If you had asked me 2 weeks ago, I would have never thought it possible that we would be making phone calls asking about funeral arrangements for such a young life. Weeks before, I had been prompted to read the words of Job when everything had been taken from him, and share them with my daughter. I Also shared the Song “Though You Slay Me” by Shane and Shane.
I’ve been playing this song on repeat for maybe 3 weeks and I thought God was just asking for faith in this time while we wait for my husband’s visa. I was not expecting the police call or the day that would unfold. My daughter’s best friend was missing and as we found out later that day, had passed away.
I have questioned God’s goodness and love, and where He was as she died, as I am sure others have. I have been in denial and angry, as I am sure others have been too. I have questioned my own role in her loneliness or her view that she was not valuable.
Here I am sitting in my car remembering my daughter’s face yesterday as her friend’s coffin was lowered into the grave. She has seemed strong but I wonder what questions have raged through her mind.
I have remembered my own struggles when I was younger, about Tadiwa’s age, and how God got me through … and yet, here is a beautiful child no longer with us, a child who professed Christ and was so loving and caring … how could he not give her hope? I have wondered why he saves some and doesn’t others, and how He could ever find glory in this … and I have no answers …
You often hear people talk about depression and “mental health” as white people problem, often conflating mental health with depression or mental health disorders. You cannot end the stigma of mental health or make mental health normal. Mental health is just mental health and does not mean poor mental health just like heart health does not mean poor heart health.
Mental health issues exist in Africa … yes, we may have lower suicide rates and lower diagnoses of depression and other ailments but there are issues and I don’t mean the kind you see exhibited in the classic eating out of the garbage, taking clothes off in public way. We see it clearly in people who lose a loved one and sink so deep in a depressive state that they die within six months. Those are the classic forms of mental health issues we see and acknowledge but mental health issues can vary for each person.
Most African societies are connected societies and we have people around us; There’s always a grandmother to talk to when you have problems or when you want a relaxed chat. Because our families and friends are so close, we learn we belong and even when the world feels like its caving in, we have a safe space in our families. That is the key, I think to our low expression of mental health issues … our clans provide a mitigating factor, there’s someone who says something encouraging even when we haven’t shared our problems, there’s always someone, when your nuclear family isn’t safe, because the child belongs to the whole family. We learn resilience by watching our large clan go through things and still stand, and by people holding us up when we feel lost and without hope. That’s why I think resilience is a community trait and not an individual one.
Don’t think I am parading African cultural practices as the best in the world, every culture has it’s good and bad, the point is, we do community well and I believe that mitigates our mental health woes. When we move to a country like Australia where life is so fast paced, and there is so few of us, these issues become more pronounced and hearing your people say “we don’t suffer from such things, we are African,” is not only unhelpful, it is damaging. We all struggle and fall and minimising other people’s pain because it doesn’t fit our perceptions is dangerous.
We claim mental health issues do not exist in our communutues, and yet, we buried a sweet soul yesterday, an African child, who seemed happy and okay … who has broken so many hearts and left her friends and family so wondering what they could have done differently. A child in her prime, who felt so out of hope that death at her own hands seemed like a way out. It all seems like a bad dream and I keep expecting to hear a story from my daughter about what Tadiwa is doing with her life. Everything is now in the past tense … Rest in peace Tadiwanashe Kapatika, aptly named, in your friendship with our child, “we have been loved by God.” In your gentle nature and excellence, “we have been loved by God.” We may not understand, but God who sees all and holds you, has every answer.