Just over two years ago, I lost my dad and saw the world crush in my eyes. I have a rather low threshold for tears, of joy or pain, but I had (and have) never cried as I did then. A heavyset seven- footer athlete, my dad had been battling hypertension quietly for preceding two years. He was on medication, watched his diet and had a regular fitness schedule at home and away. It was his problem and he had never made it an issue to the rest of the family except for the occasional mention that all was fine. In the month prior to his demise, he had visited his Physician more frequently. Dosages were adjusted, tests done and new instructions given. All would be fine, the doctor hoped.
This optimism did not last. One fateful night, dad woke up in the middle of the night paralysed waist down. By morning, he had no function of all limbs. At the hospital that morning, he slipped in and out of total memory loss, then coma. In exactly 24 hours since he was last fine, dad was no more.
I had been away in Los Angeles for an exam. After my paper, I suddenly went off moods. I was sullen, withdrawn and disinterested in everything for no good reason. We had planned an after party with the rest of my colleagues but I opted out. I was just not in the mood. Little did I know dad was battling a war back home that he would soon lose. My phone had gone off after the battery drained during the daylong exam. I did not have a charger with me until over 600 km away in San Francisco where I was staying for the duration of this trip. However, when I turned on my phone, it came on briefly and I listened to a voice message from dad asking me to call him. I did and he sounded in his usual element for the first few seconds then went of a tangent in his speech. Someone from the rest of the family spoke to me and gave me an account of the events. Dad, in their assessment had made as remarkable an improvement as the deterioration had been. They hoped to leave the hospital in hours.
I was not convinced. My heart raced, tears welled and a drop fell to my phone. I was in a trance. The world seemed to spin slower by the minute and curtains were drawing! I had a strong feeling my dad was not going to come out of such a major stroke. I saw him on a wheelchair, sagging facial skin, drooling saliva and having all his activities of daily living tended to by others. An athletic man full of vigour and with an ever commanding presence reduced to a toddler all over again. I could not hold back my tears. I cried like a burst dam. I knew he faced certain disability or probable death.
We embarked on our road trip back to SF. All the beautiful stops that had made us opt for 6 hour road trip over a 2hour flight made no sense to me or the rest of the party. A few friends cried with me; the rest just slumped into their seats and drowned in their own thoughts. By the time we arrived, dad was in a coma. It was seven o’clock in the evening, about midnight in Kenya time. Nearly 6 hours later, he was no more.
To date, I have never known what words to tell anyone who has lost a loved one. I was told all manner of kind words but they made no meaning to me. The feeling of loss at that time was beyond any words or acts of consolation. Nothing made meaning if my dad would remain dead. I cried all night. My friends embarked on searching for a flight back to Kenya. They were crying between words as they spoke to the airline contact. She cried with them too on learning why I needed a flight in such a short notice. She put me on the next available flight that would connect to Nairobi quickest. I was grateful but my tears would not stop. I arrived at SFO in tears and after a couple of ‘dry’ quick connections in Chicago, JFK, Heathrow and JKIA, the reality dawned on landing at Kisumu.
I had flashbacks of moments when my dad would pray for us every night before he went to bed long after we had been in bed. The moments of quiet counsel. The moments of harsh punishment. The school visiting days. The gifts. His corner at the church and in the house. His mere presence in our minds even when we were not physically together. I have never really overcome his absence. It gets lighter with the passage of time but no one can condole me for this life changing loss. Perhaps quietly known to us as a family, we never tried to condole each other. I could not describe my loss and I knew my mum and siblings could not describe theirs either. We just mourned together undisturbed.
Looking back, I now think it was fair my dad died before any of his children; it is only fair that way. I cannot imagine what my dad would have felt to be the one mourning my death. The loss is much bigger. I have a nearly-two-year-old daughter with whom I have already made so much attachment. Her death in my life would devastate me. This is why even though I cannot pretend to comprehend Raila’s loss at Fidel Odinga’s sudden demise, I know the loss for him and his wife is beyond description.
The Bible captures the demise of King David’s seven-day old new-born in moving detail in 2 Samuel 12:18-23. King David fasted, wept and did not speak to his servants as he immersed himself in prayer for the life of his ailing new born. When it died on the seventh day, the servant could not muster the energy and courage to break the sad news to the King.
19 But when David saw that his servants were whispering together, David understood that the child was dead. And David said to his servants, “Is the child dead?” They said, “He is dead.” – 2 Samuel 12:19
King David grieved solemnly. He had cried enough, fasted and sulked in prayer while the baby ailed. For Raila and spouse, there was no luxury of time. They just woke up to a dead son. The devastation is beyond any words of consolation. No condolences will make meaning. They will grieve in their own way and live with this loss for the rest of their lives. The loss of a child by a parent is an unnatural event. It deflates and nearly takes meaning out of all you worked for and hoped for your child and their future. It puts a sudden stop to what ought to be a lifetime journey. It kills a parent’s soul. I can only wish them and all other parents in their shoes the strength that God gave King David.
23 “But now he is dead. Why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, but he will not return to me.” –2 Samuel 12:23
RIP Fidel Odinga