I was in Nairobi at my dad’s sister’s house. I was passively watching television in the evening when my mommy’s elder sister came in. A few hours prior, my auntie had received a telephone call. Telling from her posture, mimic, and tone, it didn’t seem to be good news. She gasped and I felt that something dark had happened. I am one who has always needed confirmation. I hate to assume stuff. So I sat there my heart racing fast not knowing how to behave. I acted as if I wasn’t in the room but I could feel my aunt’s gaze on me. I glanced at her and saw her wipe a tear off her cheek.
My elder brother was in the room, but I had no idea whether he was registering anything that was going on. I was absorbed in my little feelings, those of a 9-year old whose mommy lay in a hospital bed with a terminal illness. It had been a day or two since we had last seen mommy. She had asked for all her kids to come visit her in the hospital. She was so frail and unattractively thin. She had struggled to sit up to talk to us and touch us.
Maybe she even offered us some of the drinks and fruits that were on her bedside hospital table. Lucozade and Ribena. These two drinks are exaggeratedly associated with sickness back home. Anyway, aside from her drastic physical change, the last thing I remember her asking me in our mother tongue is “Ciru, do you want to cry?” Mommy knew I was a cry baby. Seeing her this way I felt that something was terribly wrong but I couldn’t medically understand what. This brought tears to my eyes.
I keep wondering how she felt seeing us and knowing it was the last time. She knew she wasn’t getting better. She had made peace with her transition. This for her was goodbye.
I looked up to see my mommy’s sister trying to hold it together. I could see it on her face. My brother and I were asked to gather in a bedroom upstairs.
Up the stairs, we went. If I knew that I was climbing those stairs to be given confirmation of what I feared most, I probably would never have climbed them. Mommy’s sister took up the responsibility to break the worst news to a 9 and 10-year-old, that her beloved sister, her best friend, my mommy will never be in our lives in human form ever again.
My 3 other little brothers were at another relative’s place. I don’t recall how they got the news.
To be truly honest with you, the years that followed were the hardest, depressing, and scariest until I became an adult who was willing to confront my pain. I was so broken for so many years. I can’t recall a day I went through primary school and part of High school without crying and praying to see at least the ghost of my mother.
I have grieved my mother for so many years. This might be because no one walked me through that journey when I needed it most. I do not recall anyone in my near and larger family or family friends ever asking me how I was dealing with that deep loss. They provided the basics and assumed the best. I was hurting and miserable and many people took advantage of me in ways I can’t begin to explain. I didn’t feel normal for so long.
It is assumed that children forget fast and that right there is a big lie. Children remember. So much. And what they go through in their younger years accompany them for the rest of their lives. It shapes their character. For better or for worse. Children fall into a depression that often goes unnoticed.
We expect so much from them we ignore their cry for help that manifests in little ways that are often mistaken for disobedience or a phase. It’s not right and neither is it fair for children to deal with demons they aren’t armed to confront.
I urge you to guide orphans, children who have lost a parent, or someone very close to them. Be intentional about it. Explain death to them and not in a scary manner.
Because believe me when that person they love so much dies, a part of them dies. And it takes so much, for them to come to terms with that reality. And to eventually learn how to cope, it sure takes a village. It is safe to say, we have to be kind to one another. Most of us have lost someone, and sure we all grieve and cope differently.
I am in a far much better place right now. I don’t grieve my mother. I celebrate her instead. I find comfort in the few years of love we had together. I find meaning in the little things she taught me. I find joy in the resemblance we have. Have you seen me smile? It is her smile. I appreciate that she still lives in me and I find it special that even after 20 years I feel this connection. It is unexplainable. I guess this is what they mean when they say, “it gets better.”
It was a Wednesday. The 18th of April 2001. A date that is tattooed in my heart. A date that only became significant because my mommy breathed her last breath.
Keep resting ma!