AND WHEN THOU HAST BEEN STRENGTHENED: A Tribute

To live in hearts we leave behind is not to die. 

Thomas Campbell

 

It’s around 0100hrs. I’ve just gotten home after putting in long hours at work. I am tempted to pass out on the bed, but my growling stomach will have none of that! I warm up the burgers I got on my way home, and calmly talk to the part of me that screams in opposition that I got us covered. I’d picked like a sack full of lemons earlier in the day, so we’ll religiously start drinking litres upon litres of it a day. Plus, I am gonna enrol at the gym. Soon. She is adamant and makes me move my hand over my torso. Yup! definitely gaining layers! The microwave dings. Foooood! At last! I shut madam opposition up as I quickly dig in. Ah! The pleasure!

“You cannot ignore it the forever you know.”

I pretend I didn’t hear him- my mind.

“You’ll have to face it sooner or later. You’ll have to write it.”

*Still ignoring, with more resolve than before.*

Such has been the situation for the past couple of months. Because as much as I really wanted to write it down, I did not (and still don’t) know what to write. I know what I want to say, but not how to convey the intensity and immensity of what’s within.

Grief. Loss. Heartache. An element of solitude.

And so I have been procrastinating. Stalling.As I have been for all the previous paragraphs, hoping that the nagging voice will slowly give up and fade away. Hoping that I’ll get tired and decide to sleep anyway, and put this off just a little longer. But no, the urging is stronger and louder than before. “I don’t have the words,” I argue. “Then write whatever! Just. Get. It. Out.” My mind retorts, full of impatience. (In a totally unrelated matter, I’m offering my mind up for sale. Any offers welcome.  It’s sane- most of the time- likes to think its funny, is full of happy thoughts, can be squeezed for fairly decent grades (haha). Interested buyers can contact for more inquiries and offers.)

 

***I ended up procrastinating for a week, anyway.***

 

They say you never forget your first. That experience always stays with you, mostly vividly and sometimes a blur. But it will ALWAYS be there, in the recesses of your mind. I still remember my first “boyfriend” when I was in the fourth or fifth grade at around nine or ten years (Hahahaha… I know, right? LOL!). My first mocha shake (from whence it became my favourite flavour) out of my sister’s cup on her birthday dinner at the Cafe Deli opposite Kencom between Aga Khan Walk and Moi Avenue two years ago. My first takeoff from and landing at an airport. My first intimate encounter with the loss of a loved one.

Elizabeth Kübler-Ross (1969) proposed a model, otherwise known as the five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. Rita Kemunto Omari (2018) proposes that the actual stages of grief are denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance INITIALLY, and then a constant iteration of the above stages in an absolutely randomized fashion. One day you’re at the acceptance stage and then boom! Anger decides to walk in and sucker punches you so deep in the gut you feel it reverberating in your soul! Sometimes a cocktail of all the stages chugs down your throat so that you’re at a loss on how to process it all at once.

It’s hard. This thing called grief. You try not to think, but it’s constantly hanging there. Sometimes it is akin to a scab, you poke and prod and remove that protective tough crust that had formed over the wound, and watch in horrific fascination intermingled with pain as blood gushes out of the wound. You know you shouldn’t, but you go ahead anyway. Over and over and over. Waiting patiently and hopefully for the day the wound will heal.

 

Grief is a continuous lifelong process, whose ripple effects will always be felt. The sharp edges may soften a little bit until it becomes a comfortable sort of pain, a sort of echo from a time long past, but it will always be there interlaced in the backdrop of one’s life.

 

I still remember vividly when I got the news that my uncle had rested. I remember where I was, what I was doing. I remember all the thoughts that went through my mind. I remember the scorching in my chest radiating from the intense fire in my heart as the flames of grief lit it up. I remember the breathlessness as my heart broke. I remember the numbness and tingling sensation in my fingers and toes as acute searing pain coursed through my entire body, singeing my nerves in the process. I also remember that apart from the comfort I received from home, I was also advised to “try and be calm, you’re far away and there is nothing much you can do.” Of course it was not meant in an inconsiderate dismissive sorta way. It was just what was. Oh, how I hated that! Loathed it! That I was far. That it was true, there is nothing I COULD do, even if I were at home. Above all, I remember how ALONE I felt. There is something about physical contact- a hug, a handshake, a face to face conversation, especially with family during such a period- that makes all the difference. I couldn’t have that. Neither could I have the closure that comes with a burial (at least for me, it does).

So I followed their advice. I kept calm. Tried to bury the grief. School was starting, you see. I needed to be on my A game. I prayed, oh, how I prayed. I needed the strength. And I thank God that He is ever faithful. I went through the Kübler-Ross stages (maybe a little too rapidly), and knew that was that.

Until recently.

It hit me out of nowhere really, this intense sort of pain that knocked the breath out of me for a minute. And after that, several other incidences where I’m listening to a song and a wave of grief engulfs and drowns [me], or I’m driving on the highway and have to pull over on the emergency lane because I need a few seconds to remember how to breathe. And I couldn’t understand it! I mean, I’d finished all the stages of grief (or so I thought). I should be okay now. So why was the vividity of the loss so strong, so fresh, and nearly tangible?

Grief is a continuous lifelong process, whose ripple effects will always be felt. The sharp edges may soften a little bit until it becomes a comfortable sort of pain, a sort of echo from a time long past, but it will always be there interlaced in the backdrop of one’s life. That concept took me a while to grasp. And when I did, I stopped fighting it, stopped trying to gouge it out from deep within. I accepted it, and embraced it, and made peace with the fact. I think what we usually cannot accept mostly is the fact that we may not have been the best people to those we lost, may not have called them/talked to them as often as we should have, may not have spent time with them; and now we never will. The “what ifs” gnaw at our insides.

My uncle was a great man. One part crook, three parts lawyer (a finely matured one at that). I think that’s what made him such a sterling criminal attorney. The greatest there ever was (Think Harvey Specter… factorial… an infinite number of times… and BEYOND)! He had such wit and such humour. And his laugh! Oh, his laugh! It was a boyish peal infused with such childlike-ness. It was a sound that tickled your sides, you had no option but to laugh along. He was a man who stood for what he believed in, and stuck to his guns. Even so, at the end of the day he was a man like any other, with an abundance of imperfections and shortcomings. He was perfectly imperfect.

And while I may never see him again, I see bits of him all around me. I see and hear him when I talk to my dad (my dad and uncles look so much alike) and grandparents, and when I interact with my cousins. Anytime I watch a movie/series/documentary featuring an astute criminal attorney he is always at the forefront of my thoughts. Above all, he lives on in my heart and memories; and I will ensure that my children and their children and their children’s children even up to the tenth generation will hear and know of this remarkable man they never had the good fortune of meeting. This man of whom they have a piece within. This man of the people.This man for whom I thank God for, for the time he gave me with him. This man I had the privilege to proudly call my uncle. His name, Wakili Dennis Nyangweso Omari.

 

The living owe it to those who no longer can speak to tell their story for them.

Czeslaw Milosz

 

 

 

One comment

  1. Brian · July 30, 2018

    I loved it. Moving. Thanks for sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

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