Death is a cruel, cruel thing. Not just because it takes away people you love; but because nothing can prepare you for when it comes. It doesn’t matter whether someone passes away suddenly – like in an accident – or after a long illness; whether they pass away peacefully in their sleep or whether it’s a violent, painful death; the pain, the sense of emptiness, is the same.
I have many questions about death. Why do we say that so and so “passed away peacefully in their sleep?” How do we know that they were not silently enduring terror? Does someone recognise the moment of crossing over? Does death have a face like the Grim Reaper in cartoons and movies? Why is there an Angel of Death when angels are meant to be about good things? My mind refuses to process that death could be brought by an angel. Don’t angels bring good things like protection, parking and babies (if you’re Mary)? Why do we wish the dead rest in peace when the Bible makes it clear in Revelation – scariest book ever if you think in pictures – that not everyone rests in peace? Do the departed still see us from wherever they are? Do they watch over us like guardian angels? Will we really see them in another life? Will this other life be ended by death and create this cycle of life following death and different levels of the afterlife?
When I was in high school I loved these gospel hip hop guys called Gospel Gangstaz. They had a song about God answering questions, but it would baffle me because the song also had this lyric: never question God. I mean how will God answer my questions if I don’t ask them? It’s a bit like taking a kid to Uhuru Park to show them the boat ride and candy floss, but telling them to be content with seeing them, not to ask to enjoy any of them. Right? Anyway it’s not until later that I realized that I could ask questions but not question God’s ways because we can never really fathom why the Father does what He does or let’s things happen the way they do.
But now I’m finding myself with questions, and I’m struggling to understand why I shouldn’t question God.
My guka passed away last weekend, in the wee hours of Sunday morning, a few hours after my itara wrapped up. I never got a chance to say goodbye. I’d planned to go see him in hospital at noon on Sunday, spend some time with him, whisper that I loved him and wished him a quick recovery. I wanted to see him smile and tell me “welcome home,” like he did without fail for as many years back as I can remember. I wanted him to give me his signature wet kiss on my cheek and hold my shoulder firmly. I wanted to take in that familiar scent of him, to tell him that he’d be back in his well pressed slacks, open neck shirt (with a stiff collar, always) and sleeveless sweater. I didn’t get to do any of that.
What I did instead was lie in bed staring at the ceiling in disbelief after receiving the call. I couldn’t cry. I was numb. I couldn’t feel myself, I couldn’t hear anything, I couldn’t think. I remember trying to pretend that this was all a bad dream; that I would wake up and do all the things I’d said I’d do. I even tried to sleep like nothing was wrong. Only thing was; everything started to feel wrong. All the feelings came back and when I told Mr. Nice Guy I finally broke down. The pain came flooding in and it felt like each tear I shed removed something from me that I couldn’t explain. It left me feeling hollow. I have a space in my heart that’s Guka’s shape, and nothing will ever fill that.
But in the midst of this pain, this overwhelming sense of loss, I’m grateful. I’m grateful for his (estimated) 91 years. For the experiences, the wet kisses, the warm smile. I’m grateful that he taught me how to use a fork and knife so I wouldn’t eat like a Neanderthal in front of cultured folk; I’m grateful that in his speech I learned good diction and the difference between a fake accent and pronouncing words well. I’m grateful that he attempted to introduce me to golf and in my failure (due to lack of interest or skill is still debatable) I learned to be ok with not having to be good at everything. I’m grateful that he allowed me to roll around on the green at Nyeri Golf Club and that taught me that playing on grass and then taking a shower would sting like a bitch!
I’m grateful that even towards the end, when his memory was fading and his health deteriorating, he smiled. But most of all I’m grateful that even if he’s now gone, I continue to see him in my father; a man whose warmth, kindness, wit and work ethic I aspire to every single day.
I haven’t cried much so I’m waiting for the flood to come. But that will pass, and I will accept it and not question God. He had a good run. I will remain grateful always, and stop regretting that I cannot find a single picture of me with you as an adult.
Tomorrow we lay him to rest. Saturday 14th December 2015. What a way to spend Valentine’s Day huh?
Evans Mwangi Gaitho, I love you. Always will. And though you won’t be physically present at my wedding – just two weeks to go now – know that I will be looking at dad and seeing you, and looking at Mr. Nice Guy and seeing you too. Wonder how? Mr. Nice Guy carries one of your names and went to the same high school you went to. They say women fall in love with their fathers; don’t know what they would say about a woman who sees the best of her father and her grandfather in her husband to be.