Seven Year Anniversary: Counting My Blessings Through the Lens of the Pandemic.

Celebrating another year into my journey of grief and healing against the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic. It goes without saying that the past year has been tough with widespread hospitalizations and deaths due to the virus. The situation at some point was dire and the picture grim. There was pervasive fear as anxiety levels shot through the roof. The surge went unabated for a period. It seemed like there was no end in sight, but thankfully that began to change with the introduction of vaccines meaning that we were able to breathe easy again. We weathered the storm and now, it seems the worst may be over. We survived! To God be the glory! However, my heart goes out to all the families and friends who lost loved ones to the deadly virus: you remain in my thoughts and prayers.

Seven years ago, Jeggan exited the train of life and arrived at his final destination. Sadly, his time on earth was over and in May, 2014, he bade us farewell. In a twinkling of an eye, Jeggan was no more. The most precious gift ever entrusted to me had been taken away. Jeggan went home to be with His Creator. The doors of the train slammed shut behind him and my journey continued without him. I have been on my own journey ever since, travelling solo without my beloved travelling companion. Oh, how I miss him! He brought me so much joy and when he transitioned, I was left desolate. His departure taught me hard lessons, far more difficult than any I had ever been taught. I learned among other things, endurance and gratitude, and so I have been able to press on. I have been able feel gratitude in spite of my immense loss.

Seven years into my difficult journey, I have learned to be grateful for each new day and to deal with whatever life throws at me. The experiences of my journey, the learning curves and every day nuggets of blessings all remind me of how far I have come. There are times when the unfamiliarity of the routes makes the journey difficult, but strength, perseverance, and courage have helped me navigate unknown terrains and I have pressed on even though I know not where this journey will lead me. Like I said earlier there have been blessings too. The quarantine resulting from the pandemic was an especially difficult time. I was frequently blindsided overwhelmingly by grief and this threatened to cast a shadow over my blessings and derail whatever progress I had made. Fortunately, I have learnt to be patient with myself in especially moments of unguarded grief and instead dutifully count my blessings. The blessings have kept me anchored and I have avoided being derailed. The difficulties I have encountered have been mitigated by God’s grace and compassion, and so I have been able to plod on. I am constantly reminded and greatly encouraged by Jeggan’s favorite mantra, “It’s all good, Mum.” Indeed, it’s all good, Son. A Luta Continua!

I recall with a profound sense of gratitude how earlier on in my journey I was thrown a powerful lifeline that salvaged me from the brink of the abyss. It is an experience that continues to resonate with me to this day. It started with a deliberate online search on how to cope with the loss of a child. I remember stumbling across the websites of ‘Compassionate Friends’ and ‘Alive Alone.’ This was a desperate attempt to fill the void I was experiencing at the time. I voraciously read through gut-wrenching posts, blogs, stories of mothers who had lost one or more children. The experience was surreal and at the same time a gamechanger. Before long, my perspective of my own loss and grief was not only severely challenged but also gradually transformed into a more realistic experience. Almost immediately, I experienced a deep sense of connection with the mothers on the site. “Pain is a powerful connector,” and indeed we are stronger together. I identified with the pain of these women some of whom were decades into their journeys. In the years since, I have learnt to manage my expectations and there is no one size fits all – each with her own journey. More importantly, as a result of the bravery of others who were willing to share their, stories of hurt, I found strength in my own journey. There is “power in vulnerability.” I was further inspired by their selfless acts of love and compassion to share my own story. I owe them a debt of gratitude and I feel obligated to repay in kind. For the first time a brief account of Jeggan’s life will be published in the 2021 summer edition of the Alive Alone bulletin. My hope is that may be, and just may be someone else might find comfort and hope from my story of pain in the same way I found comfort and hope in the stories of others. What a blessing!

It is apparent that life’s tapestry is wisely interwoven with both challenges and blessings. In spite of the disruptive, devastating and lingering nature of the pandemic, many valuable lessons have been learnt such as how nothing should be taken for granted. Having to be quarantined during the worst periods of the pandemic which was marked by isolation, loneliness, grief and health issues was a challenging time. Thankfully, my experiences have taught me that the steeper the learning curve, the bigger the blessings. More so, the race is not to the swift neither the battle to the brave. The challenges and setbacks have turned out to be opportunities for learning and growth. Deep in the ruins, raging storms, red light moments or just simply in the state of waiting are nuggets of blessing hidden in plain sight. Meanwhile, I continue to acknowledge the struggles, thankful for the lessons and treasure the everyday blessings.

