Die Empty

You grew up in your beautiful, green village back at home even though you want everyone to think you grew up in the city. On some fast days, you miss the comfort of your welcoming bed back at home and the fresh air and all the love from your family. On other days, you have a flashbacks of the journey that your life has now become. you recall engaging with your friends in banter about how you wanted to become like baba Otieno who was regarded highly by the community for being an engineer. Well, now you know that he was only a mechanic but still you so badly wanted to become like him- highly regarded, successful and with fuller pockets than the next person. You talked about it severally with kina Mike and Onyango but deep down you never fully thought it possible. You dreamt anyway.

At your local primary school, every teacher took a keen interest on you because your parents were well known in the village your mother being a principal in a secondary school not far away from home. Nothing less than excellent was expected so amidst all the reprimanding and viboko you found the hidden courage inside you. The courage to dare to dream and to believe in the dream and yourself. That you are capable. You did not know it then but the struggle to wake up a little early and sleep a little late just to study a tad more contributed greatly to who you were becoming.

Now you are in your 5th year in school of engineering in the University of Nairobi lying on your fairly neat bed in your little crib not far off campus and all that seems like a lifetime away. You no longer talk to your parents as often as you used to. you know you should but lately your voices sound hollow and strange to each other over the phone as if you’re in different worlds. Papa is elderly now so is mum and they no longer have the energy to push you around. They often talk of how education is the best investment you can make in your child and you couldn’t agree more but the spark is lost. The close connection you shared with them growing up has dissipated and weariness has felt in because every attempt to restore the intimacy is met with awkwardness and unbearable gaps of silence. You washed your hands years ago and decided to let the sleeping dogs lie.

You forcefully close your eyes and try to picture that small boy who went around the village trying to fix everyone’s broken machinery which pragmatically meant putting apart every part and then getting frantic about putting it back together but its a good thing they all understood your the passion you had so mama Agnes always gave you broken items. A broken radio or that bike that Agnes’ big brother used to ride while you were little that had not been used in years. It hits you that they majorly contributed to making this once far away dream a reality. You make a mental note to call Agnes and get her mothers number so you can officially thank her. this, you know you will not do but you lie to yourself about doing it just to feel better about the person you have become. You are no longer the dilligent boy that everyone praised you to be, you have grown lazy, unmotivated and impossible to deal with. Perhaps that is why mama and papa distanced themselves from you. You literally shake your head to get rid of that thought because you always were their golden boy. You refuse to think that they would be happier without constantly thinking about you. After all, aren’t you their first born? The hope and light of the family?

You will wake up one day and you will be 40 and still postponing that visit to see your mother despite the fact that your father passed away while you were on an important business trip and you never made it to his burial. Now your mother has been sick and the best you do is send her money for her medication and keep lying through your teeth about going home. You no longer advocate for peoples right or volunteer for community service. you started a blog back in second year and for a year or two you were on a roll! You then forgot why you began writing in the first place and you ditched writing.

You only exist now.

You no longer have the comfort of immortality that writing could have given you. in the place of big dreams, high expectations and tremendous courage to achieve lies broken dreams, disappointment and shame.

You will die soon. Will you die empty? Have you given of yourself enough to boldly accept your sunset years without remorse?


The problem is, we think we have time.

TICK, TOCK… Time is up.

Frankly, it is beyond up.

I’d recommend a book called On the shortness of life by Seneca written 2000years ago. Here’s a quote by the wise Seneca;

It is not that we have a short time to live, but that we waste a lot of it. Life is long enough, and a sufficiently generous amount has been given to us for the highest achievements if it were all well invested. But when it is wasted in heedless luxury and spent on no good activity, we are forced at last by death’s final constraint to realise that it has passed away before we knew it was passing. So it is: we are not given a short life but we make it short, and we are are not ill-supplied but wasteful of it.”

“Many pursue no fixed goal, but are tossed about by ever changing designs by a fickleness which is shifting in-constant and never satisfied with itself. Some have no aims at all for their life’s course, but death takes them unawares as they yawn languidly – so much so that I cannot doubt the truth of that oracular remark of the greatest of poets: ‘It is a small part of life we really live.’ Indeed, all the rest is not life but merely time.”

