Thikho Tshikolomo’s family gathered for a funeral in the summer of 2020, little did they know that three weeks later they would be together again.
As challenging as 2020 was for everyone, Thikho was grateful that his family had not experienced Covid-19. He had been to small social gatherings and in contact with people who were Covid-19 positive, but his tests always came back negative. As the year came to an end, they unfortunately had to bury one of their own in their home in Venda.
As much as they followed Covid-19 protocols at supermarkets and workplaces, they found it a little difficult to social distance with people they had to console and spend time with. At African funerals, families work together, slaughter cows, have prayer sessions and prepare for the funeral. The arrangements often include the whole family sleeping over, cooking and sharing family stories in the evenings.
When Thikho left his home, his mother was bedridden due to fatigue from the funeral. He was grateful and happy to have been with the whole family, but it was time to go back to work.
He suddenly experienced a sore throat when he returned to his apartment in Johannesburg. It was nothing alarming, but he went and got tested for Covid-19 for the third time. He had no doubt it would come back negative; he had done it a couple of times before and he was fine each time.
The test came back positive.
Even then, the family thought it would be a walk in the park because he was young, looked healthy and was generally cheerful. To their surprise, Thikho had to be admitted into a hospital due to shortness of breath.
While they were worried about him, the rest of the family began to experience Covid-19 symptoms and tested positive as well. It was a devastating time because they were unable to care for each other.
His mother’s symptoms escalated from fatigue to trouble breathing and she was admitted into hospital ICU.
Three days after, there was a silver lining, Thikho had recovered and was being discharged. This was good news, so it was finally their cue to inform Thikho’s grandmother of the hospitalisation of her daughter. As soon as his grandmother heard, she collapsed and passed on. This was her second daughter who had been admitted into hospital due to Covid-19 complications, a week after she had buried the other.
They gathered for the funeral but received the news of Thikho’s mother being back in ICU and passing away shortly after.
“It was as if she knew her mother had passed on,” Thikho says desolately. “We thought our biggest hurdle would be informing her about the passing of her mother, but we lost her too.” Thikho is heartbroken but he is grateful to have a supportive, tight knit family.
Covid-19 has affected our lives in so many ways, and it continues to create a domino effect of bittersweet experiences for most of us. While some of us have not overcome the challenges of the pandemic, we hope that there will be a light at the end of the tunnel.