Grace : from Benoni Daycare Centre
(Name changed to protect her identity)
THIS IS HER STORY
*Grace was born in the Boksburg/ Benoni Hospital in 1975 into a family of three, mom, dad and baby brother and eventually the only girl child with three brothers. The family lived in Etwatwa in an informal settlement. Grace recalls happy times as a family, going to primary school in the area.
That was to change however when the parents decided to part company that resulted in the family splitting and all going separate ways. The brothers in the dad’s care, went to Bushbuckridge and Grace in the care of her maternal grandmother went to live in Dennilton. Mom sought employment wherever she could, often going as far afield as Pretoria.
This change happened in the middle of the year and prevented Grace carrying on her education that year. She started school afresh the next year.
Sadly, some years later Grace’s grandmother passed away. Grace’s wellbeing now became the responsibility of her paternal grandmother. This entailed another move but she could carry on her education. In 1993 in Grade10 Grace became pregnant. Her mother, no longer working in Pretoria found a place for them to stay in Etwatwa, and Grace gave birth to a baby girl “Thandi”.
Mom did piece jobs wherever she could to supplement the child support grant and looked after the baby while Grace returned to school to finish her education. She matriculated in 1997 and went on to study office administration.
Around this time, Grace’s mother became ill. The clinic diagnosed that she was HIV positive. This was at the time when anti-retrovirals were controversially unavailable so the momentum of that status gradually gave way to full blown AIDS. Grace nursed her mother through these incredibly difficult and sad times. Her mom finally succumbed to pneumonia and passed away.
Grace was employed for a while but unfortunately no other employment was forthcoming. Meantime she was pregnant again and gave birth to a son, Siphiwe. There was no paternal support and Grace struggled bringing up 2 children on her own, but managed!
Grace became ill and was diagnosed with HIV and TB. She was put on the community Dot program and her daily treatment was supervised and given to her at home. Despite medication her health continued to deteriorate. Mr Mnissi, the local TB counsellor, recognising how critical Grace’s health was and how minimal her support was, referred her to Hospice East Rand. Sr Lethiwe duly registered Grace as a hospice patient attending to her specific needs while liasing with Mr Mnissi in terms of the Dot support. It was a shared responsibility.
Grace got very ill, she had bronchitis which rapidly developed to pneumonia. In hospital she was told that she had only 50% functioning lung on the left side. The TB damage had been severe. Her pneumonia was treated but she remained very ill and weak. Her weight loss was constant, she could not eat. The doctors in the hospital refused to discharge her unless she was taken care of by relatives. That was eventually organised and her dad’s aunt agreed to look after her.
This was the beginning of a 6 month life of hell.
Too weak to know what was happening to her, she was transferred to the aunt’s home for care. Her children were taken care of by a family member on her mother’s side. Grace was housed in a derelict room at the side of the house. The door locked at all times. The relatives only fed her pap. She had a container for her ablutions which was only emptied once a day. She was totally cachectic. One day when the adults were not present a young family member came into the room and started pushing her about, she fell and bruised her ankle and Grace could hardly walk. When the aunt returned, she feared what she saw and called an ambulance to take Grace to the hospital. The foot was x-rayed and found badly strained but not broken. Because of the strapping, Grace was immobilised and used a walking frame for support.
That night it was late when they arrived back at the house and because of the turmoil of the day the door was not locked and an opportunity of salvation for Grace. One frail determined lady hobbled with her walking frame into the death of night persuing her escape. Her mission - to get to the nearest taxi rank! Bravely she trod step by step until finally she found a taxi and proceeded to plead with the driver for help. She had no money to offer but her distress was all too evident and the driver undoubtedly overwhelmed by her plight drove her to the place she wanted to be! She was grateful beyond words.
She found herself at the old home that she and her mother had occupied and there was no one there. There was nothing there, she had nothing, yet she had everything … she was free!
She managed to get to the clinic the next day and met up with Mr Mnissi who informed Sr Lethiwe from Hospice East Rand. Sr Lethiwe was overjoyed to see her. She had missed her and did not know why she had disappeared.
Sr Lethiwe became her life line. She would see her once week and continued to share her progress with Mr Mnissi. Upon each visit, Sr Lethiwe had something to offer Grace, be it a home cooked meal, food, blankets, even a dining room table and chairs. The shack she was staying in was hardly a shack “ more like a chicken run! ‘’ said Sr Lethiwe.
This relationship cemented the road to recovery for Grace. Years pass and Grace slowly but surely recovered.
Thanks to the incredible care of Hospice East Rand through the capable and caring hands of Sr Lethiwe and the committed service of Mr Mnissi, Grace is now a captivating, well rounded and dignified lady and has been coming to the Daycare at Hospice East Rand since 2002. She is well loved there. In Benoni town she has a little business, selling shoes and atchar.
Her daughter has grown up to be an incredibly gifted young lady. She studied biochemistry and was offered an opportunity to further her studies in Holland next year! Her son is in Grade12 this year and doing well!
Grace is an incredible example of courage, fortitude and amazing personal strength!
Asked how she managed to sustain these qualities she says it was due to her relationship and trust in God.
On that same journey Grace acknowledges the incredible support from Sr Lethiwe who she refers to now as her “Mother.” This is a fitting testimony to a brave woman and a hospice service beyond the call of duty!
Volunteer Irene with patients at Benoni Daycare