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My Longcall Abortion

Here I was, lying in bed, thinking. What was I thinking about you ask? My unborn child.

It had been 11 weeks since my heart stopped beating after seeing those 2 lines streaked on the pregnancy test kit. To say I had been overwhelmed would be an understatement. The wave of emotions I felt in that minute that felt infinite must not have a term coined for them yet. It’s indescribable.

Pregnancy scares are so common that at some point methinks we deem it a positive pregnancy test near impossible. Yet here I was. 22, clueless on motherhood and pregnant. I did not have the luxury of supportive parents in fact, they chastened me when I opened up to me and straight up decided to leave me on my own. My so-called partner was in the wind.

Life has a wicked sense of humor indeed.

Like any other young pregnant female I had contemplated an abortion more than once. The days when the mornings were unbearable and the loneliness crushing. When school seemed like the least of my worries – I was going to be responsible for a human being for God’s sake! Lectures drifted through with me in a daze and in my mind a bleak future awaited for me. I had not the first clue on how I was going to raise this baby when it finally arrived but I chose my misery to be my consolation at that moment and it worked.

I remember waking up that morning groggy and pressed. I strolled to the ladies half awake. I had been constipated lately. Like everyone else, I tried to take upto 8 glasses a day but no, my bowels had a different story they wanted to tell. As I squat and hoped the constipation was gone, I felt a sudden lightness in my abdomen and something gushing out of me that didn’t feel like poop. I looked down instantly and almost fainted at what I saw. It was a fetus. My fetus. My baby. So tiny and gory. Had I just had a spontaneous abortion during a long call?! In that moment my constipation was the least of my worries. I rushed out of the loo the only thing on my mind being the hospital.

“Yours is a classic case of cervical incompetence,” the doctor said after all the investigations had been done.

“cervical what now?” I stuttered.

Cervical incompetence.

“What you need is a cervical cerclage operation in your subsequent pregnancies to avoid losing your pregnancy again,” he added.

When I heard surgery, my head began spinning. Was I going to die?

No need to worry. It’s a minor surgery and it will be over before you know it.” he said confidently which make my heart beat less faster.

Part of me felt relived having lost the impending responsibility but part of me wondered why what came natural to most women wasn’t so for me.

Was my body broken? Is what kept on ringing in my mind as I left the hospital. Was I ready to go back to the life before what I’d known the past 2 months? There was only one way to find out.

The stinking woman

I had become familiar with this stench overtime following the birth of Jakwe. So had the people around me. They now walked with their faces contorted in disgust and noses turned away I’m assuming to take in one deep breathe so they couldn’t suffocate when addressing me. My husband was not an exception. His disgust was like a constant reminder of how I got here. How I did not choose to be this woman. The stinking woman. The woman who smelled of urine. Was this the price I had to pay for bringing a life into the world?

Jakwe sure made my labor and delivery memorable and excruciatingly painful as she was a large baby as the nurse with the cold eyes and distant voice had put it. I’m not certain whether she was a nurse but her full figure and motherly blossom only confirmed my bias.

She had been kind and chirpy when my husband and I got there earlier that evening but I guess there’s something a long night and a room full of women in anguish does to you. Exhaustion sets in and the jolly self floats away leaving the fatigued, hungry and vexed you. She had become somber and more difficult to talk to. It was almost 3 a.m. And that was the least of my worries. This baby had to come out one way or another so I did what every woman is expected to do during birthing – I pushed and pushed and pushed.

I cannot remember what happened first. Jakwe popping out of me and crying, her cry made me overly sensitive and in that moment I understood what the big fuss about being a mother was, or the pain between my legs which could have been anywhere, right? I had just delivered. My uterus was barely contracting and my vagina, well, my vagina was on fire.

We visited a doctor in Okechu after Jobu and I realized that i was soaked in urine everytime I was pressed and when I did pee, I did not see my pee come out from the usual orifice. This worried me. How was I going to conduct my daily activities? Was I going to start wearing a pamper at my age? Hell to the no. That’s when I asked my husband Jobu to accompany me to the clinic and as I lay there, legs spread and the doctor poking my insides, I wondered what he was looking for and what would happen if he found it.

