They met in 2003.
Violet Kiende was working as a secretary at a local university, while Edward Kariuki was an undergraduate student at the same institution. A year later, they started dating.
“I found him very attractive,” Violet says, a wistful look clouding her face.
After dating for about a year-and-a-half, they had a customary marriage in 2005 and in November the same year, they formalised their marriage through a civil wedding.
Like every young couple, they envisioned a long and happy life together. Being deeply in love, Violet had no doubt that she and Kariuki, or Karis, as she fondly refers to him, would grow old together.
When Violet conceived in 2005, she and her husband were immensely happy and could not wait to hold their baby boy in their arms.
However, five weeks to the expected delivery date, Violet went into premature labour. However, her son, Ryan Njiiri, was delivered safely, and weighed 2.5 kilogrammes. Doctors pronounced him healthy and even allowed happy relatives to see him.
“He was so adorable,” says Violet.
That evening though, after the visitors had left, Ryan began to cry and would not stop. Alarmed, Violet called a nurse, who after checking him, found that his fingers and toes had turned blue.
Even though he was put on oxygen, Ryan did not make it. Twelve hours after he was born, he died.
“Walking out of that hospital with empty arms was the most difficult thing I have ever done. All I had to show for all those months I carried and nurtured my son were birth and death notification forms…”
Violet says that were it not for her husband’s support, she would have died of grief.
“Everywhere I looked, I was reminded of my son. Especially, I couldn’t bear seeing other women holding their babies, nor could I pass by baby shops and not feel a twinge of longing in my heart,” says Violet.
Doctors advised them to wait for about two years before trying to conceive, an announcement that distressed Violet.
“I badly wanted a baby, so we decided to seek a second opinion. When we were given the go ahead, I was beside myself with joy.”
Their daughter, Nina Njeri, was born in April 2007.
Though happy, she was worried and anxious, and spent all her time watching her daughter like a hawk, hoping to notice in time if there was anything unusual.
“It took time for me to relax and get a decent night’s sleep, but eventually I did.”
Father and daughter instantly hit it off and loved each other to bits.
Her husband, Violet says, was a dedicated father and would spend hours playing with their daughter. Their life was just as they had envisioned it.
A year later, however, Kariuki, who had been in “perfect health”, was diagnosed with cancer of the spine.
He had been complaining of feeling unusually tired for some time, but when he woke up one day and could hardly walk, they decided to consult a doctor.
Doctors suggested a biopsy, which revealed that he had what doctors called malignant astrocytoma.
This scared Violet, but the doctor put her fears to rest by assuring her that this type of cancer was not known to spread. It did.
Even though she had watched her husband’s life drain away right before her eyes, Violet was shocked when he died on 10 January, 2009.
“The last two weeks of his death were terrible — he shrunk right before my eyes… but still, even though the signs of his death were right before me, I clung to the hope that he would live.
I wasn’t prepared for his death, even though he had been sick for a year and three months,” she says.
Kariuki was only 28 years old when he died. All of a sudden, she lost a companion, best friend, and father of her child, leaving her feeling hollow and lonely.
Violet says that it was at his burial that she finally admitted to herself that her husband would not be coming back.
“I decided then to pull myself together, at least for the sake of our daughter, but it wasn’t easy,” she says, adding that she lived in denial for a long time, withdrawing, and shutting herself away from others.
However, her friends and family gave her constant support. In fact, one of her friends, Faith Komora, moved into her house and took care of her and her daughter for a month.
Although the loneliness that had taken over her life was difficult to bear, the biggest challenge was when Nina started asking where her father was.
“I did not have the right answer, therefore I had no idea what to tell her,” she says.
Her grieving was made worse by the fact that she had lost her job a few months before her husband died.
“I desperately needed money for food, rent, and other basic necessities that my daughter and I needed.”
With no means of providing for her daughter, her desperation was escalating with each passing day.
“Karis, who had been very hardworking and aggressive, had been running a business that was doing well, but after falling ill, the business suffered.”
But being a cautious man, he had taken out a life insurance policy and listed her as the sole beneficiary.
When the insurer paid her, she decided to start importing clothes, shoes, and bags from Uganda, which were selling very fast in Nairobi.
The business did well, so well in fact, she decided to invest in a matatu. But this turned out to be an ill-informed venture to sink her money into.
“After some time, the vehicle developed mechanical problems, which gradually consumed all the money I had put aside.”
Eventually, Violet decided to go back to her parents’ home in Meru.
On 29 October, 2009, she had packed all her belongings in a lorry, ready to head for Meru when she got a call from Dedan Kimathi University College of Technology in Nyeri, inviting her for a job interview the following week.
“I could not believe it because I had applied for that job in 2007, before Karis fell ill,” she says.
Sure that this was a positive sign, Violet postponed her journey home, sure that she would get the job.
And sure enough, she did. A week after the interview, she received a call, telling her to pick up her letter of appointment.
This call was to open a new chapter in her life and that of her daughter.
She moved to Nyeri town and enrolled her daughter in a school there. She says that beginning afresh was difficult, but she was determined to offer her daughter the best life she could.
And so, even though it was a great sacrifice on a secretary’s salary, Violet, who had a degree in business administration, enrolled to study for a Master’s of Business Administration.
“I figured that since my daughter was still in kindergarten, I would have completed my Master’s degree before she joined primary school, which would be more expensive.”
Her sacrifice earned her a promotion — she is now a senior administrative secretary, having graduated in 2012.
Violet says that she was the first secretary to get an MBA at her work place and encouraged by her achievement, other secretaries have followed suit.
This achievement, she says, is what convinced her that she was capable of facing the grief and fear she had buried in her life since her husband’s death.
It is also around this time that she decided to tell her story — her emotive book, Storms of Yesterday, was published this year and is selling at the Keswick bookshops in Nairobi and Mombasa.
She says the book is for anyone who is mourning the death of a loved one.
“I want them to know that many good things await them once that storm they are in calms down,” she says.
HOPE FOR YOUNG WIDOWS
She also hopes that her story encourages young widows and single parents like her who feel that they cannot make it without their husbands.
“Grieve, but don’t cry for too long. Pick yourself up, seek God if you haven’t, let go of the past and concentrate on building your future,” she advises, while acknowledging that the pain or loneliness does not entirely go away.
Prepare for the inevitable
She also advises couples to discuss the possibility of death, especially if one of them is terminally ill.
Though it will not dull the pain, it will psychologically prepare one for the inevitable.
She talks about how she handled her husband’s illness, which made his death more difficult to bear.
“I refused to entertain the thought that Karis would die, even when he tried to get me to talk about it, even asking me how I would cope should he die.”
Denial does not help
There are still times when her husband’s death hurts terribly, times when the loneliness gnaws at her, but she has come to accept this as normal and once it subsides, she goes on with her life.
Her daughter, who is now six, knows that her father, (whom she still remembers with a clarity that amazes Violet) is not coming back to them, but has made peace with that.
Violet says that in the past, whenever other children talked about their fathers, she would run to the house, take her father’s photo, and show it to them.
“It would break my heart, to see just how his death had affected her.”
Living life to the fullest
But mother and daughter are finally in a good place, and determined to live life to the full.
Would she not want to remarry in future?
“If the right man shows up I might consider it one day, but a relationship is not a priority right now — there are so many memories as well as my daughter’s future and well being, which comes first.”
Storms of Yesterday is selling at Keswick bookshops in Nairobi and Mombasa and at Aura Publishers for Sh490. You can also call Violet on 0703 931 121 or email firstname.lastname@example.org for home or office delivery.
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