“Hi. How are you? So yeah we’re taking mum to hosi. Everything’s okay, she’s just low on oxygen and is having trouble breathing.”
That was what my brother called to tell me at 00:58 a.m. on December 13, 2017. In response I asked him to let me know when they got to the hospital and he said he would.
My aunt: Lwile! Come to Nairobi Hospital now!
Me: What’s going on?
My aunt: Just come! Now! Come now!
It was at that moment, 1:07 a.m. on December 13, 2017, that I began to fear my mum was dead. The urgency in my aunt’s voice terrified me and the fact that she did not want to disclose on phone what was going on only added to my terror. My brother called me exactly one minute later but he did not speak. I picked up the call and heard him crying and it was then I moved from fearing my mum was dead to knowing she was dead. To date few things terrify me more than late-night phone calls from family because those phone calls never come with good news.
At 1:12 a.m. I got a call from my mum’s phone and my immediate thought was, “See. You had nothing to fear. She is still alive. Why would she be calling you if she was not alive?” But no, she was not alive. It was simply, heartbreakingly, a 15 second misdial from someone who had my mum’s phone. After 15 seconds I finally understood there was no one on the other end of the line and I hang up and proceeded to request for an Uber to take me to Nairobi hospital.
At 1:23 a.m. I got a call from my sister:
My sister: Hi. Has Auntie called you?
My sister: Are you on the way to Nairobi Hospital?
Me: Yah. I’m waiting for my Uber.
My sister: Is mum dead?
Me: I don’t know Audrey. I think so. But I don’t know for sure.
At 1:27 a.m. the cab guy called to let me know he was outside and with that I left my house in the dead of the night, exactly 20 minutes after my aunt had called and told me, with an urgency in her voice I will never forget, to make my way to Nairobi hospital.
I got to Nairobi Hospital and the first people I remember seeing was one of my brothers as well as one of my aunties and her husband. Up to that point a small part of me still harboured hope that my mum was alive. But when I got to the hospital and took one look at my aunt’s face, it told me everything I needed to know. That look, that I will never ever forget, practically cried out that my mum, her sister, was irrevocably, irrefutably dead.
My brother walked over to me and hugged me as he said sorry. I said thanks, asked him where my mum was and he took me to her. She was in one of the rooms near the entrance of the Accident and Emergency Centre. I walked in and stared at my mum’s lifeless body for a few seconds before sighing and taking her hand. I do not remember how long I was holding her hand for before my sister arrived. What I do remember is I kept saying “aki mum” over and over again as I shook my head in disbelief.
As we waited for my mum to be moved from the room she was in to the morgue, her two sisters were walking in and out of the room, alternating between comforting their nieces and nephew and making calls to various people who needed to be informed of my mum’s demise.
I am not too sure how long we stayed in that room but if I were to guesstimate I would say between 30 minutes to one hour. Eventually my mum was moved to the morgue and someone had to sign the “Notification of Death to the Kenya Police” form that we were given by the hospital. If you read the blog it should not surprise you that my mum’s husband did not come to the hospital that day. Disappoint, yes. Disgust, absolutely. But surprise, no. I am pretty sure he was informed that his wife had died, but he chose not to come to the hospital so I was the one to sign the form.
In the form there is a section that reads ‘RELEVANT FACTS KNOWN ABOUT THE DEATH AND ITS CAUSES’ and this is what was filled in for my mum:
Patient known to have metastatic breast cancer with renal failure. On dialysis.
Brought in unresponsive, on exam pupils dilated, cardiac sounds absent, absent carotid pulse.
There are also sections for PLACE and TIME OF DEATH and the medical practitioner filling in the form wrote down “brought in dead” and “confirmed dead on arrival at 1:10 a.m.”
I say all the time that my mum died on December 13, 2017 at 1:10 a.m. but that is not technically true as she was already dead by the time she got to the hospital. But since I do not know the exact time of death I elected to go with the time my mum was confirmed dead as her actual time of death.
When my brother called me at 00:58 a.m. to tell me that they were taking my mum to the hospital, it turns out she was in an ambulance and he was following behind in the family car. What happened was my mum’s health started failing so my brothers called one of our aunties to come to the house as she is a doctor. When my aunt got to the house she determined that my mum needed immediate medical attention so they called for an ambulance while she attended to my mum as best as she could. When the ambulance came my mum went in it together with my doctor-aunt and my mum’s night nurse aide, and my brothers followed behind in the family car.
In a panic my brother had also called my mum’s daytime nurse aide as she was my mum’s primary nurse aide at the time. By the time the nurse aide got to the house everyone had already left so she took a boda boda to the hospital. At the time I was moved by what I perceived to be her dedication to my mum, but turns out she was just coming to steal because barely two hours after my mum died she stole money from my mum’s M-Kesho account. Money that even I, one of the people my mum was closest to, did not know she had.
While at the morgue I had to take care of a number of decisions like which funeral home my mum would be taken to, how we would pay for the costs etc etc. It would have been nice to have someone else in charge of those decisions so that I could sit back and come to terms with the fact that the love of my life was dead. Instead, being the firstborn, I had to put that aside and focus on the decisions at hand that would otherwise not make themselves.
After we agreed on next steps we all dispersed and went our separate ways. On the way home I texted my BFF Adelle Onyango and another friend of mine (or should I say ex-friend as she completely disappeared from my life last year) to let them know my mum was dead. I got home about two hours after I left for the hospital and for the rest of the night I did not sleep a wink. “Yaani my mum is dead” was all I could think, over and over again. I knew my mum was dead the same way I know there is air around me, but trying to familiarise myself with my new reality was as impossible as trying to grasp said air in my hand.