You have a Vesicovaginal fistula otherwise called VVF.

The doctor calmly said while maintaining eye contact.

I was confused. I’d heard that abbreviation before but never knew what it meant. He went on ahead to explain to me and made it clear that it was a not an uncommon occurrence in women following birth.

If it was so common, why wasn’t I well informed about it? I wondered silently.

I will book you in for surgery to be done during the upcoming VVF free camp to be held at our facility, Jaramogi Oginga Odinga Teaching & Referral hospital next week. You’re lucky, he added.

As we walked away, my mind kept drifting to the other women before me who hadn’t been so lucky. What about them?

The sun will rise and we will try again

Mbita Island

We all have those bleak days.

Once in a while you wake up and no, the planets are not aligned on that particular day. Nothings rests well with you. After opening your eyes, contemplating getting out of bed becomes an internal battle and that’s when the questions begin.

Why am I here?

What am I doing?

I’m I happy?

Is this what I want to do for the rest of my life?

Do these routines ever end?

Days are hard but I keep going, why?

Is it because of the money? No, money isn’t and shouldn’t be reason enough because what happens when it’s no longer coming in?

Where do I derive my satisfaction from?

What if I acquired the money that I’m striving for, would I still do what I do with similar zeal?

Is this it? Is this what life was meant to be for me? To wake up, go to work, come back exhausted, spend long nights on work that I’ll die and leave, eat, sleep and the cycle continues?

These are the places we are taught to and teach ourselves to evade for they will lead you down a dark, endless hole from which only self destruction sprouts.

At the end of the day methinks, serving and the giving of ourselves to others is what gives life meaning and a purpose otherwise you become a zombie hoping to stumble onto something that will lessen the emptiness, the unfulfilled desires and the unachieved expectations.

One of our lecturers, Professor Ojwang’ once told us during his introductory lecture that:

Most of all, the essence of life is making and leaving an impact in society so that when you are gone, with all the academic knowledge you acquired in your lifetime, your contribution to the community will remain even as you lay 6 feet under. Build that school you think your community needs, start a dispensary… you have a role to play in community and the impact you make is what makes life worthwhile as you live and even after you are dead.

And this has stayed with me ever since.

DEATH IS PAIN

This is a dedication to Nathan, a friend and a colleague.

The sun will rise and we will try again.

Life is suffering.

Death is pain.

After a lot of deliberate deliberation, I settled on pain because sad does not quite describe. To say that death makes one sad would be an understatement because death makes you query your own existence and what’s worse than that for a species born to die? For a species driven by the fear of death? For a species that coined the phrase YOLO. You know why that is? Because who does not get goosebumps thinking of death? We walk on this earth for years and we appreciate the gift of life less each day. Funerals bring reality closer to home. They make you question the essence of your own existence. They make you ask yourself, why them and not me? What’s my purpose on this earth? How do I want to be remembered? I’m I ready to die? And the answer to that is a resounding NO! When reality sets in, you realize that you’re not ready to return to the dust you came from. You realize the many things you’ve been putting off on your bucket list and vow to live a more fulfilled, happy life. Historically speaking, we’re a forgetful species which is why we often have tragic events recurring albeit we could’ve put measures in place to evade this. These are fleeting thoughts. We mourn for the dead today, go to sleep and wake up unbothered. I pray you choose a different path. Choose to remember. Choose to live and not to survive because after you’re gone, after we throw the last soil onto your grave, will you live forever in our hearts and minds or return to dust and are gone forever? Forgotten?

