Qaanitah Hunter on humour amid the chaos: 'We laugh because there are no more tears'

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Qaanitah Hunter shares her thoughts on death and using dark humour to cope with it all. Image supplied.
Qaanitah Hunter shares her thoughts on death and using dark humour to cope with it all. Image supplied.

My friends and family cringe, but I can never resist a bout of dark humour. It is probably the cynical journalist in me. A coping mechanism, my therapist tells me.

I recently joked to family and friends that I hoped the angel of death was getting paid a bonus because he sure has been working overtime. I was met with blank stares, but I couldn't help but chuckle at the thought that if the angel of death wasn't being paid a fair wage, probably the EFF Labour desk can help him. Funny, not funny.

I, like so many people, have been crippled with an unprecedented amount of loss around me. Over 40 000 people have died from Covid-19 in South Africa, and so many of us have felt this. Some closer than others.

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My dad did not die from Covid-19, but the cause of death seems a bit irrelevant in a pandemic. Grieving the loss of a loved one during this time is lonely and dreadful. My terrible dark humour would say I don't recommend it. (Why am I this person?!) 

The trauma of death during a pandemic is multifold.The first observation I made after the news of my dad's passing was the speed with which the hospital released his body.

After only a few hours in the hospital, his passing meant a bed was available to try and save another person's life. Then comes the decision around planning a funeral without having time to process the gravity of the loss. That decision is steeped in the anxiety of what if this becomes a super spreader event for Covid-19, what if we all get sick and worst, what if no one comes.

I reminded myself to be grateful; at least we were able to have a funeral for him. The person buried next to him was buried with his family not seeing him in weeks.

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The suddenness of my dad's passing was painful, but I drew comfort in that he did not suffer. I tried to find the silver lining in everything. Other people had it far worst than us, I told myself.

A few days later, a neighbour passed on, thereafter one, two, three close family friends, then a friend lost her father and brother hours apart. While colleagues were passing, people I have reported on were dying and family members of loved ones dying every day.

One story was worse than the other.

It also doesn't help to be a journalist and having a front-row seat to the heartbreaking and devastating stories of pain and loss.

The difficulty of loss during this time is that before you fully process this death, there is already the shock of the next. 

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My family WhatsApp group has been filled with daily messages of people we know dying. Through all of that, I have become robotic in my response. It is hard to process someone's passing when there's already another death you have to deal with.

When my uncle passed away, I was gutted. The loneliness of his funeral spooked me and the worry for those closest to him all battling Covid-19 made it so difficult."The United Nations must call a moratorium on deaths now," I joked to a friend. She didn't laugh.

I knew that the toll of all the deaths around me was creeping up on me and thankfully, I have supportive employers who agreed that I take half a day to deal.

But then the death of minister Jackson Mthembu threw that out of the window, and by Friday afternoon, I was completely and utterly emotionally spent.

A friend so kindly offered to cook for me. She listened as I spoke about the death around me, the loneliness of grieving and the absurdity of the devastation caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.

She spoke to me about her 18-day ordeal with Covid-19 and how she thought it would be her last breath on numerous occasions. "You can't die because you still have to bake for me," I joked. "I can't die because I still need to get married," she chuckled back.  

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Midway through the deeply comforting conversation, my friend got an unsuspecting call that her stepfather collapsed and passed away instantly. By this time numbness had set in. There were no tears.

We went about the motions dealing with the accessory trauma: will she make the funeral? Are we violating curfew? Will the burial be a super-spreader of Covid-19? Will anyone be there at all? 

On the way back, a friend called to check up on me. "Friend, there's just too much death," the person said. "Yeah, at some point my employers are probably going to think I am making it up… who knows, I could be Carl Niehaus and faking family deaths," I joked. We laughed. I felt better. 

I later checked in with my aunt, whose husband we just buried and was in the hospital recovering from Covid-19.

"How are you?"

"I enjoyed the steak you sent. I thought it was Wagyu. Meanwhile, it was labelled ward 8," she responded. We laughed.

"It tasted like Wagyu. I could get used to this hotel," she joked from her hospital bed in the high care unit. 

We laugh because there are no more tears.

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