Death For a Kenyan In Diaspora


The last time I saw my father alive, was when I left Kenya for the USA in March, 1999.

My family members drove me to the airport and I remember him openly sobbing when he hugged me goodbye.

My father was an emotional man but the sobbing, even for him, was highly unusual. Great, deep gut wrenching sobs accompanied by a multitude of tears, openly streaming down his face.

The sobs seemed to come from a deep part within his soul and a place of knowing, perhaps?

I did not get why he was crying.

For a month, I was in a heightened state of excitement, I had received a visa to go to the USA and totally did not get why my dad was less enthusiastic about it. I was about to start my American adventure and really thought my Dad was being a spoilsport.

“Daddy, don’t cry. I will come back and see you next year.” I said. But my words just made him sob even more. (Did he know something I did not know?)

My dad always wanted me to get a Master’s degree. And I was not able to start one until January, 2002. I avoided talking to him a lot before starting school because I thought he would be disappointed in me.

School started,  I was very busy with that, then in March or April I found out my Dad had cancer. To say I was least prepared to receive such news is an understatement.

Everyone downplayed how sick he was. No one told me how bad it was. I think they somehow want to protect you or something. He was admitted to a hospital in Nakuru, Kenya. I remember making calls to his room in hospital. I was not spared from hearing him make almost inhuman screams from the pain.

Every time I talked to him, he managed to scream, shout or whisper the words “I love you,” depending on how he was feeling that day.

Then one day in June, a family friend of mine from Nakuru, who also lived in Dallas, told my then boyfriend to tell me my Dad had passed away.

The thought of him dying had not even crossed my mind. I was in some surreal movie and my Dad would leave the hospital and things would go back to normal.

I really had no idea that my Dad would die after 3 years of me leaving Kenya. None. Actually, if I had foreseen that, I would have never ever gone to any country.

My Dad and I shared a close bond…he was extremely intelligent, a little eccentric and yes, a little difficult; a man easily misunderstood by many people. But I got him.

And I knew without a shadow of a doubt that cancer did not kill my Dad, he just died of a broken heart, first.

To compound his death, I did not travel home for the funeral. I was in the middle of some exams or something and my mum told me that my Dad always said, “Life must go on.” But at that point I wanted to leave the US; to stop school, to stop everything. In my mind, I thought, “What’s the point of living in the USA if it means not being with my father when it mattered the most?”

A part of me died along with my Dad.

In my mind, I had failed him on multiple levels…first by leaving Kenya in 1999, by not understanding that those 3 years were the last 3 years of his life, by not being in Kenya to take care of him in hospital, and by missing his funeral. How normal is it for you to miss your only Dad’s funeral?

In the course of several months that turned into years, I feel into a deep, dark, grimy depression which was so unbeknownst to me since my usual sunny disposition and my busy life masked it very well.

I seriously had no idea.

I finished my 2 year MBA, I traveled to New York, many cities in California including Napa Valley, Carmel and San Francisco, Vegas, Washington D.C, I saw Anita Baker, Luther Vandross and Beyonce in concert, I got a good HR job, yet all this time my heart had a permanent crack; I was a zombie carrying out the motions of life on auto pilot.

I had a broken heart, soul, and brain.

I left the US in 2005.

12 years later, I still struggle with thoughts of my Dad but things are a little better.

I mean the only way I can feel 100% better is if I went on a show on Oprah and Oprah told my Dad to come out and gave me a hug. But this is never going to happen.

So my next solution is believing there’s a heaven and my Dad is up there and I’m going to meet him one day. And God is going to set up the whole reunion.

There are so many cliches about death, like it is a time thing and it gets better and all that…but I really think it can break your heart permanently.

And the belief that just because you boarded a plane out of Kenya and should be able to be OK if you miss someone’s illness or consequent death is ridiculous.

My next brush with death.

When I went back home I found out that my elder sister had fallen ill. I left Kenya in 2006 and worked and lived in Dubai. My sister had a rare degenerative disease that would eventually kill her and the whole time I was in Dubai I was stressed out, thinking of her impending death.

And my subsequent second bout with depression. I saw the pattern with my Dad repeating itself…”Here we go again.”

This time I was able to travel to Kenya from Dubai in Kenya more often and see Elizabeth.

In 2011, I lost my job in Dubai and went home. I knew my sister was going to die… I spent a lot of time with her.

Elizabeth got a bout of pneumonia in May, 2011. She was hospitalized about the same time.

I was trying to start a business in Nairobi and would travel quite a lot to see her in hospital.

One day, I was going to attend a networking meeting (Networking in Heels) but the meeting was cancelled. So I decided to go to Nakuru instead. I carried my laptop and some big ear phones so that I could play some songs for Elizabeth.

She could not talk, but the nurses told us the last sense that goes, is your hearing. My sister’s favorite song was Josh Grobans’s ‘You Lift Me Up.’ So I played this and other songs for her.

I spent the night with Elizabeth and my mom in hospital.

In the morning at 7, my mum was cleaning Elizabeth and  told me to play the music I had on my laptop loud. My mum was a nurse all her life so maybe she saw that life was leaving Elizabeth.

She told me to hold her hand, plus my sister’s  hand,  she prayed, Josh Groban was playing in the background, and Elizabeth breathed her last breath.

Throughout Elizabeth’s death and funeral, I was the picture of calm and composure. I was grateful that I was there in the room when she died, I was grateful I was at her funeral.

Conclusion: Being a summerbunny means automatically dealing with death, in unusual circumstances because of the distance between where you currently live and Kenya. I found out that dealing with two deaths of people in my immediate family have not been a simple case of just going through the four stages of death and coming out OK on the other end.

Next week, I look at another facet in this whole death and being in Diaspora thing…that is dealing with our own deaths and come up with solutions for preparing for that adequately.

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