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How a surprise birthday call brought me the gift of healing I had longed for

How a surprise birthday call brought me the gift of healing I had longed for

Sometimes, birthday wishes do come true.

Each year, I would call my family on my birthday, confronting them for their forget-fulness. But this year, something changed.

As an African child, growing up in an African household, I knew that you never question anything. Whenever a child questioned things they didn’t understand, the easy answer was to dismiss the child.

As I grew older, I understood why. More often than not, it was because the adults never knew the answers.

I have always been that curious, questioning child. I was never satisfied with “it’s always been like that” or “it’s always been done like that”.

When I moved to Cape Town at the age of 19 to live with my mother and siblings, after being raised by my aunt, my mother recognised that I was unlike her other children.

She nicknamed me “Nokhontoni,” meaning “what will happen,” in reference to my questioning of certain African traditions. Over time, she adapted, offering explanations when I sought them.

But this curiosity and ability to feel things deeply has caused me pain, particularly in my family dynamics.

As a nurturer of the family, I give tirelessly, often neglecting my own needs. The assumption is that I’m self-sufficient, always the caregiver, never the one in need of care.

As long as I can remember, I was always the first one to be called when there was a crisis in the family. This is in spite of being a third child. When my older siblings passed away, I naturally stepped into my first child role which I’ve been living even when they were still alive.

Each year, I would call my family on my birthday, confronting them for their forgetfulness while I never forgot theirs. But this year, something changed.

A week before my 41st birthday, I called my mother to ask why no one ever thought to check on me, unless there was bad news. Initially shocked, my mother became defensive but couldn’t deny the truth in my words. I reminded her that no one even called to wish me a happy birthday.

I then went about preparing for my 41st birthday celebration. The day before my birthday, my phone rang. It was my mother. My heart raced, fearing the worst. Instead, I was greeted by a chorus singing “Happy Birthday.” Overwhelmed, I broke down. My niece revealed they had bought me a gift — the first I’d ever received from them.

A week later, a beautiful set of silver studs and a matching necklace arrived. I felt like I had won the lotto. I’ve never felt so happy.

A month later, my mother fell ill. I invited her to stay with me so I could care for her. For the first time, I looked after her not out of obligation, but out of genuine love and gratitude.

We talked into the early hours, sharing wisdom and experiences. I rubbed her feet each night before she went to sleep.

Our relationship has transformed, deepening into a friendship that I’ve longed for. This is the healing I’ve needed for years. I’m grateful it has finally arrived.

Liziwe Ndalana

Change expert, Liziwe Ndalana, believes that the big change equals big opportunity.

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