How we coped with the loss of our loved ones

By: THOMAS RAJULA

No one gets out of life alive. Death is inevitable. Whether it comes as a result of old age, an accident, illness or by whatever other means, it is an end that we all have to face. But even then, nothing prepares us for the death of a loved one.

Losing someone that you care deeply about, not only leaves a deep, empty void that cannot be filled by anything else, it also opens a flood of emotions that are hard to cope with.

According to helpguide.org, while the pain and sadness may feel like it will never let up, they are normal reactions to a significant loss.

There is no right or wrong way to grieve a loved one, but there are healthy ways to cope with the pain that will, in time, help you to move on.

Focus on the Family goes on to explain that moving on doesn’t mean forgetting about the loved one who died. Enjoying life again and piecing together your shattered emotions doesn’t mean you somehow betray a loved one.

It simply means that your grief has ran its course. Saturday Magazine caught up with four women who have lost a loved one, and who shared how they dealt with their loss and got back to living fully, while keeping the memory of the dead loved one intact.

ON LOSING A FATHER

Elizabeth Achieng Owor, 30, lost her father to a stroke in 1993.

“Remmy Sylvester Owor was my father and that of my 10 siblings. He was very macho but still had a sensitive spot. I remember the times he would shoo us all away from the kitchen and make a meal for all of us by himself.

“My dad suffered from high blood pressure. On the fateful day of his death, on 23rd September, 1993, which was a weekend, it all happened suddenly.

My older sister, a newly-wed who was pregnant, had come home from Mombasa where she lived. We were all so excited, too excited to notice that my dad had suffered a stroke in his room.

By the time we realised there was a problem, it was too late. He was rushed to Masaba Hospital (now known as Nairobi Women’s Hospital) at Adams Arcade in Nairobi, but unfortunately he was declared dead on arrival.

My sister was the last person to see him alive. I was very young when he died, but I feel that if it were not for the excitement of that day, maybe we would have gotten to him on time.

“Immediately my dad was rushed to the hospital, a sombre mood engulfed our house. There was a deathly, suffocating quietness inside. When the people who had rushed my dad to hospital came back with the news, I thought the world had ended.

I went to bed immediately and woke up thinking that I had had a nightmare, but the nightmare was only too real. The screams from relatives who came in droves did not make it any easier.

My elder sister tried to explain things to me, thinking I couldn’t understand what had happened. I slept for hours hoping that when I woke up I would find that it was just a bad dream. I just wanted to escape from the harsh reality that my anchor and support and our sole breadwinner was no more. Life would never be the same and even now, I wonder if things would be different if he were still alive.

“It may be cliché, but time healed me, but there are times when I get lost in myself. As for people who are grieving, I would tell them to pick a reason to hold on and grasp it with all their strength.

It is not easy but you have to hang on. You also need to find your inner peace; look deep inside you and find your chi (energy). Spirituality can also help, though it doesn’t work for everyone.

I love that my dad’s love for reading lives in me. It has taken me more than 20 years, but I have grown in leaps and bounds. After all is said and done, life has to go on.”

ON LOSING A GRANDMOTHER

Susan Akinyi, lost her grandmother to a sudden illness

“Naomi Waithera, my grandmother, and I were very close. She played the role of confidant, and before she died she left me with a box of miscellaneous items from her house that she knew I had grown to appreciate over the years.

Among these items was an old leather-bound journal that she aptly named her ‘inspiration journal’. Throughout the second half of her life, she used this journal to jot down ideas, thoughts, quotes, song lyrics, and anything else that moved her.

She would read excerpts from her journal to me when I was growing up, and I would listen and ask questions.

I credit a part of who I am now to the wisdom she bestowed on me when I was young. I also loved to dine at her small restaurant in the city centre. She was the best cook!

“At the time of her death she seemed fit, but occasionally complained of extreme weakness and fever. It wasn’t long before she was fighting for her life in hospital. I couldn’t come to terms with my grandmother’s death, because a part of me had died too.

It has been eight years and three months since she died. The grieving process takes time. Healing happens gradually; it can’t be forced or hurried and there is no timetable for grieving.

Some people start to feel better in weeks or months. I was patient with myself and my family and friends played a big role in my healing process.

There were moments and images that were particularly traumatic, for instance, the memory of the decision to turn off her life support. I had to find a way to blot out these images.

Talking through such memories with the loved ones who went through them with me, helped. The best way to deal with the grief is to take what your dead loved one loved and incorporate it in your life.

It may take years for you to fully digest what happened, but group grief sessions once or twice can help.”

ON LOSING A SISTER

Susan Njuguna, 45, talks about dealing with the loss of her sister who died after suffering from deep vein thrombosis (blood clot in the leg).

