Watoto Wote Wazuri

Grief, Loss, and Remembrance in Kenya

Posted in Uncategorized by Lynn Ouellette on 02/03/2014

From my prior blog posts I am sure that it is clear that losses, especially of loved ones, are many in Kenya. This is the tragic reality of the AIDS pandemic as well as the effect of other diseases and the toll that poverty takes on the life span. The death of loved ones is all too common place here. The acknowledgement of grief and loss is discouraged, but much needed so that children can mourn, carry their parents in their hearts and maintain a connection with them and the love they shared. This is why we proposed a Day of Remembrance, to honor their grief, but mostly to support and honor their ongoing connection to those who have been lost. We have talked about this in the past, but this year it has become a real plan. Lilian wanted me to talk with “all of the village so they all can feel your warmth and everyone will be helped” and so I along with Valerie did that, opening the door for this day of remembrance, a healing ritual, which was met with so much enthusiasm.

I know that many people reading this post will know that my 22 year old son Brendan died just a month and a half ago and that I departed for Kenya, my travels planned some time ago, heartbroken, but with the hope that being with good friends with whom I have volunteered in Kenya through the past years and with gracious and loving people of Kenya might uplift my spirit. I have received a great deal of love and support from my friends and fellow volunteers, and am grateful to them for their encouragement, about making this trip, while on the trip working together, and sharing my grief as we had a a special ritual on my son’s birthday which was on January 29th during our time in Nyumbani Village.

Our ritual honoring Brendan on his birthday


I also feel that I have been wrapped in love by the Kenyan people. Our Tuko Pamoja Mommas have extended their hearts and hands with impassioned expressions sharing my sorrow and expressing condolences. Every group expressed this to me; every one touched me in some profound way. With most of our groups we gathered in a circle sharing what has happened in our lives over the last year since we last met. Everyone already knew about my son, everyone said “pole sana”, very sorry, in Swahili and had far too many had much more to say by sharing their own experiences of losing their own children. There are some women’s words that I will never forget. One woman at the Vision Self Help group in Dandora spoke with such passion in Swahili that I was crying only understanding a few words, but feeling her compassion as she expressed her sorrow with intense words and hand gestures. What she said to me, when translated, was a more elaborate version of this: “When you are a farmer, you tend and nurture your garden. You wait for things to grow and when they are ready, you pick the very best. God is like a farmer and he has a plan, and when it’s time, he too picks the best. With your son, he had a plan, he picked the best.” I think everyone was in tears by the end of her speech. I had a special card all signed by the women of Kibera paper, many hugs and words of compassion from all the Lea Toto groups, from Philip and the Women of PCDA and from the village grandmothers. Lilian, the village counselor, also wrote me a letter which she read to me. She said the letter came to her while she was in church listening to the priest talk about forgiveness and felt as though the letter was “from my son” and it was written that way. It was so poignant, about forgiveness of the tragedy of his death, forgiveness of myself for being unable to save him, and about my love as a mother and my son’s love for me. It was a beautiful gift. So when I say I have been wrapped in love by the Kenyan people, I truly mean that. 

As I have talked with all of Nyumbani village about grief and loss,  I shared that I had recently lost my son. In addition to the many expressions of sorrow, the acknowledgement connected us in a different way. I could tell they listened a little differently after I told them about Brendan. There were moments that it was very difficult and I was at first a bit shaken by the idea that Lilian proposed that I do all this work with the children and grandparents on grief and loss, expecting it would be far too hard. However, it was an amazing experience despite the emotional challenge. So we are planning a Day of Remembrance for next year. We will light up the Village in the evening with hundreds of luminaries and bring everyone to the center to sing. It will be a beautiful ritual under the incredible Kenya starry sky, sending stars back up to the heavens with all the luminaries. The children in the Village sing beautifully; I have previously had the opportunity share that magical, spiritual experience of their beautiful voices under the starry sky. This Day of Remembrance is planned for January 29th of next year during our time in Nyumbani Village, on the birthday on my two sons, Brendan and Ryan, and in honor of my son Brendan. This will be a legacy to him as I carry him in my heart back to Kenya once more.

6 Responses

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  1. LH said, on 02/03/2014 at 9:07 am

    wonderful Lynn, yes to share, let go, remain open, let the tears flow until all that is left is happy memories.

    love L


    • Lynn Ouellette said, on 02/04/2014 at 1:02 pm

      Thanks for your support, Laurie. Difficult but really good experience in Kenya. Think the coming home and adjusting to Brendan not being around may be harder. Hope we can get together for coffee. Sorry I can’t make the workshop. Timing is not good for me. But maybe another time. xO


  2. transformer313@aol.com said, on 02/03/2014 at 2:22 pm

    prayers-for your healing over time


    • Lynn Ouellette said, on 02/04/2014 at 1:03 pm

      Thank you James. You must be thrilled to have Valerie back home. She will have LOTS to say and many stories to tell!!


  3. billbeckett said, on 02/03/2014 at 10:39 pm

    Wonderfully brave post.


    • Lynn Ouellette said, on 02/04/2014 at 1:06 pm

      Thank you, I appreciate that comment. You never know where trying to keep your heart open will take you.


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