The quarantine period presented opportunities for more healthy lifestyle changes. The moment was seized just when I started battling feelings of anxiety and grief. Gripped by fear of heading down a rabbit hole, I had to pause and reflect on how to keep moving forward in my journey without jeopardizing the gains made over the years in one fell swoop. Anyway, without giving in to stress and anxiety, my green thumb kicked into gear and before long my home has been transformed into a work of art with beautiful and thriving house plants everywhere. Furthermore, I created and designed my own Zen space for my budding meditation and yoga practices. It is also a space for my quiet time and reading. Staying fit was thrown into the mix and soon regular exercises became part of my daily routines. My fit bit became my most treasured companion and was motivated by it to push through my daily exercises and staying fit. This was my “Quarantine Moment,” incredible moments of opportunity and blessing.

I refer to the struggles encountered in my journey as my Red-Light moments. Given the experiences and lessons of my journey, I have come to view and understand moments of red-lights as temporary stops, hurdles or distractions. Understandably, feelings of anger and frustrations may be stirred in such unwelcomed moments. However, it was crucial for me to stay focused and look out for the blessings which are usually part of the equation. Turning red-light moments into opportunities for redirection, recalibration or re-engagement helps me to see the best in any situation regardless of the outcome. Also, the lesson of being patient and hanging on a little longer is all that is sometimes needed to turn a bad situation around. As difficult as my red-light moments have been, I am grateful for each one of them. Being in the state of waiting can no doubt be frustrating and debilitating. It takes patience and courage to remain in such a state for any period of time especially when one has little or no control over the outcome. But similar to other challenges, blessings can be experienced either while or after waiting. In the last two years of Jeggan’s life, all I did was remain in the state of waiting. Waiting and praying for Jeggan to recover from one bout of illness to another. Even though the outcome was tragic and undesirable, I encountered unbelievable acts of love, kindness and compassion. To this day, I continue to count my blessings. In like manner, waiting for the imminent return to normal life during the pandemic has been another lesson in waiting. Since then, waiting has become an integral and necessary part of my grief and healing journey and by far proven to be the most important lesson of my journey. Waiting results in blessings

Reporting on the Jeggan Cole Memorial Foundation (JCMF) has become a permanent feature of my yearly blog. The Foundation like other institutions and organizations experienced some setbacks due to the pandemic. Schools were closed temporarily and there was a pause on the library project. In order to stay relevant, we functioned around the situation as best as possible. Mentoring for example was switched to an online activity and this made it possible to stay connected with scholars. Following months of closure, students eventually returned to school with no issues of COVID, hospitalizations or loss of life, and for that we are thankful. The first and second phases of the library project were successfully undertaken and completed. With much of the structural work completed, equipping the library with the necessary furniture, computers and books is being planned for the next three phases. At this point, I wish to encourage friends, supporters and partners of the Foundation to kindly consider investing in the Foundation particularly in our scholars and other disadvantaged students in the community. Your contributions, no matter how small will certainly make a difference. JCMF is determined to change the narratives out there – one student at a time – so that together we can put an end to pervasive and generational poverty. JCMF remains grateful to our partners, friends and volunteers who continue to oil the wheels of the Foundation in pursuit of their goals. Be a part of this growing change.

To Jeggan, my son in heaven, I love and miss you so much. The pain that I feel certainly comes from a place of love. I will continue to hold your memory close to my heart and honor your legacy until like you, I someday reach my destination and exit the train of life. Meanwhile Jeggan, my love for you will never wane or wax cold. Your name will remain on my lips for as long as I have breadth. For as long as I live you will always be my son and I, your proud mother. You have been nothing but a blessing me and for that I thank you. So, sleep on my dear son and rest in God’s eternal peace.

Finally, I am thankful for the end of one chapter and with bated breath look forward to the next. I acknowledge the challenges as well as the opportunities and blessings which continue to shape my journey. I was chosen for this journey and not the other way around. Therefore, I am willing to follow my tracks to wherever they take me. So, as another chapter dawns, I step out in faith knowing that I walk not alone. And to all the people who continue to check on me, inspire and believe in my journey, I say ‘Ubuntu’ – I am because we are. When it’s all said and done, the hubbub dies down and each to their corner, may we appreciate the fact that we are bound together by our shared humanity. May the challenges, opportunities, lessons, new growth and blessings in the coming year be met with humility and courage.

“Good men must die but death cannot kill their names.”

“Grief never completely ends. The scenery changes, and the terrain becomes easier, but there is no point of arrival.