“Lucy Njuguna was my sister, my best friend, my soulmate. We were the last two in a family of nine kids, and she was only older than me by two years.

Everything I knew as a kid I learned from her including counting and singing. When I started school, the only time we spent apart was class time.

We went to school together, left for home together, and kept each other company during break. We went to the same high school and college; we even moved in together after moving out of our parents’ house.

I already had two kids and because I worked long hours and travelled a lot for work, she played the role of mother to my children.

Less than six months prior to her death, my sister was diagnosed with a blood clot in her leg and was admitted to hospital for a few days.

She once mentioned after a follow-up consultation with her doctor, that one of her doctor’s patients had died when the clot moved from her leg to her heart.

I suspect that this was the same thing that cut Lucy’s life short, although we did not get a postmortem done because we were in too much shock.

“The day before she died, she had gone to see her doctor, who said that her pulse was weak, but he still let her come back home.

That night she got very sick. I got home just as my parents were preparing to take her to hospital. When I saw Lucy, I got a bad feeling.

On the morning of 24th November, 2005, I got a call from the hospital. A nurse said that Lucy was asking for me. I left for the hospital with my brother Peter, but on our way, Bernard, my other brother called to say that the doctor had confirmed Lucy was no more.

“I was inconsolable, but I had to be strong for my kids. Two days after we buried Lucy, I went back to work; I became a workaholic as a coping mechanism. It didn’t quite work; every year around the time she died, I grieve for her. Family gatherings are also difficult because I feel her absence greatly.

When my son’s KCPE results came out a few weeks after her death, Lucy was the first person I thought to call. For more than a year, it was hard for me to mention her name, talk about her or touch her stuff without losing myself, but it got easier with time.

“I advise people who are grieving to allow themselves to mourn at that time when the death happens and any other time when their absence overwhelms you.

If you feel like locking yourself up during anniversaries and letting your emotions go, that’s okay. Lucy was in my life for 35 years; it is not fair to expect me to grieve for any lesser period than that.

The only thing I regret is not allowing myself to grieve just after she died; other members of the family who grieved at that time were able to move on.”

ON LOSING A BOYFRIEND

Michele Ngele, 23, talks about dealing with the death of her boyfriend who was beaten to death

“Jerry Isaac was my boyfriend, my best friend … he was everything to me. We were both students at USIU. He was pursuing an MBA while I was an undergraduate.

We were both very ambitious so we spent most of our time together dreaming and thinking about our future. For two years, we never went a whole day without seeing each other. I remember teaching him how to make pancakes, and he made them every day after that – really good ones too.

“My Jerry was beaten to death a year and eight months ago. It looked as though he had been tortured.

The main cause of death was blunt force trauma to the head. We found his body five days after he went missing from a dinner he had been invited to.

I prayed every minute, cried every night for those five days. Somehow, I knew something was very wrong. Then his mother called me, crying so hard she couldn’t speak. I didn’t need her to say anything. I knew.

I knew Jerry was gone. But I’d been crying all week and I had no more tears left. I was in shock. I got up and went to school as if nothing had happened because I had exams.

Then I went to the funeral home to see his body. And that’s when I broke down. He’d been beaten so badly that I couldn’t recognise him.

I had to see his birthmark to believe it. My whole world was shattered.

“During the entire ordeal, I had friends and family around me but I still felt alone. No one really knew what I was going through.

The police were on my case as a suspect and they grilled me mercilessly despite the fact that I was mourning. It was truly the toughest period of my life.

The pain was so much I could feel it physically. Images of his body ran in my mind over and over. On our last day together, Jerry had proposed. No one knew but us.

Looking back now, I feel like he was saying goodbye. I wasn’t able to attend his funeral. All I had were pictures sent to me by friends, pictures of his grave. I fell into a very deep bout of depression.

What helped me the most was having people around me who just let me be. My family always came to visit just so I could have people around. It helped a great deal to know I wasn’t really alone. But honestly, the great bulk of it was up to me.

“Eventually, I had to reevaluate myself and figure out how to get my life back on track.

So I decide to do something Jerry would have wanted me to do. He always said I’d make a great news presenter. So I auditioned for a national reality completion at a leading TV station.

It wasn’t easy. My spirit was as good as dead. But I always acted as though he was there and I had to make him proud. The love I had for him, the grief I had inside me, I channeled it all toward the competition, and I came out on top.

“I’d tell people who are grieving a loved one’s death, not to ignore what they feel; by all means, feel it. And when you’re tired of feeling like that, and trust me, you will be, take those feelings and channel them towards something you enjoy doing.

It doesn’t take away the grief, it never really goes away, but it helps you cope. Sometimes you feel like you will never move on. That’s normal. Your heart will tell you when you’re ready.”