It might sound like a cliché but I will say it anyway, no one deserves to die. I say this with a lot of heaviness in my heart as my mind is blunted from the exhaustion of reality. Death is a thief. Death harvests where and when we least expect and it snatches from us what we’re not ready to give up. It takes from us and leaves us scratching our heads and having vicious why thoughts that are unending. We lose ourselves in the process of questioning why this had to happen to us. Why now, why so soon. Why. Why. Why. This is a question we most often than not do not get an answer to and there is no worse turmoil to be in than this. To feel like life chose to cheat you. That life is like that lover you fell deeply in love with, the lover who is difficult sometimes but reasonable but then decided to wake up the morning before your wedding and leave you. The lover who leaves without leaving a note hinting to what might have made them leave. A lover who leaves you spending a lifetime seeking closure. Spending a lifetime lost in a series of why thought. Life is like a selfish lover. It gives and takes without warning reminding you how much your lungs like the taste of air.

When they tell you that people are replaceable, do not listen to them for people are irreplaceable. The void that the loss of a loved one leaves cannot be filled by anything or anyone else. The pain caused by their death is indescribable. During mourning you must have seen the mourners grab their clothes and tear them off, roll on the ground wailing, place their arms on their head and wail or sometimes move their hands all over the place because they do not know where to place them. That is pain. It demands to be felt and the loss of a loved one causes pain that one does not know how to let out. You feel like you want to pull your heart out of your chest. You feel like the tears will never stop flowing. You feel lost. You feel cheated and you feel empty and that’s the worse of it all. As much as pain demands to be felt, it numbs you. It’s so painful that at some point you do not know what you’re feeling anymore, how you’re supposed to feel. When friends and family hug you and tell you it’s going to be okay, you disagree with them in your head because no, it’s not okay and no, it might never be okay but man cannot live in fear. Man has to thrive on hope. Without hope, we are lost. You wonder how anyone expects you to cope. How you yourself are going to cope because that’s the thing with loss, it has to happen to you for you to experience it. The confusion. The pain. The emptiness. They all become a reality when you go through them. When you’re no longer walking a mile in someone else’s shoe but in your own. It’s your shoe. You’re walking in it and society is there watching you. Praying you don’t stumble. Praying you don’t trip and fall but instead hold your chin high, do not let those tears fall and face your fears.

Death is pain.

To say I have attended a number of funerals in my life would be to lie. I have attended less than 2 and the second one changed me, my perspective of life.

I sat there helplessly watching them. The family sat in one tent, the clergy in another and the rest of us in the other tents. The coffin that was brown and gold plated stood in the middle as if commanding the attention of the audience. As if demanding to be seen whether you wanted to or not. It was open for viewing and he sat there. His back facing our tent along with his two brothers. I decided to fit his shoe and my heart broke for him. I cried with him and I hated that I was helpless about his pain, their pain. No matter how hard you try to fit one’s shoe, you never will quite imagine the end of it because it is not your cross to carry. In that moment, it is theirs which is why, perhaps, God decided to bless us with the gift of empathy. In that, I can share in your pain, when your tears flow, mine flow too and in your laughter, I find my happiness as you do yours. My eyes kept tearing up and friends, relatives and family said a word or two about the now deceased phenomenal man that once walked this earth. That once laughed till he cried, smiled, fought his fights on this earth. At that moment, I felt like my ribcage was no longer well equipped to keep my heart safe. I wanted to explode. I wanted to let it all out. That’s what pain does to you. You feel it in the whole essence of your existence till you cannot take it anymore. That’s when the only thing you want to do is to make it stop. This explains why when grief is not well dealt with, results in development of maladaptive behaviors. For instance, some people opt to excessively consume alcohol to ‘numb’ their pain, some smoke, some become cutters, some choose to end it all! In that moment, death in itself, becomes an option to them. For the ones whose body and mind cannot take the pain, the frustration, the confusion, the loss, their mind gives way. They lose their mind. Literally. Our mind is wired to protect us from that which harms us that’s why it can bury the bad memories so deep in our subconscious that we forget they happened. It’s how it works. When that fails, even the mind gives way for pain. Like I said, pain demands to be felt and when that fails, pain has to find a way out of you. Havoc is what’s left in its path. Pain is a destroyer of man. It brings even the strongest of them all to their knees. What’s more interesting is it has a thing for the worst timing ever.

