Beryl’s husband, Russel Botman, was the the Rector and Vice-chancellor of Stellenbosch University, he was a church leader and champion for transformation and of socio-economic rights in South Africa.
This book is a timeless and tragic one, about losing a love, and surviving that first relentless year. I think while the whole world has been looking at life before and after the pandemic, this book puts that into perspective: Emotionally there really can be no “before and after” for losing a love. Not only is it a very personal journey of grief, but how Beryl Botman coped with her famous husband’s legacy, not to mention her relationships with colleagues and extended family, and the expectation to “just carry on…”.
The book is written in three parts. The first part refers to the day to day events of the first two weeks, which would have been more than enough to handle at the best of times. The second part follows her journey over the weeks that followed and the third and final section refers to the last few months of her year. Details about how she coped and things that she had to learn how to manage along the way, all the while navigating friends and family relationships, not to mention the physical pain of grief. While the topic of this book is, by its very nature, difficult… the writing is easy to read and the compassion for her readers and concern for women who find themselves in this position, can be felt throughout the book.
Interview Questions with Beryl Botman
- How did you come to write this book?
- The book is written almost as a journal, did you keep a journal during this difficult time? Or have you always kept a journal?
- Who did you write this book for?
- I understand that one never stops grieving, but one does get better at living alongside it. How did writing this book help you with your journey through grief?
- Was there one thing that especially helped you through that first year?
As a language practitioner, I have a passion for language and always knew that I would want to write a book someday. I also believe in writing as an obligation because of the particular education philosophy that I follow, namely the reflective and transformative philosophy in the tradition of Paulo Freire. When I felt ready after my protracted grieving and therapeutic process writing was one of the outcomes for my way forward. The best advice when starting to write is to write about something you know and I am of the opinion that I know myself. I also considered writing about my youth but ultimately the choice of my first book fell on the most dark, difficult and sad part of my life. The main reason was to give expression to the many lessons I have learned which I think should have been topics more widely and openly spoken about in our homes, communities and society. I also believe that it will not mean much if I deal with these issues superficially and decided to express my vulnerability as openly as I can.
The style of writing was really determined by the sources of information that I collected during that period. I did not not keep a journal but simply collected every word in a box not knowing what I would eventually do with it. Upon the decision to write about it and organising the information, the structure revealed itself with the first two weeks being the most intensive period and therefore the chapters daily, followed by weekly in part two and monthly in part one. I initially planned part four, monthly as well because I argued that I would have enough material over a period of five years. It was only after having written about the first year and reaching a word count of over 83 000 that I decided to publish the first book about the first year only.
With all the planning being done for the following part, namely yearly, I proceeded to write that second manuscript while the first one was out on publisher hunting. That manuscript is currently at the editor.
For all the women and widows in particular who struggle to express their pain and having to deal with broken relationships, rejection and being disregarded on top of dealing with the grief of losing your soulmate.
Also to men who might reconsider how they treat the women in their lives and act in times of other’s grief.
Apart from writing being part of the planning for “the rest of my life” which was decided upon during my therapy, writing about that period in my life five years after gave me some distance and perspective. Although I could easily speak about my grief, it was in writing my grief that I realised how much I didn’t speak about. And in, fact how much I remembered. The writing process was cathartic, maybe another “step away” so that I can now speak about the book, rather than myself.
My faith, knowing I’m not alone and that this too shall pass.
The Russel Botman Bursary
Russel Botman left a legacy for future students in the form a bursary. If you would like to know more about his work and his bursary, then take a look at the video below.
Many thanks to Beyrl Botman, the author, who gifted me with this book for review purposes. As with all our book reviews, opinions expressed are entirely our own.