We had this conversation when I was near Toi market and my aunt cried the rest of the way until I got to my family home in Kileleshwa. In between her crying she kept saying that her friend was dead as she lamented that she was supposed to take her for dialysis that morning.
I got to my family home and found my mother’s husband there.
Him: Lwile …
Him: What do you mean no?
Me: We haven’t spoken in like three years now. We don’t get to start now because mum is dead. So, no.
My BFF came home that morning as soon as she could because she was still on the KISS FM breakfast show at that time. As I waited for her I went to the office to tell my colleagues that my mum had died. I decided to start by telling one of the bosses who I also considered a friend at the time. I sat in her office as I waited for her to finish sending an email, though she could tell something was off as she kept asking me what was wrong. I told her to finish what she was doing first then we can talk. After she finished she turned to me and said, “Haiya. Now tell me” to which I responded that my mum was dead and she immediately started crying. After she calmed down we told the rest of the team and I left the office to go home and meet with Adelle, who arrived shortly after I did.
We had been informed that we would need a letter from my mum’s doctor regarding her death and so Adelle and I, together with my mum’s big sister, went to see the doctor while my brother stayed at home to attend to the many visitors we were receiving that day.
At the hospital the doctor clarified that since my mum had died on the way to the hospital and not in the hospital itself, the signature from the medical practitioner from the night before would suffice. At that point we asked my mum’s doctor to tell us what the fuck happened because it had not even been 48 hours after my mum was discharged and she was already dead. She had a few theories but said the only way we could know for sure was if an autopsy was done. We raised this point later on with my mum’s husband and he immediately shut it down. There are times I am okay with not knowing, but other times I wish I went ahead and defied him because to date, every so often, I still wonder what the fuck happened.
After the hospital we went to City Mortuary to get the burial permit. It cost KES 3,500 and none of us had cash at the time so Adelle paid for us and we reimbursed her later on. While we were there my aunt who I was talking to in the morning joined us and the minute she stepped into the room she burst into tears. She cried and cried and cried and I remember thinking how strange it was that sooo many people had cried since the news broke that my mum was dead but me, her firstborn, had not cried at all from the minute my brother called me at 00:58 a.m.
After we got the burial permit we went back to Kileleshwa where my sister, aunt, Adelle and I proceeded to remove all of my mum’s things from her bedroom. When my step mum died years back, her husband’s relatives came from upcountry and took all her belongings with them, leaving next to nothing for her children. My mum had said she did not want the same thing to happen to her as she wanted all her stuff to go to her sisters. So the previous night when my brothers were returning home from the hospital I asked them to lock my mum’s bedroom when they got to the house. When we came back from City Mortuary we got the key from my brother and removed everything from my mum’s room. My sister and I took what we wanted at that moment, and the rest of her things were taken to my aunt’s to be divided later between her sisters and children. We asked my brother if he wanted anything but he was too distraught to think about it so we kept for him some things he might appreciate, with an unspoken understanding that if later there was something my aunts had that he wanted it would be given to him.
In the evening when there was a large number of friends and family in the house we began the preparations for my mum’s funeral. It was agreed that we shall lay my mum to rest on December 23rd which is why the final theme of the JS Kicking Cancer’s Ass series has gone up today. On this day three years ago we buried my mum at her husband’s upcountry home and it seemed really fitting to put up theme 13 of 13 on the day my mum was laid to rest.
This post was meant to include the details of my mum’s funeral, from the evening of December 13, 2017 when we started planning it to the night of December 23rd, but we are already at 2400+ words so that has to be a story for another day. Not anytime soon though because:
- I am tired of telling sad stories. Fucking over it to be more specific.
- In telling the story I will be revealing some details about the paternal side of my family that I am not ready to get into yet.
I committed to telling my mum’s story regardless of how difficult it would be because, as I said in December 13 2018, even the battles lost are still worth telling. My mum might have lost her 5 ½ year battle with breast cancer but that does not make her story any less powerful because even the battles lost are still worth telling.
That said, even though I committed to telling my mum’s story despite knowing doing so was likely to retraumatise me, I greatly underestimated how painful it would be. Some themes, like The Copious Hospital Admissions and The Anticipatory Grief were not too difficult to relive. Others like The Family and The Moments Of Happiness were not difficult to tell at all. The Paralysis, The Nurse Aides, The Firstborn aka The Caregiver and The Coping Mechanisms were incredibly difficult to relieve and it was really painful going back there. Then there was The Beginning Of The End which, unequivocally, is the most painful blog post I have ever written. That one, simply put, wrecked me as I really cried while writing it. It is, undoubtedly, the main reason I am taking a break from writing sad stories in 2021. There may be a few ones here and there, but overall in 2021 the blog is going to have a much happier vibe because I am fucking over sad stories.
As I conclude I need to say that this would not have been possible without you, dear reader, who has stuck with me for all the 13 themes. For those who have gone ahead to drop me a word of comfort and/or encouragement, either on the blog or on my social media, please accept my deepest, most heartfelt gratitude for giving me the motivation to soldier on despite how painful the journey was. Lastly to anyone reading this who is going through what I went through, know that you are not alone. I am sending you so much strength, love and light and if you ever want to talk to someone feel free to DM me on Twitter or on Instagram.