Overcoming Life's Challenges: A Widow's Testimony - Christian Grief Book By Kenyan Author Rahab Gatura

Overcoming Life’s Challenges | Chapter 2: The Day My World Crashed

On Saturday, February 2, 1997, my husband took our children to school in the morning at 8.00 a.m. This was before the Kenyan government banned “tuition classes” in schools. Tuition classes were extra hours of school for teachers to catch up on the syllabus or for students to revise and prepare for examinations.

My husband had endured a toothache the whole week so he decided to visit our family dentist at City Centre after his school run. It turned out his tooth had to be extracted after which he returned home.

His older brother was staying with us briefly as he had visited from Karatina. Chris was to take him to the bus terminus, well known as “Tea Room”, that morning so that he could catch the matatu to Karatina.

“Why are you going to Karatina so early? People might say I have chased you away,” I joked.

He laughed. “There is no rain back home so there’s not much to be done in farming. It’s okay if I go later this evening.” My brother-in-law never traveled as he intended. God’s plans are not our plans.

The three of us went to pick the children from school at 12.30 p.m. We had lunch at home, my children went to play outside and Chris went to take a nap having informed us he had a slight headache.

Meanwhile, I decided to clear the table and wash the dishes. After a few minutes, I went to the bedroom to take a nap, but I found my husband sitting on the bed and looking very tired. He said he had a severe headache and needed medication to calm the pain. He wrote a prescription for me and I drove to have it filled at a nearby chemist.

When I returned, I could hear my brother-in-law’s voice from upstairs. This surprised me because the guest bedroom was downstairs and our guests would never go upstairs. That was where our bedroom and the children’s bedrooms were so it was off limits.

I went upstairs and found my husband together with his brother in our son’s bedroom. Immediately I noticed Chris was worse than how I left him. I dismissed the questions I had in my mind about why my brother- in-law was in the room, and told Chris that we needed to go to hospital. He asked for the medication I bought, took it and asked us to leave him to rest.

However, I didn’t like how he looked and his condition was getting worse. Chris was stubborn at the time and didn’t want to seek further medical care. However, I managed to change his mind, so my brother-in- law and I helped him down the stairs.

As we got him into the car, our children stopped playing because they noticed how weak their father was. They asked what was wrong and he told them it was a headache due to the tooth extraction. I sat at the driver’s seat, told my brother-in-law to stay at the back with my husband, said a prayer and drove off.

I wanted to drive straight to Aga Khan Hospital where our family doctor was based. While on Langata Road approaching Uhuru Gardens, my husband shouted, “I cannot reach Aga Khan, take me to Mater Hospital.”

“Please trust God, He is in control,” I responded. However, the Holy Spirit quickly reminded me to obey my husband.

Wives, in the same way, submit yourselves to your own husbands so that, if any of them do not believe the word, they may be won over without words by the behavior of their wives, when they see the purity and reverence of your lives. Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewelry or fine clothes. Rather, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight. For this is the way the holy women of the past who put their hope in God used to adorn themselves. They submitted themselves to their own husbands, like Sarah, who obeyed Abraham and called him her lord. You are her daughters if you do what is right and do not give way to fear.

Husbands, in the same way be considerate as you live with your wives, and treat them with respect as the weaker partner and as heirs with you of the gracious gift of life, so that nothing will hinder your prayers.

1 Peter 3:1-7 NIV

When we got to Mater Hospital, I stopped at the main entrance. The security guard quickly ran to the car telling me not to park at the entrance. I told him I had a patient who needed emergency attention and he directed me to the Casualty Department.

As my husband got out of the car, a middle-aged Asian man told us, “Be very careful. That man is in a lot of trouble.” He was in a white coat and I guessed he was a doctor. His statement offended me and I cancelled what he said in Jesus’ name.

The tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eat its fruit.

Proverbs 18:21 NIV

Mater Hospital Casualty staff wheeled my husband inside and the doctors and nurses quickly attended to him. It was around 5:30 p.m. so there were hardly any patients. After one hour, one of the nurses gave me a slip and told me to go and pay since they were going to admit my husband. “Can’t you treat him and we go home with him?” I asked.

“Wewe mama, wacha story mingi. Enda ulipe! (Woman, stop asking questions and go pay)” she said in a harsh voice.

