I think in my life I have ran away from problems in the most creative and spectacular ways and was able to hide almost every bad day I’ve ever had.

When I was a kid I would write and word my poems to hide what I was feeling in the most masterful ways. In my teenage years I just threw myself into my own dream world, where I was perfectly thin, at sports all the time and doing great in school – and nobody knew just how far I was from what they thought I was. After school I moved far away to start over – away from anyone that I ever knew.

Then came the lonely years of clubbing and ‘jawdroppingly’ low cut tops. I was living it up in Joburg and found my best friend. We were the life of almost every place we went… but I was so very lonely.

This was followed by a time of bliss, finally. I started dating my husband, got married, dragged him all over Europe and then infertility, IVF and feeling like I was stuck in a dark room. Nobody at work even knew because when I walked through that door, I left everything at the door. I literally cut myself off from anyone that I knew would recognize that something was amiss. I made sure nobody could see behind my walls.

Just as I thought I had it all together again, I lost my Genie (cat) and mom in just under a year and a half.

When we were in that 5-week moment of watching her get weaker and disappear, I just existed in that isolated room with her, I didn’t think of the baby and toddler at home with my husband and mother-in-law. I felt compelled to just be present in that windowless room. I think I knew from the first day that this was the last time she would leave a hospital.

I still can’t make peace with the fact that I should’ve insisted she see a specialist in Joburg instead of relying on a doctor that in the end, cost me a mother. I knew it in my gut but I let it go because she was so sick.

At her funeral I could read my last letter to her without seeing the words – I stood up there, even if my dad had initially suggested his brother should. It was my place to be up there and I knew I would’ve regretted if I didn’t do it.

I was devastated. I had lost my mom and I had just realized just how far my dad had distanced himself from us, his family. I wasn’t quite ready to step back into that role of mother, so I took a spectacular trip to Cape Town to visit my best friend.

Then lockdown happened and there was nowhere for me to go and no mom that could pull me out of my spiral. We were stuck in that apartment that suddenly became so very small. When we could finally cross a provincial border I made my way north to the Kruger Park to scatter my mom’s ashes with my dad – but in the end I brought her back to my sister, it didn’t feel right. I made a gesture, but I think it meant more to me than to him.

In the last year and a half, I haven’t needed to escape. I stayed. I had to grow up sometime, right? I had to be responsible for the family that I willed, the cats I adopted. I had to be in the life that I wanted to grow old in.

I stayed, because I wanted to.

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Susann is a travel, parenting, beauty and lifestyle blogger in Johannesburg, South Africa.

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