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I have had many moments where i could not understand what i felt until many days later but these days, I can peg it sooner. It is now clear that we cannot fully understand and control our emotions. Many times we tell people grieving tht they should be over something but most of us do not know how deeply the pain goes. So let me tell you

Grief is like a paper cut on your finger that is so small and often invisible but hurts so much. The pain is so intense that you cannot use hot water, chilly or even hold something close. It is so invisible but hurts like crazy. 

  • Sometimes you wake up and cannot get up
  • Other times your heart races so fast it literally hurts
  • Another time it will be uncontrollable rage and anger
  • Other times it is a deep sadness 
  • Yet other times it is the lack of focus
  • Then it could be in intense laughter and joy
  • It is also in the long days spent in bed, sleepless
  • other times…there are no words

We cannot deny that grief exists unless we want to deny one of the most beautiful things God gave us to thrive in life. We want to learn to love the place we are in and draw out the lessons of the season. There isn’t a single way to deal with grief so please don’t try to box others into a mold that they cannot remain in.

Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

Torrents of Sadness

This afternoon I saw myself through the eyes of a loved one and I didn’t like what I saw. In what I now know is a wave of grief, everything they said triggered pain and sadness to an extent I haven’t experienced in a long time. I walked out to calm myself but in the moment I saw how grief can isolate people. It was as if this person was out to get me but they weren’t. They simply did something differently from how I wanted it and I lost it. 

Grief is the most unpredictable thing on the planet. One moment you are well and operating at peak and the next you are down in the dumps in tears or just confusion. Grief is connected to every loss we experience but death seems to trigger it harder and deeper than anything else. 

When Daddy, Rt Rev Prof Michael Ssenyimba died I registered that it was a good thing because he was no longer in pain but today, my heart dropped. When my loved one did not consult me on something it triggered all the pain and rejection that I have experienced. Did they reject me? No. Were they intentionally mean? Never. Yet the pain of the past not only flooded back but triggered loneliness and loss like never before. 

The hardest thing was the feeling that I didn’t have a cover so no one would protect me. It felt like I was fatherless so now anyone can take advantage and hurt me with no care. I felt abandoned and lost, uncertain and broken, terrified that I was fully out of control. 

All those feelings are not final but they are how I felt at that moment and the only thing to do is to walk through it not away from it. My tears rarely flow on the outside but they are flowing on the inside. My heart breaks at many turns every day but I have learned not to trust the finality of the feelings but rather to question them until I understand the root. 

Today I can’t claim to be over the pain and confusion but I will not let it overwhelm or confuse me. The tears flow freely and the pain is shared with those who can help me get through the journey of the day…the rest will happen in time.

The Gift of Presence

In all seasons, people are important but there’s a heightened in hard times. When tragedy strikes we tend to rally around people and stand closely but once the ‘worst’ is over, we all go back to life.

The most challenging day when you lose a loved one, after the day they die, is the day after the burial. You have been surrounded by people from the day of death to the day of the burial. They visit, sit around, tell stories, and make you laugh and cry as they remember your loved one with you. They cook, clean, shop for you, and fill our house with so much bread and milk you could feed a school. It is a revolving door of entertaining that if you are not careful, you will burn out before the longest day of your life.

On that burial day, a large crowd gathers to help you give a befitting send-off with glowing tributes, soulful songs, sometimes dirges, sermons, processions, lowering of the casket, a handful of soil and then that hollow sound of soil hitting the casket. Ah…it is like a sharp serrated knife stabbed into your heart twisted, pulled out and repeated with every thud as everyone wants to put their contribution in.

Next is to fill the grave with soil, after all, it is dust to dust we go, accompanied by mournful songs because we can’t muster the strength to be joyful. We lay wreaths of flowers and plant single buds so everyone has the chance to pay their last respects and tearfully say goodbye. As this happens the food station opens because we cannot send people home without something little and slowly the mournful sounds turn to quiet laughter and conversation. A pat on the back, a hug, promises to call, sighs of sadness, and everyone quietly slips away back to their homes and off to mind their business.

