Sibongile Mafu

What?! Old people die?

2013-01-30 10:45

Sibongile Mafu

My great grandmother completed a solid innings this week.  She died peacefully in her sleep at 103 years old. When my mother told me the news, all I could say back to her was: "I thought Gogo was immortal."

There was always that hope in my mind that Gogo would break the Guinness World Record for the oldest person to have ever lived, but unfortunately she fell short by two decades.

The last time I saw here was several years back, as she lives in the rural Free State. She only spoke Sotho, and I only know how to greet in Sotho so we communicated through a lot of nodding and hand-holding.

I tried to explain to her that the oldest living person to ever live was merely 122 when she died, so she could hang on until then. All she could do was snort snuff and laugh while pretending to understand what I was saying. We communicated, but there was always a barrier, one that I knew would be very hard or impossible to break.

There's something about the really old people in your life that makes you believe that they have no other option but to live forever. The invaluable lessons they teach you, the way they look after you, the selflessness they show towards those they love. I believe I learnt kindness through my grandparents and great grandparents, but there was always a sense that only they could champion my cause for so long before I had to take over. There will come a point when I have to represent my interests, and an older representative just won’t cut it anymore.

It comes as a shock to me when old people I like die, even though I know they're old and the only logical step is for them to go. It may be the naiveté of youth or the wonderful delusion that the world should only be filled with the people that you want around you, but it's still a shock every time. There's always someone to run to when things don't work out, someone to speak for you when you're too gripped by fear to talk, but even through all of this, they who never fully understand what is it that matters to you the most, only because they lived at a different time.

South Africa in particular fascinates me in terms of this wave of the older generation leaving, and young people having to carve their own way with the help of some of the wisdom the old folk have left behind.

We live in a country that is still adamant that older is better. I don't know how much longer that will last, but certainly nature will have a say. There's a comfort that the so-called sager of the species brings. We cling onto them because they have seen what we could only imagine. They have seen what we only know in books and movies. They lived it, and letting go of them, may mean letting go of a bit of our history. Maybe that's a bit simplistic, but it's definitely how I felt when I lost my grandparents and great grandparents.

But now it's time for those of us who have yet to experience arthritis and hot flashes to take over, and steer this broken ship in the right direction. It will take many years to get it on course, we may not be around to see the change, but like any good advertisement, we'll have to get it right for "future generations".  What an incredibly fortunate generation that will be.

- Sibongile is a videographer, blogger and social media enthusiast who would be nothing without her thumbs. Follow her on Twitter: @SboshMafu.

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