They spoke about him. Affectionately, respectfully and most of all in the saddest tone of voices you’ve ever heard. From the pamphlet you could see the man full of life, tall and commanding. He looked like the man who, after he entered a room, everyone turned around to stare as he would tower over all others. He was described as a man of integrity by all his colleagues and how he would put his foot down on matters never to be swayed by anything or anyone. A man of integrity. What a rare thing that has become in our world! Clearly, necessity has become the mother of deception. I listened and as I did, I imagined having met this man who now lay there lifeless as if he had never moved an inch in his life. It broke my heart and I wanted to pull my short hair, hard, just to hope that this would be all a bad dream. I was in turmoil. I had never come so close to death before that it disoriented me. I had never felt these emotions before. I did not even know I had them before that day. What could he be feeling if I felt this lost and confused myself? To lose someone who was once your pillar, your role model, provider, protector is no easy thing. To deal and cope with it is more difficult because you cannot quite get used to loss. No one can ever be everything that that person was in your life. They might try but aren’t we all limited editions? One person made the statement that the deceased was such a strong, phenomenal man and he cannot fathom how he could come down with something so fast and within a few hours, cease to exist. He could not wrap his head around it. Now, tell me, how can a person, larger than life, be snatched from his loved ones in a matter of hours? How can someone be and the be no more? How fickle is our alive status? Is there something that we were meant to do and once it’s done death claims us? Why is it that people deteriorate faster than they have been blooming? Why is our life similar to the life cycle of flowers? In my mother tongue which is ekegusii, there’s a sad, moving song that goes like;

Obogima negesicha gwekwaroroka mambia 🎶

Life is a flower that withers in the morning

We are born.

We walk.

We live.

We grow old.

We wither and die.

Why is it then we’re born? What are we born for? Our sunset years are not guaranteed which methinks is what the person who said live fast, die young partly had in mind. Albeit, that’s a story for another day.

When they coined the phrase YOLO, they probably must have had a near death experience that left their arteries pumping with adrenaline and their hearts racing faster than ever before that they decided that this life is something you’re guaranteed to have forever. This body is just a vessel to enable you experience our physical world. That without it, you’re wiped off the face of the earth. Without it, you cease to exist. That you could be healthy and bouncing this moment and the next you’re in the hospital in a coma because of a head injury because the matatu driver swerved to avoid hitting the motorbike rider and his passenger. Because you made that right turn sooner than you should have and suddenly you’re lying there-a vegetable. You cannot open your own eyes, talk, move your own limbs, clean up after yourself after you visit the toilet or hug your loved ones. I’ve always wondered, what goes on in such a person’s mind? Do they perhaps go to another plane of existence and exist there as their physical body heals and one that none of them ever recalls? One thing I know for sure is, a minute can change a lifetime. Like the minute that the last drop of soil is thrown on the graveyard.It’s in the most vulnerable moments that we discover parts of ourselves we did not know existed. Perhaps it’s how strong we can be when it’s the only we have or how terrible we are at handling trying moments or how much we love our family to death. It’s a time of discovery. Grief evokes emotions in us that run as deep as the ocean. It makes us take a step back and see everything in a new light. It makes us want to love more, forgive more, call our loved ones more, text them to check up on them and to make peace with the fact that we only have one life to live and that we wouldn’t want our day to come and find ourselves filled with remorse about the things we could have done but didn’t do, the things we should have done but didn’t do, the opportunities we didn’t take and the people we took for granted. It makes you reflect which is why I believe that it is possible to be lost in your own mind. Your mind can wander within itself.

