Intro: Local author, Ace Moloi, captured the hearts of many local readers when he turned a letter to his late mother into a book (Holding My Breath) about grief and healing.
By:Thanduxolo “Thandz” Buti
Ace Moloi’s debut novel, Holding My Breath is hauntingly beautiful. But then again how can a story of a young man raised by a single mother until death claimed her when he was only thirteen, forcing him into a life of heartache, depression and poverty, not move one to tears.
His book may spark a conversation about life after the death of a loved one but it also shows us that there is joy and love on the other side, after all.
We had a chat with Ace and dug deeper into his journey with grief.
What inspired you to revisit such a dark period in your life and document it?
Ace Moloi: I was fully persuaded that there are many people who are walking corpses that could only be puffed back into life by my book. But I also needed to face myself and my existential contradictions as contained in my past, naked, without anything as a loincloth. I thank God that indeed the record of the book since its release speaks for itself in this regard.
Reading your story is quite moving but unbearable at times. How did the process of writing the book impact on you emotionally?
Ace Moloi: The journey of writing this book was emotionally heavy. I had to revisit events and people whose actions I had decided to put behind my back. But it was also extremely healing and liberating in a sense that it gave me the opportunity, alone, in the darkness of my room, to confront my past pain. I think at the core of it all is the fact that I literally was having a conversation with my mother as if she is listening to me. The honesty, the vulnerability, but also the excitement of a child reporting good news to his mother, all of it was given the freedom to express itself.
Hurt is stubborn. Depression is like a demon that can only function in a body. It won’t voluntarily cast itself out. You have to wake up everyday with a clear aim to heal
When you have been in such a dark space in your life, as you chronicle in “Holding My Breath”, depression or suicidal thoughts can become shadows that follow you most of your life. Did you experience any of the two?
Ace Moloi: I only started experiencing symptoms of depression and suicide when I was at a far better space in my life – towards the end of my degree and beyond. This is because when I was without bread and I had made bread my sole target in life. I did not allow any other emotion to thrive, except the emotion of ambition. In my observation, it’s not easy for poor people to know themselves as depressed, because their depression is easily distracted or given new identities such as hunger, or unemployment. So, the belief is then that if you find something to eat or a roof over your head, you will be fine. It is only when material suffering ends, that most of us begin to realise that we have other emotional/spiritual needs that go beyond just bread. This has always been the case with me.
From your experience, what is the most important thing that you learned about grief?
Ace Moloi: Grief is a lifetime companion. It never leaves us, especially as it relates to the loss of loved ones. We find different ways to express it, through alcohol, gym, busyness, sometimes church. What I have thus learnt, given the ubiquitous nature of grief, is that it matters a lot how we grieve. If we resort to dangerous means of grieving, we are only worsening the situation. Since we are in grief anyway, we might as well grieve well. Do something good. Bless others through our own mess.
In society we are expected to react a certain way when we have been struck by the death of a loved one. Many expect you to ball your eyes out and completely retreat from life, but I have learned that we process death differently. How do you deal with death?
Ace Moloi: I have become something of a stone when it comes to death. Many people died after my mother and I felt nothing in my heart. I am not sure if I do this intentionally or not. Death claimed the one person who was very close to my heart, so I have felt its sting at its sharpest and most piercing way. I am numb now.
My area of weakness, however, is seeing a sick person. I can’t stand hospitals and sickbeds.
Many people who have lost a parent at a young age find it hard to let go and trust life again. In your opinion, how does one begin to psychologically liberate themselves from such a haunting past and embrace the future?
Ace Moloi: Karl Marx teaches us that a beginner who has just learnt a new language cannot express themselves freely in it unless they let go of their mother tongue. This teaching, though meant for a revolution, is in fact instrumental in any healing process. Healing can only take place when a hurt person decisively and deliberately pursues it. Hurt is stubborn. Depression is like a demon that can only function in a body. It won’t voluntarily cast itself out. You have to wake up everyday with a clear aim to heal, to forget your mother tongue and embrace the future without your parent(s) or loved one.
What would you say to someone who is currently in the inner depths of grief?
Ace Moloi: Your spirit yearns for a relationship with God. There are areas in your life which only God can touch. God is going to meet you at the limit of your efforts and lift you up into a new territory of hope. But you have to do something. You must initiate your own miracle. When you speak with a shaking voice, God will amplify it. When you take one step, He will multiply your pace. Do not compare yourself with other people, especially at a material level. You will depress yourself with other depressed people masked in smiles and outfits of the day. When you take care of your spiritual needs, everything else will fall into place.
Ace Molio was raised in Qwaqwa, Free State and is a media graduate from the University of Free State. He is a communicator, author and blogger.
Holding My Breath is available at all leading book stores.