Parents often shed tears whenever they see their children off at JKIA. It is natural for a mother to be fearful while sending her “baby” away into the unknown.
Usually their hearts are laden with “what ifs” even as they wish their children well in faraway lands. I fondly remember the extended sweet hug and soft wish “ita bweja baba (go well baba)” from my late mother Sarah Nkoroi Kaberia as I boarded the KLM flight to Washington, 14 years ago.
Flash forward. November 8, 2013 was a different day. My mother was not there to give me her characteristic smile and warm embrace as she always did whenever I came home from the United States.
Still, I could hear her voice at the back of my mind as I read her eulogy in front of a capacity crowd at the Maua Methodist Church. That Mama Sarah Kaberia’s casket was lying right in front of me did not suffice to convince me that Mama was gone.
I thought she could hear me from a million miles away as she always did. Reading my mother’s eulogy was the hardest thing I have ever had to do. I teared publicly but took solace in knowing that Mama, a trained psychologist, would have advocated crying as therapy.
I cried not because I did not expect my mother would die one day but because I felt like I could have kept her longer had I been home. It was my time to ask what if like my mother did 14 years ago at JKIA. I wondered
whether I could have done anything differently to postpone my mother’s untimely and “premature” death at 68. I wondered whether she would have lived longer had I been there with her in her final months. I wondered whether I could have noticed any signs of failing health had I been home.
I know these questions will never be answered because my mother, in an effort to protect me and my siblings may have taken the answers with her. I am not oblivious to the fact that hundreds die daily. Some people leave behind little children while others live until they beg God to take them.
I thought it is easier on adults losing their parents, but my mother’s death has proven otherwise. Nothing is what it seems to be anymore. It does not matter who you are or your station in life because losing a parent, especially a mother, can, could and will take a toll on you.
Losing a parent is even more devastating if it happens while you are abroad. Your parents probably gave all they had for you to go abroad yet when their health fails you are a mil- lion miles away struggling for yourself and in many cases for them.
It is even worse if you cannot travel back home for whatever reason to bury your mother. Fortunately, I was able to attend my mother’s funeral at short notice. The 21 hour flight from Washington, DC felt like 21 years as I revisited all the good times I had had with Mama Sarah.
I was lonely on the plane. Not even the ever busy Dubai airport could distract me. I took solace in knowing that I would see her one last time. It’s a trip I would never wish on my worst enemy.
Arriving in Kenya a few hours before my mother’s funeral brought pleasant and unpleasant moments. I barely slept as I wanted to visit her at the morgue prior to the ceremony. I convinced the attendant to let me spend a few minutes alone with my mother.
He reluctantly allowed me and I am grateful for that moment. Mother’s funeral confirmed the old adage that east or west home will always be the best. My siblings and I had jetted in from different corners of the world but when we got home it was already all systems go.
The local people had taken charge and confirmed my mother’s dearly held Kimeru saying ‘muntu ni antu’ (I am because we are.) The outpouring of relatives, friends, clergy, senior government and political leaders who thronged the church to give Mama a heroine’s funeral was unlike anything I have seen in the West for the one and half decades I have sojourned.
The poor worked tirelessly with their hands while others committed their money and time to make Mama’s last day memorable. The entire Methodist church proved what it means to belong to a family of believers blending African and Western virtues into one.
I cannot overemphasise the significance of belonging to a people. There is no way we could have pulled such a funeral without the help of our friends and community.
We, as a family will forever be grateful to the people who took charge and comforted our aging father as we travelled back home. Finally, for those in the diaspora, wherever you may be, cherish your parents while they are still alive.
Luckily, I spent last Christmas with my mother and stayed in touch thereafter. Pamper your mother whenever you can. Visit as often as you can and remember that your mother will always try to shield you and may not tell you even when she is hurting.
By Timothy Kaberia
Timothy Kaberia is a consultant on African politics/culture and former VOA broadcaster based in Washington DC.