I shall never forget 2021

by Glynnis Johnson, Principal Librarian (Commerce and CHED), UCT Libraries

For me, it shall be remembered as the year of death, loss, love, fire, air and water. These symbols point to the major events in my life in 2021. On the 5th of March 2021 my husband, Lucian Brent Johnson, passed away suddenly, tragically and without any warning signs – a heart attack.

We were both working from home on that unforgettable Friday morning. We woke up as usual, joked with each other, did our morning stretches, had breakfast and I started my workday. Lucian sorted out the morning routine of our fur baby Zara, our 6-year-old German Shepherd. He felt a bit tired and decided to lie down. I remember checking up on him, covering him with one of my knitted blankets and kissing him, wishing him a restful nap, saying “I love you.” He had been very busy that week around the house: painting, cutting the grass, mending little things – as he usually does.

Some minutes later, I heard a rasping sound coming from our bedroom and when I got there, Lucian was having, what I thought was a fit. Zara was on the bed trying to lick him awake. I was frozen for a moment, not believing what I was seeing then I sprang into action. I used both our phones to call an ambulance and to call both his brothers, Glynn and Marlon, while giving Lucian CPR. I remember saying, “Please, God, just let him breathe!” Lucian’s brothers arrived with a colleague, and they performed CPR until the ambulance arrived. With each mouthful of air Marlon blew into Lucian’s lungs, I too expelled my breath – willing him to live. But it was too late. I, we – could not save him.

Lucian was known as the braai master and gravitated always towards fire, one of his tattoos was that of a dragon and he opted to be cremated. He loved the ocean, streams, pools and whenever we went away on holiday, his one request was that there be a body of water close by – and on the day of Lucian’s funeral, his body was blessed with holy water. Losing my soul mate is devastating, my love so deep for Lucian deepened my grief to depths I had never known before. Now my home no longer felt like home. It was foreign to me. Was home a place, a person or feeling, I asked myself.

Barely dealing with Lucian’s passing, I stood on that fateful Sunday and watched the fire ravage my UCT, my Library. I watched the wind blow viciously, fanning the fire. I held my breath – willing the wind to stop. I cried for my Lucian, I cried for my Home, I cried for my UCT, I cried for my Library, I cried for my Colleagues – Staff and Students alike.

Then began the Salvage. I saw with my very own eyes the ash (fire), the damp and dripping (water). Yet another death, yet another loss – too much to bear. Much was destroyed. But so much was saved – books we thought would surely be destroyed and, above all, my love for Lucian.

And now I, we, stand at the threshold of rebuilding, and I’m not quite sure what that means. I find myself having to carve out this new path: for Me, for Home, for Family, for Work, for Colleagues.

And on the best of days, I am lost and bewildered. Yet, death nor loss nor fire nor air, nor water – nothing can destroy Love. Love transcends everything. And it is with this Love that we rebuild.

I am currently Principal Librarian (Faculty of Commerce and the Centre for Higher Education Development) at the University of Cape Town Libraries. Previous positions held: Information Services Librarian in the Humanities Division and Information Services Librarian in the Knowledge Commons. I hold a Bachelor of Social Sciences (1996-1998), Honours in Social Anthropology (1999), Postgraduate Diploma in Library and Information Studies (2011) and a Masters in Library and Information Studies with cum laude (2013 – 2016), all from the University of Cape Town. My professional interests include knowledge, skills and capabilities for academic librarians; professional development and training; new trends in academic librarianship; Undergraduate and Postgraduate scholarly research capabilities especially related to the African context and global south context. My personal interests now relate to anything that will aid my healing and personal well-being.  

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