I wonder if Mandela feels like my grandmother at this point in time
June 11, 2013 § 15 Comments
Old people die because they are old not because they are sick. On January 27 2011, after Nelson Mandela’s hospitalization, he released the following statement, “I am not sick, I am old.”
His most recent hospitalization reminded me of old people within my family. My mother’s side of the family has been blessed with longevity. My grandfather, Alfred Kaiser Boyce, had four siblings, all of them died over the age of 85 bar one who lived a short life of 66 years. To the rest of her siblings, it was like she died a mere teenager. The oldest was 98 when she passed on, although I have even heard that she was 108 according to some accounts because there was no birth certificate. My grandfather was 87 when he finally made the curtain call.
I remember one of his siblings, Nofour Boyce (yes, that was her name), who got married into the Dandalas, who passed away at the ripe old age of 94, was old as far back as I can remember. She was always old, always had a walking stick, always wore glasses and her hair was always grey. She was never young in eyes.
My grandfather, Kaiser Boyce, would visit her every single day. They lived in the same village some 3 kilometers apart. They would sit on her veranda all day talking, sometimes my grandfather would leave in a huff and get on his horse because of some argument they might have had. Yet he’d be back the next day.
After his wife, Victoria Boyce, passed on, he’d get on one of his horses to visit his sister more frequently than before. More often than not, the horse he rode was Commando, his favourite one. I remember how mad he would get if he gave one of his horses to someone for one errand or another and it was returned with sweat stains. That always told him that whoever rode the horse rode it hard and didn’t much care for it. The culprit would never ever be given one of his horses ever again.
I was not in the village when he passed away a few years ago. He was in extreme pain from his illness for a long time. Seeing him in pain, pained us. It was as if pain was slowly taking life away from him every time he had to be rushed to hospital. When he eventually passed away, there was a sad relief that the pain had finally decided to give him rest.
Nofour was left alone when he died. Her husband had passed away in the early 70s. Perhaps my grandfather felt a brotherly responsibility towards his older sister. He was after all the only male out of all his siblings. As Xhosa culture dictates, he had to be the man of the house now.
Nofour Dandala became really lonely when Kaiser Boyce passed away. There was no one old enough to share the memories of old with. And she became very sickly. Every now and then she would be rushed to hospital after she turned 87. When she fell sick, she would ask the villagers to call a priest for her because she thought she was going to die. When the priest did eventually arrive she would chase him away.
As she advanced further in years, her memory started to fade and so did her eye sight, so much so that even the glasses did not seem to help. She began to forget her grandchildren too. Yet she never forgot me even though I was not one of her direct grandchildren, I was her brother’s grandchild. Perhaps that was because I’d visit her with my grandfather as a child.
One day while I was visiting her at the hospital in Johannesburg a few weeks before she passed away, she said to me, “You know my child, I realized my mind was not what it used to be when I asked for my brother a few years ago. I was angry because he had stopped visiting me. I was so mad at him. I wanted to know why. Then I was told that he had passed away, and that I had been at the funeral. I cannot tell you the pain I felt that day, missing my brother and realizing that my mind is also going. I know that it is time for me to go now to be with my siblings. When you are old and have no one, you just want to go because you are just tired.” A few days after that she stopped talking all together. My cousin and I would go to her bedside everyday and we’d joke amongst ourselves, every now and then, we’d see a faint smile through her closed eyes and through the pipe in her mouth.
Now, as Mandela has gone on another hospital trip, I wonder if he feels like my grandmother, or as we called her, uKhulu.