This week Kate partook in one of the monthly Grandmother Program sessions in Lichecheng. This week’s session covered the sensitive topic of Grief and Loss – below the video, you can read about how Help Lesotho approaches the topic.

Grief and Loss

Help Lesotho’s Grief and Loss module is one of the most impactful sessions delivered in any of our programs. The extent of grief that many people in Lesotho experience is overwhelming. Culturally, there are rituals to follow when people pass, but there is also an expectation that grief ends quite abruptly. Children are rarely given support to process the emotions that accompany losing a loved one. Grandmothers are expected to bury person after person as though nothing has happened. With so much grief built up, people are often immobilized. Help Lesotho creates the environment needed for grief to be acknowledged and even welcomed. Only then can people begin to heal and move forward with their lives. 

The 50 grandmothers in the village of Lichecheng gathered at the only community building in their rural village. Most often used as a church, the small hall is equipped with old wooden benches and a few plastic chairs for elders who need the extra support. The building’s three windows open to a spectacular view of the surrounding mountains. 

Help Lesotho’s Senior Program Officer, Mampaka Kunene, has worked with grandmothers for nearly ten years. She knows the Grief and Loss module inside and out, but she still referred to her paper copy in order to not miss a step. She knows how essential it is to walk this journey with the grandmothers in a way they can feel understood. 

Mampaka began by asking the group, “how does it feel when we lose someone?” One grandmother replied “we feel that we are losing our minds”, and the group nodded in agreement. 

Mampaka then shifted her tone, going quiet and soft. She encouraged the grandmothers to think of loved ones they have lost. The grandmothers bowed their heads, covered their faces, whispered to themselves, and let tears roll down their cheeks. They stayed like this for quite some time, the only noise coming from the rattle and squeak of the tin roof shifting in the wind.

After some time, Mampaka began to sing a traditional mourning song. Most grannies did not join in (surprising given that group singing is a favourite Basotho experience). Instead, they rocked back and forth on the benches. Mampaka walked while she sang, putting a hand to a shoulder, offering a tissue, and making eye contact as though to say, “I see you, your grief is welcome, you are accepted as you are.”

A little boy, just 3-years-old, noticed his grandmother crying. He leaned into her chest and then rested his head on her lap. He might have been wondering why their normal roles were reversed, but he understood that she needed him at that moment. 

Grandmothers then took turns sharing their losses. Many have a similar experience of losing their husbands to mining accidents in South Africa. Nearly all have buried at least one child. One grandmother quietly told the group that she had buried seven of her ten children. 

In the end, the grandmothers were asked how they felt. The first grandmother to respond said she feels relieved. Another shares that she “feels like a burden off her shoulders”. Another said that this experience was painful, but now she already feels stronger. 

By opening the door to conversations about grief and remembering loved ones, these grandmothers can now continue to support one another as they take steps to heal their broken hearts.

A few additional photos from the day are included below.

grannies sitting on the grass after a program session