LIVING EACH DAY WITH LOVE
According to World Health Organisation (WHO), in South Africa a suicide occurs every 40 seconds and an attempt is made every 3 seconds. For Letasha Roberts, 16, the shock of the tragic death of her teenage sister has made her aware of how short life can be and has encouraged her to live each day with love.
Letasha was born in Delft, she was the third child, “I had two older sisters (9 and 1). I immediatly became close to Charnè, we were almost the same age and we shared a bedroom. My eldest sister was a bit of a rebel and too old to hang around with us. On a few occasions she assisted us with our homework but that was all.”
“My journey as a middle child began when I was four. My parents had my first younger brother when I was four years old and then three years later my second younger brother was born. I recall my childhood being happy. My sister Charnè started primary school one year earlier than me but she failed in Grade 2, so I caught up with her and we became inseparable. We were in the same class, and would spend breaks together, walk to and from school with each other and we slept in the same room. Life was good.”
Letasha’s family moved to Manenberg when she was 12. “We moved to a smaller house where there were only two bedrooms, all the siblings shared one bedroom. It was difficult at times when we wanted some quiet time or we wanted to study, but overall we were OK. The community was different, I felt Manenberg was a tougher place but I adapted.”
By the time Letasha and Charnè began high school, the two girls had grown to be quite different.
“My sister was so beautiful, I always thought people were jealous of her. I was an average beauty but I did extremly well at school. I joined all the extra mural activities I could, I loved learning. My sister was softer, she would prefer to go home.”
Peers at their school and in the community were quick to compare both sisters.
“I never understood why, but people would say mean things to my sister all the time. They would call her names like stupid because she was not doing as well as me at school or hooker because she had friends that were males. She would tell me she prefered to spend time with the boys because they would not gossip but people would make an issue out of it. Any thing she did gave people the right to bully her.”
Letasha tried to assist and comfort her sister as much as she could but things got worse.
“There was this girl at school that was fixated by my sister. Every opportunity she had, she would make Charnè’s life a nightmare. She would throw papers at her, talk aloud and say derogatory things about her to others when Charnè was present. She would push her around and on one occasion beat her up.”
“I remember this day, whenmy sister arrived home with a black eye. The girl at school had held her head and punched her face with her knee. We were so shocked, my mom took Charnè to the police station and opened a case of assault. The policeman spoke to the bully and warned her but she did not stop.”
Letasha was excelling at school and in the end of Grade 9 an Educator made her an offer she couldn’t refuse.
“I had been the second top learner in my school for the past two years. My English teacher, Mr Lindon Adonis, invited me to have a chat with him. He told me that he saw a lot of potential in me and that I was not material for a Manenberg school. He gave me some forms and told me to apply for a better school the following year. He had decided to sponsor three learners’ tuition fees at my school and I was one of them. I was excited about this opportunity.”
In Grade 10, Letasha joined Alexander Sinton High.
“I moved to study in a school with higher education and better opportunities. The school was great but I really missed not being with my sister and my friends.”
“My sister started doing badly at school and she isolated herself more and more. Even when I tried to reach out to her, she would refuse any help and avoid talking to me. I couldn’t figure out what was really happening to her.”
Letasha recalls that the 14th September 2015 was a weird day. The sky was a strange orange colour, which she had not seen before. She remembers feeling happy and sad at the same time, and as she walked home from school she heard a voice in her head telling her to post a message on Facebook, telling her sister how much she loves her.
When she arrived home from school she found her sister lying on her bed in her school uniform. She greeted her, and remembers that she looked very down and sad.
Letasha then settled down to her daily routine and her books. She remembers her sister giving her a ‘fake’ smile just before she went to the toilet. Her cousin was also around and because she has little patience, she went to knock in the toilet door after few minutes.
The door was locked, and no one answered. She decided to go look through the bathroom window. She couldn’t see clearly so she called Letasha’s mom. All of a sudden, Letasha heard her mother shouting out in shock, pain and confusion… ”Charnè!”
“I knew immediately that something was wrong. I ran to the toilet and pulled and pulled at the door until it broke open!”
“There I saw her hanging from a rope, I remember seeing her face reflected in the mirror. Instantly and instinctively I lifted her up while my mother removed the rope.”
“I felt the warmth of her blood, her pulse, and the contraction and relaxation of her chest. She was still alive. I saw her blue-coloured lips, and that terrified me. I splashed water on her face, as my mother and uncle phoned for an ambulance. There was still no sign of movement from her and I started crying and saying: “Mommy get help quickly, please.”
“My uncle and mom carried my sister to a bed, the ambulance arrived a few minutes later. Two paramedics entered the house, observed my sister and said that they did not have the equipment to assist her. They called for a second ambulance.”
“While we waited, the paramedics said that their ambulance had been robbed at the hospital and all the equipment had been stolen, so they could not do a lot. During this time my sister’s pulse grew weaker and weaker. The second ambulance arrived 20 minutes later, they entered the house and declared my sister ‘deceased’.”
“I can’t explain the pain I felt, I believe I went crazy. I can hardly remember what happened after that. The following days I spent in bed, I refused to eat anything. I remember looking at her empty bed and thinking that she would enter the room any time. I waited, hoping she would return.”
“Her funeral was eight days later. It was a beautiful funeral. It was during the ceremony that I realised she was not coming back.”
The months that followed were very difficult for everyone in the family. Letasha withdrew from life, and just wanted to spend time on her own and sleep.
“I felt so sad and alone. My body felt weak, my life felt as if it had collapsed. I had strong fellings of guilt, I believed that I had abandoned my sister when I left to go to another school and I was partially responsible for what had happened.”
“On a few occasions I thought about ending my life, I just wanted the pain to go away and I wanted to be with my sister. But after some time, I would think I could not do that to my family and friends. I also knew Charnè would want me to continue living, she had always been supportive of my desire to succeed.”
After a few months, Letasha decided to find other ways to deal with her grief. She started playing guitar, writing poetry, doing spiritual dancing and focusing on her studies.
“I still miss my sister tremendously, I think about her every day and I pray for her. But I also have learned that I must not look for reasons to be a failure but rather seek reasons to be a winner. I am striving to make my sister and my parents proud.”
Letasha wants to study to become a neurologist, she is on track and she has continued to be a top achiever in her school.
Letasha concludes by saying, “the biggest lesson I’ve learnt through the tragic death of my sister is to live each day with love. I often tell the people who I care about that I love them. I also make sure that I take the time to talk one-on-one with people, irrespective of whether they look happy or sad. I have discovered that isolation is one of the biggest reasons for suicide. We should all be patient with each other and understand that we all wear masks. Do a good deed each day by caring enough to talk and listen to someone.”
Letasha is a Leaders’ Quest participant