I stood there again, helplessly, watching his face fall, his eyes heavy with tears but because the African society has painted the man, an emotionless being, he couldn’t let them out while the rest of the family wept in anguish. In that moment I became angry. Angry at us. Angry at society. Why do we do this to our men and still wonder why women live longer than men? We are all human and different in our anatomy shouldn’t be used to oppress us. Men should be allowed to express their emotions. Wait, who do they need permission from? Exactly! My eyes kept filling up and I couldn’t cry because well, I’d cry a river and I was supposed to be the shoulder to lean and cry on. We all had to be and stay strong for him for he needed us. They gently lowered the large coffin into the ground. I could not believe this was happening. I could not believe my eyes. I could not believe that this is what death does to someone. I could not believe that this once feared, respected, loved and towering man was being buried. That he was going back to the soil that we came from. No, it was not happening. But yes, it was happening right before me. Reality set in when the throw the first batch of soil. In that moment, I wanted to scream. I imagined that if they waited a little longer, I don’t know, a miracle could happen. That if they gave my friend more time to see his father, it would alleviate his pain. His face spoke emotions I’m not sure that even as a writer, I’d be able to put down. It is hard to witness a burial. It is harder to witness the burial of someone close to you. Someone that you once hugged, that you once ate together and laughed, someone that you called in times of trouble, someone that you grew up knowing is invincible. It is hard. I wished that movies were a reality in that moment then maybe, just maybe, I’d have cast a magic spell that would have taken all his pain away. If this was affecting me this much and I never met this man, what was it doing to his own family? I did not want to start thinking deeply about it because I was at the verge of breaking down. My heart broke for him. My heart broke for all of them. It’s in such moments that even the slightest of touch, if done well and with well meaning, can make a tangible difference. A hug, a squeeze of the hand, a rub on the back. We’re social beings. We thrive on connection and to know that you’re with me in the most difficult of moments makes a lifetime difference in me. It creates a ripple effect so I want to believe that us being there, made a difference. That by looking up and seeing familiar faces, it brought a little bit of comfort and hope that even at the speed of a kidney stone, it will pass.

It’s in the most vulnerable moments that we discover parts of ourselves we did not know existed. Perhaps it’s how strong we can be when it’s the only we have or how terrible we are at handling trying moments or how much we love our family to death. It’s a time of discovery. Grief evokes emotions in us that run as deep as the ocean. It makes us take a step back and see everything in a new light. It makes us want to love more, forgive more, call our loved ones more, text them to check up on them and to make peace with the fact that we only have one life to live and that we wouldn’t want our day to come and find ourselves filled with remorse about the things we could have done but didn’t do, the things we should have done but didn’t do, the opportunities we didn’t take and the people we took for granted. It makes you reflect which is why I believe that it is possible to be lost in your own mind. Your mind can wander within itself.

How do you cope with loss? How do you grieve till you can speak about that person and not break down? Methinks this can be possible overtime by trying and focus on the good the person did, to celebrate them, to remind yourself that in as much as life cheated you, in as much it left you without closure, that person will always be with you at heart. Like one person said that do not be saddened for we now have one more angel in heaven who will forever watch over you. And I found that comforting because yes, perspective can make all the difference! This is not to mean that I’m belittling loss. No. Like I said, all I wanted do was take all that pain away. To see the light in their eyes that once existed before it flickered in the face of loss and drained away. But there’s only so much man can do and where man cannot go further, God can go miles further. God can and will hold your hand, no, he will carry you as you find your footing. Do you know of the story of footprints in the sand? No? I got you.

~FOOTPRINTS~

One night a man had a dream. He dreamed he was walking along the beach with God. Across the sky flashed scenes from his life. For each scene, he noticed two sets of footprints in the sand. One belonged to him and the other to God. When the last scene of his life flashed before him. He looked back at the footprints in the sand. He noticed that many times along the path of his life there was only one set of footprints. He also noticed that it happened at the very lowest and saddest times in his life. This really bothered him and he questioned God about it, “You said that once I decided to Follow you, you’d walk with me all the way. But I have noticed that during the most troublesome times in my life, there is only one set of footprints. I don’t understand why when I needed you most you would leave me alone.” God replied, “My precious, precious man, I love you and I would never leave you. During your times of trial and suffering, when you see only one set of footprints, it was then that I carried you.”



Moral of this story: You’re never ever alone, especially during your most trying times. God is always with you. Even if you cant be your own best friend as yet, make sure to acknowledge the fact that God is your best friend always!

And by the way, this story was originally written by a Mary Stevenson in 1936 when she was just a little girl. Amazing how the right stories just find its way into our lives if we let them !

So yes, God will carry you.

Take heart.