Evening passes and morning arises with a deep, ten-foot-thick, solid wall of silence. No hooting, no open doors, no people to make you a meal, no questions about how you slept or if you slept…nothing. Everyone is GONE. Where? Back to their lives. They have done their solemn duty after slowing down their lives for some days, now they must go back to make up for the work they missed, the money they didn’t make, the meetings they didn’t attend, they have to get it back.

Oh, it is indeed right that they do but what do we do with our pain now? How do we deal with the reminder that we are no longer whole? Who will check on us daily? Who will cry with us? Who will walk with us? How will we get up in the morning? Who will help us sort through the clothes and belongings? Will we throw or give them away? Will we get overwhelmed in the middle and just give up? Who will help follow the death certificate and benefits? How will we generate income for next month?

I don’t think anyone means to forget the bereaved, rather I think we are consumed by life…our lives. I pray we can be more deliberate about caring for the bereaved. I will be different knowing what I know now from walking down that path. Many people don’t know what to do so let me share a few thoughts:

  • The day after the burial, check in on your friend…a text is likely best, a simple reminder they are loved and thought of
  • In the weeks to come check on them often…call, text
  • Show up and just sot with them, don’t talk a lot, just be there often
  • Hug them as much as they are comfortable with.
  • Less is more, if you don’t know what to say, sit quietly.
  • Do some chores for or with them.
  • Call and if the call is not picked up, don’t keep calling, rather send a message.

Loving people is more powerful when you show up and respond to actual needs not perceived needs. Love is more an action word than a feeling. Love in times of hardship is better expressed by pressure-free physical presence.

black and white quote by Kyesubire that says

Loving people is more powerful when we respond to actual needs.

Past Tense Is So Final

Talking about a loved one in the past tense is very hard. It reminds you that they are gone in the body so we cannot see, feel or hear from them again. I am still unpacking that one because it brings up emotions and sadness many times. 

It is interesting how every loss affects the individual differently. One passing could trigger anger, another tears, another laughter, another relief, and yet another nothing at all.  Yet it is still final.

I remember laughing about how some communities around here grieve. On the eve of the burial, they stay up all night singing, crying, celebrating and remembering the person. At one such event, they made us all laugh saying:

Na simu yake sasa ni mteja (now her phone is not reachable) uuuuuiiiiiwwwwwi.

Na ukimwita hataitika (if you call her she will not answer) uuuuuiiiiiwwwwwi.

Ukimtafuta hautampata (if you look for her you won’t find her) uuuuuiiiiiwwwwwi.

The leader then broke into singing and dancing for 10 minutes after that as people laughed, cried and just began to settle into the reality that this person is indeed gone for good. By the following day, mourners who had stayed up all night had processed some of the grief and were in a better place which was a little perplexing to those arriving in the morning.

There is no easy way to deal with the finality of a sealed grave and the flowers on top. There is no easy way to wake up in the morning and know that a wake-up call or text or silly emoji is not coming. There is nothing that makes the empty room but a full wardrobe better or easier. It is so final…so final.

The finality of death is contrary to the reality that God is in control.

God is the only one who can heal our hearts, dry our tears and calm our fears. It is countered over time and rarely in an instant. I am not sure that time heals, I actually think it cannot. God is the healer and the one who turns all things into good. Right now I may not see it well but I choose to believe that indeed he is the only one able and willing to heal. 

I choose to believe! Even with tears flowing and questions raging…I choose to believe. Even while going through the most unbelievable pain I have ever known and an inexplicable sadness…I choose to believe.

Often, Silence is More Than Golden

People who are well-meaning often say the silliest things in times of grief.

I know you have heard and likely say things to people grieving thinking they are helpful but many times they are not. Some of the most common ones I find strange are:

  • Do not cry…be strong
  • God loved them more so he took them
  • Be strong for your father/mother
  • I am so sorry
  • Make sure you stay united
  • You must talk about it
  • You need to snap out of it

Yes, the statements may make space in some contexts but they are not universally ok. Let me explain a few.

If you know me well enough and you are aware that I come from a close-knit family, taking care of my mother is a given, not an option, so please do not tell me to take care of her…I already am. We are working on a plan that is only visible in the family and you will see the results later on when she is more lively.

