Healing is a choice.

umzila kawulandelwa
8 min readMay 1, 2023

It’s been two years since the love of my life passed away. This past Wednesday was the 2nd anniversary of his passing. I posted a PSA on my social media accounts asking all the lovely and well meaning people to refrain from texting me about the anniversary on that day. I decided last year that while it is a significant day, it is not special nor important. I sincerely hope someday in the future it will come and go without me even realizing.

I took the day off nonetheless cos you just never know with grief. You think you’re ok and one slight inconvenience you are weeping like it’s happening all over again. To protect myself from that I’d just rather not have to work on that day.

Anyway I’ve been reflecting on the past two years and the progress I’ve made since 26 April 2021. To say I am proud of myself is a such an understatement. I always knew healing, moving forward and general survival were a choice but to see myself actually put into practice all the wisdom I knew and know about healing has just blown me away and made me fall in love with myself all over again.

I am one hundred percent the woman of my dreams. If I had to bet all my life’s savings and possessions on one woman I would put EVERYTHING on me yo. I am so incredibly proud of myself and my unbreakable spirit. Of course I wish life didn’t try to break my spirit but it feels so damn good to know that even if it did, I would survive!! Man, can you bet on yourself like that? Oh I can. I can even take out loans to bet on me cos I know for sure whatever it is, I will survive.

Losing the love of my life was something that completely ROCKED my world. For a while there I couldn’t tell if I was coming or going. It was so damn hard!!! I am proud of myself for asking for help. I was in a really bad space and needed help. And part of my support system is a psychiatrist and clinical psychologist who are bound by law to help me if I come crying to them for help. When they had me hospitalized in July 2021 that was them honoring their promise to save me should I ever drown.

I can swim but even that won’t protect me from drowning. Good swimmers also drown, google it. I was drowning and my support system threw me a life jacket to help me get to the shore. Man oh man. What a journey this has been. Cheryl Strayed is my favorite author ever, ever and she writes so beautifully about healing. I wrote and read a whole lot more than I ever have after my angel passed. In those first few weeks and months it really felt like I had stopped reading and writing for fun. I read and wrote for my life. Read and wrote to save my life. Read and wrote to survive and I wrote about that here.

I’m so thankful I figured out early on how healing reading and writing are for me. I believe everyone has their version of reading and writing that helps get them through tough times. I’m thankful my way of processing my grief was not harmful to me. Grief does sometimes turn people to harmful ways of coping. I chose to heal myself and not inflict more harm on myself.

Looking back, EVERYTHING it has taken for me to get to this day two years later where I feel happy and whole was a choice. Man. I have been stuck on that simple truth for the past two weeks. I CHOSE to be here- happy and whole. Listen. I CHOSE THIS!!!

I like to talk about the concept of parallel lives. There are many other parallel lives I could be living instead of this life I am actually living. I could have chosen to give up on my life when my angel died. I could have packed up and moved into my parents’ house while I waited for my death. I could have taken my life. I could have stayed in my job and just become resentful and mad at the world for the pain it caused me. I could have sworn off love…. the possibilities are endless!

There are many ways this story could have played out. Instead I increased the frequency of my therapy sessions, pursued alternative ways of healing as the grief was threatening to swallow me whole, bought a house, adopted a dog, I quit a toxic job, found a good job, spent lots of time with family, went for massages every week …. SO many good things have happened to and for me in spite of that great tragedy.

“There’s always a sunrise and always a sunset and it’s up to you to choose to be there for it,’ said my mother. ‘Put yourself in the way of beauty.”

― Cheryl Strayed, Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail

I could have shut down, refused to talk and refused to face the pain. But I didn’t. I chose to heal my pain and consequently put myself in the way of beauty. I actively chose to hang with people who made the pain lessen even a little bit. I chose to do more of the things that made me happy to be alive: yummy food (I even taught myself how to braai!), visiting the beach, reading, keeping warm, cuddling with my dog Ry, spending time with my brother and his little family, listening to music (last year I was part of Spotify’s top 1% listeners lol). Basically, if it made me feel even just a little bit good, I did MORE of it!!! Man oh man. I CHOSE this life!

I have no control over what happens and doesn’t happen to me. But I have 100% control over how I respond to it.

“Nobody’s going to do your life for you. You have to do it yourself, whether you’re rich or poor, out of money or raking it in, the beneficiary of ridiculous fortune or terrible injustice. And you have to do it no matter what is true. No matter what is hard. No matter what unjust, sad, sucky things befall you. Self-pity is a dead-end road. You make the choice to drive down it. It’s up to you to decide to stay parked there or to turn around and drive out.”

― Cheryl Strayed, Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar

I didn’t realize until last week that I love Cheryl Strayed’s words about healing so much cos she doesn’t encourage victimhood. As Edith Eger said, “Suffering is universal but victimhood is optional.”. I understand that better now and believe it now that I have been dealt more than my fair share of pain. I could have let my angel’s passing mark the end of my life as well. I could have chosen that. It was one of the many options his death presented me with. I instead chose to rise to the occasion and heal my pain.

I am so incredibly proud of myself. Proud of my strength and my very resilient spirit. I have proven yet again to myself that I AM the girl I think I am. I have taken what was my worst pain and made something beautiful of it. I have a beautiful life! I have a beautiful home I still want to make many memories in. I want to be alive to see my nieces become their own women. Man oh man! There’s just SO much to live for! I wanna visit as many beaches around the world as I can. I want to fall in love again.

I want to live out my life in full. My being here today is a choice. I wanted to take my life three days after my angel died. But I didn’t. That too was a choice. Walking this grief journey has made me realize that the power has always been mine.

“They may have been few in number, but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms- to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s way.”- Viktor E. Frankl

I’ve always loved that quote by Viktor E. Frankl and I have to say I understand it so much better now. Cos I have been so down that it felt like everything had been taken away from me. Even then, I still chose my attitude.

I love this quote from a letter Cheryl Strayed wrote to a mother who lost a baby. I have changed the word ‘mother’ to ‘girlfriend’ and ‘baby’ to ‘boyfriend’ to tailor it to me cos I am writing this for me.

You will never stop loving your [boyfriend]. You will never forget [him]. You will always know [his] name. But [he] will always be dead. Nobody can intervene and make that right and nobody will. Nobody can take it back with silence or push it away with words. Nobody will protect you from your suffering. You can’t cry it away or eat it away or starve it away or walk it away or punch it away or even therapy it away. It’s just there, and you have to survive it. You have to endure it. You have to live through it and love it and move on and be better for it and run as far as you can in the direction of your best and happiest dreams across the bridge that was built by your own desire to heal. Therapists and friends and other people who live on Planet My [Boyfriend] Died can help you along the way, but the healing — the genuine healing, the actual real deal down-on-your-knees-in-the-mud change — is entirely and absolutely up to you.

-Cheryl Strayed

Man oh man!!!! My boyfriend will always be dead. Whether *I* live or die, he will ALWAYS be dead. I choose to live.

Words I live by

Losing the love of my life was the worst thing to happen to me. But you know what? I didn’t let that stop me. If I had, it would been nobody’s fault by my own. THAT power has always been mine. And it will always be. Who knew that pain too could be a gift? It is my pain that has revealed my greatest power to me. No matter the circumstances, I can ALWAYS choose how I respond. I hope my angel can see what I have made of my life and the pain!! I am SO incredibly proud of myself!

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umzila kawulandelwa

I tell stories about my experience of being alive. Perpetually day dreaming of reading and writing by the beach