The sad thing about death is that it is final. So final that you can do nothing about it. Death is cruel. Very cruel. It leaves you shattered and totally broken into a million pieces.
My mother died on 25th November 2017. My son and I had planned to spend the day with her on the day she died. Instead, my sister called me on that fateful Saturday morning and asked me to rush to Coptic hospital because Mama had been admitted in critical condition. I was told she was in the ICU.
I want to digress here a bit… It was 19 years since I lost a very close member of my family. My biological father and mother had died two weeks apart in 1998. I cannot describe the pain I felt then. It was excruciating. I was very angry at God and I think He must have decided to tell the angel of death to give me a break. You remember the story of Job and how God the devil not to harm him? God had kept close members of my family alive and healthy.
So I rushed to the hospital and found my relatives waiting. To be honest, death was not on my mind. I was told the doctors were attending to Mama. So I waited. I sat in silence in between my sister and aunty Dinah. I can vividly remember that wooden bench on the second floor. The silence was loud. We hardly said anything apart from the usual phone calls we picked and the WhatsApp messages that interrupted the silence. After an hour of waiting, I got impatient and demanded to see Mama. Aunty Dinah stood and excused herself. She told me to wait for her. I assumed she had gone to ask the doctor for permission for us to access the ICU.
Meanwhile, I sat interrogating my sister, demanding to know in details what had happened. She painfully narrated the events of early morning while staring at the floor. There was no eye contact. I had an eerie feeling but I ignored it. I did not want to think anything bad would happen to Mama.
Breaking the news
The previous day, Mama had visited her doctor for review at MP Shah Hospital. She was well. She sat up late chatting, she was her usual jovial self. Then at 4 am, she developed breathing problems and from there it was downhill. My sister only got to that point.
Aunty Dinah returned. She later told me that she had gone to consult other family members who were seated in the cafeteria, on how she was going to break the news to me.
“I am sorry Carole. Mary did not make it. She died on arrival….. (silence) But the doctors did all they could to save her,” she said.
If words had weight, then those weighed about 100,000,000 tonnes. My heart stopped. I could not believe it. I broke down. I demanded to see her body. I wanted to make sure that Mama had really died. At that point, I must have still been in shock. In my head, Mama Mary was not dead. She was sleeping.
A bit of history… Three weeks before, Mama had gone through surgery after we discovered she had cervical cancer. Mama Mary was my second mother. God loved me so much that he gave me two mothers. When my biological mother died 20 years ago (this September), Mary took my siblings and I as her own children. She was there for our graduations, weddings and birth of our children. She always sent me maize and potatoes from the farm. Every time I visited her at the farm, she always gave me fresh milk to bring to Nairobi. She was a very generous woman.
I miss Mama Mary a lot. I would call her and we would be on the phone for hours or until her phone ran out of charge. She would tell me how she had woken up early to pray for us. One thing she did was pray. She prayed for everything. Everything!!
“Mama, how are you? How is my Toto?” Toto meaning her grandchild. “When are you getting another one?” She would jokingly ask me. Then we would talk about the farm, the other relatives, her church activities and the cows. She asked about my work, my nanny and my church. She always asked if I prayed and I would say yes.
When Mary died at 65 years, I was angry. I had a chat with God – again. I told him it was unfair that He had taken her away before her 70th birthday. At least He would have given her a few years I argued. Even more painful is she died on the day I was to see her. I had a million questions to ask her about life.
Mary had an amazing attitude. She always saw the good in everything. I had “stuff” I needed to tell her. As a daughter, there are things only a mother can understand. I needed to laugh with her, take selfies and just chat. But that was never to be.
So Mama Mary died before I could see her. But before her remains were transported to Eldoret, I had a chance to say goodbye. I wanted to see her one last time. To remember her before she was embalmed.
We were taken to the morgue. It was cold and I saw her sleeping on the slab. She had her head scarf that covered her thick black hair. Her face looked peaceful. It was as if she was just sleeping. Her charcoal black skin was glowing, she looked beautiful. I touched her head and silently said goodbye. I know her spirit was present because I felt a certain peace in the room. We cried. No… we wailed and screamed as we held each other. Mary was gone. Then aunty Dinah prayed and her body was covered.
We planned her funeral and put her to rest on Thursday 7th December in our Samich farm in Chepkorio.
Mourning is hard. It is lonely. You can barely eat or sleep. Sometimes the pain is so much that you cannot talk. The photos and the tributes remind you of the departed. Yet, people expect you to be strong. They pray and sing and pray again. They call and send you encouraging words. During the funeral preparation, I was like a zombie. We had to mobilise funds. I am blessed because I had a lot of support from friends. Even friends who I have only interacted with on Facebook reached out to me. I was humbled beyond words. In retrospect, I know God sent His angels to hold me because I was completely shattered.
You see, losing a loved one is painful so painful that you feel like it is a part of your body that has been severed. The reality is, life goes on and people expect you to move on like nothing happened.
People ask how I am doing and I respond fine. It is a lie. Some days I am fine and other days I am not fine. I miss her terribly. Some days I look at my phone favourite list and I see her number saved as “Mama Mary”. I have not been able to delete it. Sometimes I am tempted to call and imagine she may pick up the phone.
Sadly, people do not realise that mourning is a process. Moving on is not easy. Mourning is a personal journey that takes time. So let people be. Let them mourn at their own pace.
PS: I am thankful to all my close friends who have walked the journey with me. Thank for not telling me to “move on”.