I will cry be sure of that; silent tears, wails from my belly, torrents in the watches of the night, wails in the arms of people I know love and uphold me. Nothing you say will stop me because tears cleanse the eyes and the soul by letting out the pain. If you do not like tears, stand back or walk away.

I will talk about it, but you may not be the one I talk to. If we haven’t been close in the last few years, do not expect me to pour my heart out to you. Oh, we can have conversations and I will tell you stories but do not expect the saddest parts to be shared with you. Pray for me as I deal but do not expect it too much.

God loved them so he took them, so are you saying he doesn’t love us? One thing that fascinates me is grief’s irrational nature. Things that would make sense when I wasn’t in this state will trigger visceral reactions while grieving. Faith that made sense when it was all smooth is on the threshing floor now so be careful when approaching.

If you think someone has grieved for too long never, and I say it again, NEVER tell them to snap out of it. In counselling, I learnt that the minimum grieving time is three, yes 3, years. So if three years haven’t passed and I am not spiralling into depression, please step back…I will be fine.

Let us learn to give people space to grieve in whichever way works for them, how they want and according to their personality. I am not one given to crying in public and no, I rarely wail. So If you are a wailer and roller, do not expect me to be like you or judge the depth of my grief. If you cannot see where I get the strength to laugh in this season, do not assume I am alone…there is likely an ecosystem around me that is working to support me.

Bottom line…be careful and sensitive when you speak with the bereaved…you may get sidelined for life.

Laughter is the best way.

I laugh and smile easily, even in difficult times. Sometimes people think I am always happy, fake it, or do not deal with issues, yet that is far from the truth.

Why do I smile? I smile because I choose joy daily as my source of strength. My smile comes from very deep and is very broad. My laugh comes from the depths of my soul. My eyes join with every smile and laugh. My heart beats stronger with every smile and laugh. I literally feel lifted whenever I laugh or smile. It never matters how painful the circumstances are, you can always find a laugh or a smile within me.

Smiles and laughter do not mean I never experience or cause pain. It just means I have found my way to deal with life in every circumstance. I find that no matter how hard the situation there is always something to be joyful and grateful about. Do not get me wrong…there is pain but there are also ways to deal with pain that do not include a consistently long face.

It took me a long time to understand how important smiling and laughter are for my sanity. A few years ago, after a long stressful period, I reconnected with an old friend who mentioned that I have a beautiful smile but didn’t show it often enough. Due to the state of my life and emotions at the time, I laughed and didn’t believe him immediately.

It did not matter that the world could see the beauty radiating from me, as long as I could not see it, it remained something I didn’t understand or fully explored. At that moment, I was so caught up in surviving that I had forgotten how to smile and laugh fully. It was as if some of me had died along the way and I could not recover it. I did not believe him and he challenged me to look at myself in the mirror and smile…really smile then tell him what I found.

When you lose something valuable or important, it is easy to get caught up in the sense of loss and be unable to recover it. I had lost my joy in life because my heart had broken repeatedly. In some instances, it was others who broke it and in others, it was my own doing. I did not see my handprint at first but in time, after deep reflection, I saw it and could not blame others.

It was hard and at the start my smiles were fake but over time they became bigger and more beautiful. sometimes I would take calls with people who make me laugh as I stood in front of the mirror to see my smile and how my eyes twinkle. Boy oh boy, wasn’t it surprising how big and beautiful. I remember writing a piece about that if you are looking for a ladylike, soft laugh then I am the wrong candidate because I have a very deep and loud laugh from the depths of my belly and express it freely with my head thrown back.

Nothing reflects the state of one’s heart better than a smile and laughter. 

Today, many people hide behind fake smiles and laughter, but you can pick it out with a trained eye and ear. Why do we hide behind fakeness? There are many reasons like hidden pain, trauma, disappointment, sadness, and uncertainty, to name a few. Is it always easy to smile and laugh? Not at first but when you understand that the source of the smile is inner peace and joy, you can tap into that no matter what. 

So when you see me smile and you know the pain in my life, do not think I am faking it. I am dealing with everything in a way that works for me.

image of a dock in the water with the words, "I am dealing with everything in a way that works for me...not you."

Live Prepared

We are likely never ready for grief even when it is expected. We often underestimate how deeply we feel and closely we love people until they are gone. Even when we have told them how much we love them, the finality of death is on a level that shocks and shakes us to the core yet it is only one level of grief.

