When one must, one can. Charlotte Whitton
Sometimes life throws you a curve ball, and you do not know if you have what it takes to handle this. You do not even know if you have the energy to explore how to deal. Sometimes your best defence feels inadequate. But you know that you must strive to do whatever it takes. I found myself in that space, and I realize that when people have undergone a misfortune, the judgment on “they are strong” in handling it is often misplaced. When you must do something, you may get the strength to ‘deal’ with it, but you are just postponing dealing with the impact of the misfortune.
Over the years, I have discovered and explored different coping mechanisms or at least know how or where to ask for help. As I went through the motions of the anxiety of dad’s illness, I benefited from the different coping mechanisms; Prayers, meditation, breathing, long walks in the forest, eating, listening to audiobooks and podcasts, meeting with friends, and venting to a listening ear. I have a good network, and my great girlfriends did not tire of asking how I was doing. The Calm app, in particular, has become my best friend. That helped me maintain a level of sanity. On that fateful November 7th, 2021, Sunday morning, when my dad passed away, I did not feel like I had more arsenal for coping. Or possibly I did, and I went on autopilot as I knew I still had a lot to do and did not have the luxury of sitting back. Sometimes you feel like you have reached the maximum stretch and will break if you stretch further, there is more demand, and you stretch even further. I call it the elasticity of the human will.
It was a difficult period. But the sun kept rising and setting. How strange!
“How can the sun keep rising, as if every day was like any other day?” I often wondered silently.
A friend shared that during the period after she lost her dad, one of the hardest things was when it seemed everyone around her had forgotten this and expected her to be ‘back to normal.’ That was profound and resonated with me. My primary coping mechanism was ‘being practical’ and attending to what needed attention. When we laid my dad to rest, the impact started hitting and sometimes hitting hard. I got triggered by unexpected circumstances. Some, quite ordinary and minor, like seeing an old man and thinking, “my dad was much younger, healthier. Why did he have to die at only 82 years? This man looks close to 100 years.” Or, I could be in the supermarket and see a brand of herbal salt that he liked, and in the process, remember that he could no longer enjoy it. Sometimes it was a major issue like the insurance! That broke me. I could not believe the information they sought, including what I had already provided before, but somehow was not in their records. The insensitivity was on another level. As if that was not enough, my mum needed constant medical care, so only weeks after laying my dad to rest, my mum was admitted to a hospital. But as a family, we kept at it. When you must, you do. Friends and relatives came in handy and continued to support us in different ways.
Soon, 2022 was here, a new year with fresh dreams. After a challenging 2021, I was determined to get over the cloud by January and restart the new year. I said goodbye to 2021 with ‘an attitude. “You were the worst. You and I are done!”. That season was over. Or was it? Sometimes, when it starts to rain, it pours.
I needed a quiet time to restart my year, and what better place than the green, serene Subukia Shrine? I planned with a friend, and we went there for quiet time for two days. It was also a significant time. On that Friday, January 7th, it was exactly two months since my dad passed away. I felt like I had made peace with his death then, and despite having a weird feeling, I was all set to go back to work on Monday. Life must go on. We travelled from Subukia on Saturday, January 8th, 2022.
After refreshing from the journey, I set out for some idle entertainment until one of my sisters called. It was the kind of call where you wanted to find out more information and not pass unclear news. Our family communication chain is ad hoc but efficient. From around 5.00 PM, there were different calls and preliminary reports, and I had established my nephew had been in a road accident. I knew he would be okay, and I reassured my sister that it would be well. How wrong I was. The news of his death came as a blow, and I could not understand what one of my brothers was telling me.
“Apparently, by the time he was rushed to the hospital, it was too late.”
“What does that mean?”
Honestly, I did not understand what “too late” meant.
From different corners, in between phone calls, we started making our way to my brother’s place. The agony! I could wish that on anyone. My nephew, Vincent Ngugi, passed away just a day and two months after my dad’s demise. There were, and still are, no words to tell the dad or the mum, and I still do not have any words for them and everyone else. He was only 26 years old. Why? Why? We still ask. Another family chain was broken.
I recall when the young baby graced our household. I remember tagging along to pick him up, then a new-born from the hospital. How could I be writing a tribute for him? We all had and still have more questions and wishes but no answers. The strength that I had thought my quiet time in Subukia had revived in me dipped. Or maybe I needed that to get on with the days ahead.
The sun kept rising and setting!
For our family, it was gloomy. I kept hoping and praying that everyone had a copying mechanism because we were running on an empty tank. We still did what we could to support each other, but that did not seem enough. I recall sitting back and praying that this season is over. I prayed that we have a break from the sorrows and sadness—the losses.
The struggle of coping with loss and having different responsibilities is difficult. Looking for more ‘sunshine’ days was the order of life. We had sailed through the first Christmas without our dad only a few days before. We fondly remembered how efficiently Vincent had taken charge of his younger cousins as we all gathered at home in the village. How could I have known this was the last time I would see him? What words can one possibly tell someone who has lost a son? An older brother? No word seemed appropriate.
It was and still is an ongoing task, trying to sit with my pain and every time thinking, “how do I mourn the two people.” It is hard for the heart to comprehend. I kept hoping the “season” was over, then realized it was not a season but life. Sometimes life throws us curve balls. Some we catch, others we duck, and others, we barely know what direction they are flying from and have no idea how they hit us. Such is life, the thorns, and the roses.