Reflections on the passage of an icon who did so much to shape who I am today
THE LAST WORD | ANDREW M. MWENDA | It is exactly one year this week since our mother, Mrs Constance Kabakali Muhangazima, left us! While we were happy that she had retired from this world to join the one she worked so hard for, and while we are now even joyful that she is in the company of her best friend Jesus Christ in eternal happiness, her departure nonetheless left a huge hole in our lives. We miss her kindness, generosity and unconditional love.
Our mother woke up early morning on June 17 in very good health. She did her usual chores on the farm, had breakfast and retired to her bedroom to take a shower. All of a sudden she began feeling excruciating pain, so painful that she could not find a moment of peace. No amount or type of painkillers seemed capable of reducing the pain; so she wailed and groaned under its punishing weight. She was evacuated by helicopter to Kampala and died within one and a half hours of getting to hospital.
It is difficult to capture the emotional tone of that moment, the meaning of it and the fullness of it. She had just returned from Germany in early May. It was her second trip, this time to review the progress of the heart surgery she had undergone in February. The doctors found her to be in excellent condition. Her death was caused by excessive pain that increased her blood pressure putting enormous pressure on her heart, which had just undergone surgery only three months earlier.
Our mother had been the anchor of our lives, most especially so after our dad died in August 2007: she was a mother, a teacher, a mentor, a protector, a best friend, a playmate, and a source of hope and inspiration! Her life was a living example of human kindness and generosity. She did not have much in terms of wealth and possessions, compared to her children. Yet she never saw the scarcity around her. Instead she saw abundance and always sought to share it.
Thus in our homestead, we lived with many people whom she would have collected from God-knows-where and she was taking care of. They ate and drunk to their fill, slept on mattresses strewn all over the floors, she paid school fees for the young ones, the elderly found medication at her expense and comfort in her company. She took care of the neglected, rescued the abandoned, honoured the unknown and gave hope to those who had lost it.
Growing up under her care, I was always intrigued by how she managed to take care of so many people and yet never seemed to feel a burden. I would often get irritated because she would call me (and my other siblings) and instruct us to take care of perfect strangers she had collected around her. Yet although my means were much larger than hers, I always found these responsibilities too much. This always made me wonder how she managed to shoulder such burdens.
I have always tried to emulate her example and my constant failure to live up to her standards of selflessness only prove how small my feet are to fit her shoes. This makes me recognise that our mother was a truly great human being; the more reason her departure was devastating in ways too difficult to express in words.
For me it was a thunderbolt striking at the very core of my existence! She had told me of her coming departure and asked me to prepare myself for it; and I thought I had. When it happened, I realised that I had deceived myself. I saw my world fall apart in front of me. For as long as our mother lived, I knew I would be forgiven for any wrong I did. In her life I had a blank cheque! If I made a big mistake, she would defend me in public but reprimand me in private. When I watched her coffin lowered into the grave, I felt life ebbing out of me. I wanted to be buried with her but lacked the courage to throw myself into it. Or perhaps in a moment of reflection I realised she would not have advised me to take such action. She would have needed me alive in this world; her expectation that I take over some of her responsibilities. But who can afford such a feat.
I stayed in Kanyandahi, our country home, for week after her burial. As the crowds at our home subsided, the place that was always full of life became empty. All the people who used to come visit her, stay with her, dine with her were no longer coming. Had they judged that us, her children, were not capable of providing them the support and comfort our mum did? Even the little kids from the village who always roamed our homestead, talking and playing with her did not return. I was fascinated.
So before I left I called the employees on the farm that worked on the paddocks, the cows, the plantations and in the homestead as cleaners and cooks. I assured them that even if Adyeri had died, our home remained open to them. Then I asked them to tell me the issues about them that they needed me to know. The discussion left me intrigued. These people were not mere workers at home. They were part of her extended family.
Some of the workers had kids whose fees our mum paid for, and yet she never deducted these from their salaries. Others, she would give food in times of need, she took care of the medical bills of some etc. These people therefore looked at her as some sort of parent or relative, and our home as their home. No wonder some of them have worked on our farm for more than 30 years. This discussion with our workers (also family) gave me an important insight into the social safety nets that allow our societies to function.
As we commemorate her retirement from this world, I have been asking myself how I can be able to live up to her high standards of community and selflessness. It is a wonder I am yet to answer.