Grief is experienced from the loss of anything that is of value to us. When we lose relationships, actual things, jobs, dreams…anything we have placed a value on, there is a deep measure of grief. It is driven by the perceived finality of the situation at that moment and in the future. Most of the rest a reversible but death is the one that hurts the most and is irreversible.

So if we can never adequately prepare for grief, what can we do? 

We can live life as if we are in our last days…with abandon and absolute commitment. We must say everything we need to say, to whoever we need to say it to and never hold back in our communications. Do not think I am endorsing being mean to people in the way we deal with people; not at all. I mean letting people know how important they are to us and how much we value them.

We enjoy every day to the fullest. Smell the roses, sit in the sun, run in the rain, catch the seeds as they fall, harvest fruits from a tree, and just live life. Enjoy the relationships with a cup of coffee outdoors, a shared bowl of ice cream, a split piece of cake, and an evening by the fire.

We can forgive one another and let go of the drama. I know that a measure of drama adds spice to life but too much drama is tedious and drains our energy. So we must let go of the arrogance, drama, and hardness, then choose to live in a place of brokenness, hang on to the good and let go of the bad and the ugly. Allow people to walk away when they want to even if you may still want them around. 

I choose to work through the grief and pain so that it doesn’t break me. 

Grief is Transformative.

Grief does a number on you you will never see it coming. 

I remember on the day of laying Fathe to rest, many people came up to me saying they had wanted to come but hadn’t because they were busy and now they were out of time. Some knew he had been unwell and were prompted to come but never did. The saddest ones for me were a couple of instances:

  • Those we had specifically called because we knew they were to receive a mantle to extend from his life and they never came.
  • Those who heard and in their heart of hearts knew they needed to come but could not or did not make time.
  • Those who could not deal with the sight of this once virile man, weak, silent, and bedridden so they never came.

As I have sat in this space with different people, i find it very fascinating how grief can change people. I am saddened for those who now carry a deep and crippling sense of guilt because they did not come. I know how that burden can break some. Yet I am critically aware that there is nothing I can do that will take away their guilt. The sadness I saw in their faces was devastating but there was nothing I could do about it. Even when we said it was ok, we could not wipe out the pain and regret there. I saw people stand by the grave and stare as if they needed to have a moment to reconnect…but he was gone for good.

It is easy to hear that someone is unwell and not be able to visit them but when you feel the unction to talk to someone, do it. If your heart longs to see someone, go and see them. Whatever it is you need to do, make sure you do it. Live life without regret and free of wonder. 


The Retreat…

It’s easy to live life until you journey with someone dealing with health challenges. One of the most challenging ailments to navigate is Alzheimer’s dementia. I won’t look at the technical medical terms because they are overwhelming.

For many years it was just another term that meant forgetting and losing memory and oh well, it didn’t seem that bad until we traveled the journey as a family. What started simply as short-term memory loss gradually became clumsiness and ended in immobility.

It is a harrowing journey that families bear, often in silence because when they try to explain it to others, it seems like normal aging at first. I remember the first day I met someone who had been through the journey I almost cried. For once, someone got me, someone understood my questions, frustration, sadness, and sense of loss. Finally, someone had ideas for me on how to support my mother. That was priceless!!

Recently as we shared the journey with a dear family friend, it struck me just how much we could not and had not shared with the world when she just broke down and cried. You see, about ten years ago, Dad retreated from the public eye when he retired for the third and final time and that is the memory everyone had of him…strong, full of laughter, walking with a limp but walking. Yet over ten years he slowly lost every little bit of that and spent his last days in silence.

A couple of things happen when people retreat from the public eye that we never think about before that. Connections and relationships change, some are lost, some are deepened, and most go into limbo. Limbo in this case is neglect or suspension. Each one is waiting for the other to make the move to connect and many times it is too late before they are restored if at all.

If someone in your circle has gone out of circulation, find them. Even if you have nothing to say, just say hello, share love, hug them close or just sit with them. There is greater friendship in silence but the greatest thing you could do for a family in crisis is the gift of presence.

Be There…No Matter What!!

