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.

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Can you cheat death?

Have you ever been the bearer of bad news? No, terrible news?

Are you one of those shoot the messenger kind of persons? Well, then imagine how hard it is for the bearer of the news especially when the message is life changing. Tell me, how do you look at a terminally ill patients’ family and deliver the news when they ask you, “Daktari, kwa nini hii ugonjwa haiponi na amekuwa akishinda hospitali?” Tell me, do you go have a glass of water first, wipe and imaginary beard of sweat from your forehead or do you rehearse in from on the mirror first putting on you most grave facial expression just to gain the confidence to deliver the news and an empathetic expression to comfort them? What do you do when the mother breaks into a wail and starts tugging at her shawl and her hands quickly find the back of her head as she calls the names of her ancestors? Do you stand there awkwardly and ask them whether they have any more questions or clarification or do you silently weep with them? One doctor once told me that contrary to popular belief, one never gets used to death. Not even morgue attendants. Not even brushing shoulders with loss hardens you enough to eliminate the despair and exasperation that comes with losing a life, even worse, a loved one. If you’re a doctor you sleep wondering what could have been done differently or what could hare been detected early enough to evade the tragedy.

It changes you.

And what about the patient? Do you tell them that you only live once could never hit closer to home? Or do you stare at their eager, expectant eyes, bite the inside of your tongue and utter I’m sorry then follow it up with the dreaded but?

Isn’t it dreadful? To be the one to let a human being know that there’s no further hope for them save for enjoying the taste of air while their lungs can still allow them?

Which reminds of one of my favorite books that has a similar storyline and moved me tears and desperation where the author, Paul Kalanithi says that “Even if I’m dying, until I actually die, I’m still living. “