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I chose that heading because my uncle has passed away. (He was born in Madeira, so something in Portuguese seemed fitting.)

I found out about his passing when I saw a status update on my brother’s Facebook timeline. I then noticed that my brother had tried to contact me on WhatsApp. Although I’ve had a brief conversation with my brother on WhatsApp, I haven’t spoken to my parents yet. I haven’t heard their voices yet. It’s times like these where I fully appreciate how the time difference between Johannesburg (South Africa) and Wellington (New Zealand) makes having a conversation so much more tricky; how it makes connection difficult.

There has been a lot of death lately… I’ve experienced it through friends who have lost their mothers this year.  I have witnessed the loss of family before – a cousin when I was maybe 17 years old and an aunt when I was in my early twenties. The hollowness that I’m feeling today at the news of my uncle’s passing should not come as a surprise.

But it does. It’s a strange heaviness. A numbness. A foggy presence. I’m not altogether here. Willing myself to do mundane stuff is near impossible. Staring out into nowhere in particular feels comforting.

A friend on Facebook put it so eloquently: “I feel like I need to hug everyone but my arms are cut off.”

I wish I could hug everyone.

 

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I want to write about something happy, because I think that’s what people want to hear about. I’m in a beautiful country that still feels like it could be just a little bit wonder-filled. My mind tells me I should be out there exploring it all, and telling you all about it. Because there is magic out there. I know there is.

But here’s the thing. Walking around with an aching heart has become my normal. I can’t put a time and date to when my heart broke, but I think it’s been broken for a very long time. Coming to New Zealand did not break my heart. It has made the hole in my heart more discernible, but it did not break my heart.

I want to be able to phone my family in Johannesburg and tell them about this interesting thing I did. But I don’t. Because I know they miss us. And I know that the conversation will slowly turn to how we miss each other. I don’t want to talk about that anymore. Because it hurts. It hurts more than the joy of doing the interesting things.

I am skilled at closing the heart. I find myself contorting again. Bending, holding. Waiting. Waiting to exhale.

More than anything else, I know Sophia is missed (very much so). Her stories, her laughter, her curiosity. Her playfulness. All of it. I know they wonder if she will forget them.

I know I made holes in their hearts. I know I made a hole in her heart. She misses her family. She misses her Caity and Madrinha, her tio Luis, avô and avó, nana and grandad. Her Peyton. She wishes they’d come for dinner. (And I wish I could make it so.)

It’s difficult finding the joy in this adventure. Because creating this adventure also created holes in hearts.

People will tell me, no doubt, that I do need to find the joy in things. And they’re absolutely right. But…

…when your normal is an aching heart, joy feels strange. Foreign. Invasive. Guilty. I don’t know how to hold all of that in a fractured heart. Not yet.

Today is my father’s birthday.

I’ve only ever seen or heard my father cry twice in my lifetime.

The first occasion was at a family wake when we lost a dear cousin to a freak car accident. The memory is faint, I was young and I didn’t understand what had happened. I didn’t understand the sense of loss that was being expressed by the entire family.

The second occasion was on the day we left Johannesburg for Wellington. I knew my father wasn’t coming to the airport to see us off. I called from my sister’s house to say my farewells. There was the usual superficial chatter about how we were, the weather and if were all packed up and ready for the flight. Deep conversation has never been something we do, mostly because we don’t have a common language with which to express complex ideas and feelings. My Portuguese is rudimentary at best*, and my father’s English is a charming mix of odd words and expressions that he’s picked up having lived in South Africa for 40 years. Also, my father isn’t good with expressing emotion of any kind. That’s just how he is.

After wishing us well, he began to cry and he said in a choked voice: “I’m going to miss you.” He spoke in English as if to impress upon me his meaning.

Today I miss my dad. I miss that we won’t be going over to my folk’s place for lunch in celebration of his birthday. I miss that he won’t sweetly chastise me for giving him a present instead of saving the money for something ‘more important’, and yet he’ll be smiling so broadly because I remembered. I’m sad because we won’t gather around the table to eat my mom’s roast chicken, and he won’t pour a straight whiskey on the rocks for my husband and brother, even though they object a little too much. He won’t offer my mom, sister nor I a tot of aniz**.  We won’t eat too much, and then an hour later have coffee with a thick slice of my mom’s bolo de laranja***. And just when we’re about to leave, my daughter won’t take a little walk with my dad down to the spaza shop and help herself to a little chocolate, a bottle of bubbles, and a packet of chips. My dad won’t absolutely insist that we take some pimpinela or couve from their garden, or leftovers from Sunday lunch, home with us. And I won’t stand outside with my mom and siblings, hovering at the car doors, having one last conversation that lasts 45 minutes whilst my dad darts in and out of the house gathering more food to send home with us. None of that will happen.

And I am sad for it.

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*we were never formally schooled in the language

** a traditional aniseed liqueur made in Madeira; each bottle typically contains a dried aniseed stem with lovely crystals that form around it.

*** bolo de laranja = ‘cake of orange’; this is a recipe of my mother’s making. pimpinela = chayote. couve = collard greens.