Between the year 2020 and 2021 the world has experienced unimaginable loss. Many families have been decimated, cities shut down, morgues overrun, economies crushed, and the health systems tested. It appears to be an old story now, COVID-19. But one thing I know for certain, in the words of the One World Project, grief, never grows old.
The Grief I Encountered
I have experienced loss firsthand, long before COVID-19. In May 2016, I lost my son, James Joshwa Ojany Ombogo at a tender age of 21. The most prevalent emotion I felt was frustration because I had failed to protect my child. I lost direction.
It happened quickly. One moment the world was functioning normally, and the next I was on the phone with a faculty member of the University of Nairobi telling me James had been admitted to the Kenyatta National Hospital.
I travelled from Kisumu to see him. When I walked into the room, I could not recognize him. Ombogo, as he was always called was not the Ombogo I knew. He could not talk; machines were all over his face. He was not breathing, at least not on his own. Information from the nurses on duty was scanty and with no doctors around to offer a meaningful prognosis of the boy, I was in the dark for a long time.
The uncertainty was devastating, not knowing, not being sure of what would happen next. This is the COVID story. Currently around the world, the confirmed cases are 160 million, deaths are 3.36million. In Kenya the confirmed cases are 165,000, deaths are 2,976. USA stands at 585,000 deaths. India, which is facing the biggest crisis now is at 266,000 deaths.
To some people, these are just numbers, statistics. To me, I can never experience hearing about death the same way again.
There are questions that have been asked about the genesis of COVID, suspicions, speculation, and conspiracy theories. We can delve into these, but for those who have faced the loss of loved ones, sometimes these details are irrelevant.
I am still unclear about the events that led to my son’s death. The story is that he had gone for a party off campus. This was unlike him. Though he was liked by many, he was not an outgoing person. Ombogo was a student of the Faculty of Engineering Biotechnology and Environment Department, a special discipline which had just been introduced. On this day, the Second Year students organised a party at one of the joints near the Main Campus.
As a person who was not conversant with such parties, he did not realise that some of his fellow students had caused a stir and a fight had broken out. In the middle of this commotion, bouncers descended on him with clubs. He escaped eventually and slowly made it back to his room, complaining about excruciating pain in his head. This was 4am.
It took eight hours before James was admitted at the Kenyatta Hospital, where he was rushed into surgery, went into a coma and died days later.
The Loss of Loved Ones
When you get to my age, there is usually a string of people who have passed away in your lifetime; my mother, my father who James was named after, my kid brother, Maxwell, who my younger son is named after.
It does not get simpler. Pain is pain. When you look at the number of people who have succumbed to COVID, it is easy to become desensitized. But to those who have mourned, COVID will never be a miscellaneous item on the news. It has a personality because its effects are personal.
The night before James died, I had this dream, of James’ picture on a tee-shirt, the ones people wear in memoriam.
I woke up thinking, “Oh God, don’t let it go that way.”
He died on a Wednesday, the 25th of May. James Joshwa Ojany Ombogo, Wuod Nya Kajulu, Ombogo Nyasi Wuod Auma, Okew Seme Kowe had breathed his last breath.
We at least bid him goodbye in a manner he deserved. Many have suffered greater in this period of COVID. Many have not been given the chance to say a fitting goodbye. To the world, the losses are numbers, to their families, they are names.
Advice to Those Facing Loss
It is written in the Bible that God gives life and eventually God takes the same life. You can plan a future that you never get to see. COVID has taught us that. The only hope we have is to live now.
Anger has its place, driving questions can give us solutions to recurring problems like insecurity around many campuses, lack of medical facilities, and sometimes, the seeming inability of the authorities to protect its people.
All these are valid, but from first hand experience, when you lose someone, these do not take away the pain. Pain takes time. It is individual. Healing, the same.
I found that the humility to accept the things that I cannot control, helped me with this process. Five years later, I am still on that journey. The Luo say, ‘Woth bor.’ ‘The walk is long.’
It has been. But I keep walking. As should anyone who has encountered any type of loss.