Faith holds us accountable

In a piece I wrote called, He remains faithful, I said that no matter how it gets, God is in control. I realised my life has to be the first port of display of this truth if I proclaim it.

I’m one of those people whose devices give extremely good service. My phones give me five years and my laptops up to ten years. I rarely replace things because I’m bored, rather I replace them because the device no longer serves the purpose. 

In December, my phone notified me about its performance. I kept getting notices about the battery life and every so often it hang for no reason.  The young king was watching he seemed more alarmed about it than I was and he couldn’t understand why I was so blase about the situation. Every week he said something about it and my standard response was “God will provide the resources or the phone.” Was that a hiding tactic? Not at all. It was my truth because unless God provided resources, I didn’t have anything extra available to make a big purchase. This led to four months with him living on the edge and me flouncing through life seemingly carefree.

Fast forward a few weeks and I’m trying to figure out how to replace his phone when a dear friend and one of my leads offered to take him to trade in his phone and get a new one. As they did that they find a phone for me. That sounds simple enough right? Well, we have two old phones to trade in then we top up the difference and I am sure we have an option coming. As they wait for some things to be sorted, another client walks in and trades in a good phone of the brand I usually use. 

Unbeknownst to the young king, my lead calls me and tells me about the phone. He thinks I should get it but I dismiss the idea because I didn’t have money. He repeats that I need to get it and I say I am trusting God for resources. The young king calls me and mentions the same phone with a plan of how I could acquire it. He offers to trade the resources he has acquired so painstakingly to me so that I can get this phone and I am not sure.

However, I am still trying to use that phone as a stopgap for him for about six weeks which will allow me to make something and get him the phone he wants as I pick this one. As we spoke, clarity of what my lead had said to me earlier came and I suddenly understood the right position…trade in my current phone and top up the difference from my business account because it is a tool of the trade and leaves the young king’s money for his phone. Suffice it to say, trading in and getting used phones did the trick.

What caught my attention was that not only did the young king have the confirmation that I would get a phone, but he also had insight into how it would come and was aware enough to see it before I did. My words that God would provide the resources were proven when the other customer walked in with a phone to dispose of, trading in my current phone cut the cost by more than half and I had just enough in savings for the balance. Yet it was not clear until the young king voluntarily stepped aside to sacrifice getting his phone so he could get me mine. He also received a reward because the door opened for an even better phone than what he had initially found.

God fascinates me because while we are still sitting in corners and sulking or wondering he is at work sorting things out and aligning answers. Scripture is so clear that He is prepping with words like, “It shall also come to pass that before they call, I will answer; and while they are still speaking, I will hear.” (Is 65:23). This incident helped me realise that even when the path is unclear for me, God is not asleep or taking a vacation. He is right there with me walking the path with me giving me the guidance I need because He knows what I need before I ask Him (Matt 6:8). If He can care for the flowers, the grass, the trees, the birds, the animals in the wild, surely I am of more value than these (Matt 6:25-31) and he will definitely supply all my needs according to HIS riches in glory (Phil 4:19).

God is not a butler who is at my beck and call neither is he a fairy godfather who lavishly dispenses. He is a father. Father is an economy. Father is the source, provider, protector, and preserver. He is the one who stands up and is counted on to ensure that his children do not lack. He calls me his own and has one major instruction for me to access everything. But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble. Matt 6:33-34. 

This does not mean that I do nothing other than stay in church, though that could be the call of some like Anna. Rather it means that:

  • I check every move with Him,
  • Finalise every plan with Him,
  • Evaluate every situation with Him,
  • Just live in tandem with HIM.

Oneness with God means not taking a stand or making a move without a clear word from Him. It means to be devoted to prayer and time with Him and to listen keenly to the word as He opens it up to me. It means access to ideas and opportunities others would never have seen or connected to because at that moment you are in the right place. 

Walking by faith is what God calls us to be and to do. The deep certainty that no matter how it looks or what is going on around, we know that we know that we know, that He will come through. It is knowing with certainty like we know our names, that HE is reliable. It is allowing Him to teach us His truths through His servants even those significantly younger than us (now this is a story for another day). It is being unmoved by the things around us and resting deeply on and in the word that has come from His mouth to us.