projecting, taking on or mimicking their pain. As 90’s R&B star Monica said, “…don’t take it personal” try to see their puddle of tears.

Brené Brown, one of my favourite authors, podcaster, research professor and the speaker says, “When we fail to set boundaries and hold people accountable, we feel used and mistreated. This is why we sometimes attack who they are, which is far more hurtful than addressing a behaviour or a choice.” Ask yourself, am I responding from a place of hurt or love and truth?

To reiterate Bianca Naidoo’s sentiments in her essay on Vol 3 of the Art of Superwoman magazine’s ‘The Youth Issue’ (you can read it here) when we communicate our boundaries without compassion, kindness and respect people are more inclined to feel attacked.    

Boundaries are not belittling, condemning, unloving or dehumanising in any way shape or form. I’m not sure how or why setting boundaries has become synonymous with any of the above? Our holistic survival is heavily dependent on us setting and keeping our professional, social, and personal boundaries. 

This seemingly radical act of self-love is new for many of us. I remember watching my mother prematurely stop grieving the unexpected loss of her firstborn child and soldier on in the workplace and at home. Our horrific history of inequality has shaped how many of us deal with pain. We live like we are not entitled to moments of stillness, boundaries or safe spaces that sacredly hold our pain and elevate our value and humanity in moments of tragedy. 

Friend, take the mental health day, weekend, or week if need be. 

We need to give ourselves and others the time to come to terms with and live with the tragedy and that will look and feel different for everyone. But, we all need a moment to just be. We need the space to allow our tears to well up and overflow. We need to create the space for ourselves and others to sit in the discomfort of it all. We need to give ourselves time to feel all the feels if we are to start embracing and supporting one another through seasons of mourning.

We can not justify repeating behaviours and cycles of harm to ourselves and others. So fill out that leave form and take the time to breathe… 

Take a deep breath in through your nose. Be mindful of the air as it filters through your nostrils. Fill your lungs and expand your abdomen until it feels like it’s about to pop. Hold your breath for five seconds then slowly feel your abdomen deflate as your breath eases out of your mouth and the weight of all that you are carrying slowly dissipates. Breath.