I paid, returned the receipt to the nurse and she told me we needed to return upstairs quickly. She had an oxygen cylinder which my husband was using and I wondered if it was enough.

When we reached upstairs, my husband was put in one of the two beds. After they looked at the monitor, my husband was moved to the other bed. At the time, I thought the monitor in the first bed wasn’t working. I later came to learn that the first bed was in the High Dependency Unit (HDU) and the bed he was transferred to was in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU). The hospital was undergoing renovations so the rooms weren’t labelled.

All of a sudden, fear engulfed me as I saw the doctors and nurses mill around my husband. I asked God to have mercy on him and get him out of his pain. I paced along the corridors praying and singing in low tones. My brother-in-law was also getting anxious. “Let us wait for Baba Wandia to settle down then we can go home and come back to see him in the morning,” I told him.

I then spotted our family doctor running into the room. He had just been called by the team at Mater Hospital after I gave them his name. “Let us talk later, let me see Daktari first,” he told me. My husband was fondly known by many as Daktari from his career as a veterinary doctor. I was relieved to see our family doctor, but what I did not know was that he was called in due to Chris’ critical condition. Minutes turned into hours, and my brother-in-law’s anxiety increased. He refused to listen to my encouraging words that all would be well and insisted that he had to call their elder brother.

At one point, the medical team closed the curtains around my husband’s bed. I believed it was because I was pacing up and down praying. My brother-in-law returned to tell me his brother was not at home but he had left a message. Back then there were no mobile phones so calls had to be made at a phone booth.

At around 9.30 p.m., one of the doctors who had attended to my husband at casualty came out of my husband’s room. He asked me to confirm if I was the patient’s wife, which I did. “Your family doctor wants to see you,” he said. His eyes were red and I immediately sensed something was wrong. However, I did not know death was imminent.

“Why do you look so worried?” He was nothing like the doctor I had met at Casualty. “How is my husband doing?” He did not answer me. He held my hand and took me to a room adjacent to where my husband was.

Inside that room, I found our family doctor very worried. His eyes were also red, and he looked at me without saying a word. Before I could ask him what was wrong, he came over to where I was sitting, held my hands and said, “We have lost Daktari.”

“What do you mean, we’ve lost him? What are you talking about?” I asked.

“Daktari suffered a heart attack one hour ago. We tried to resuscitate him but in vain,” he said.

All I could see was white. I felt like I was watching a movie or a television series. This couldn’t be real, it had to be a dream. “Take me to my husband,” I told the doctor. He held me by the hand and took me to my husband’s bed. I touched his hands and legs. They were not moving. I called him by name. He never responded. It then dawned on me that my husband was no more.

From that point, I have no memory of what happened. I just found myself back in the room where the doctor had broken the news. “God, why take my husband and leave me with three children who need a father?! How can I live without a husband? Who is going to be the father of my children?” I silently asked God. I then asked myself, “Whose husband did I want to die in place of mine?” Immediately I felt the presence of God all over me, even in the midst of the questions. I quickly realized there is no woman who desires to lose her husband.

At this time, my brother-in-law, his brother, his wife and my husband’s sister came upstairs to where my husband was. They were equally shocked and heartbroken. I later learned that at the Hospital Entrance, they had insisted on coming in because they had a patient in the ICU. The security guard had casually informed them he would let them in but the ICU patient had died.

My husband’s sister had actually passed by our house at around 4 p.m. She found my children playing outside and asked for their father. They told her he was resting so she gave them some fruits and told them she was going to see a friend in a nearby estate and would be back to see their father afterwards. She never passed by again and the next thing she heard was he was dead.

It was a difficult moment for all of us. With reality hitting us hard, we went back home at around 1 a.m. Family and friends who were informed of the news came to our home immediately. I am grateful for those who drove in the middle of the night to come and comfort us. By morning, we had tens of people in our home.

I was now faced with a new dilemma – how to break the news to my children. My first born, Carol, who was 11 then, walked down the stairs at 8 a.m. As she came to the sitting room, she was shocked to see the large number of people. She immediately turned back and went upstairs without talking to anyone. One of my sisters-in-law suggested that the children move to her home to avoid telling them the news. But I felt the Spirit of God tell me that I should be the one to break the news of their father’s death to them.

God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.

Psalm 46:1 NIV

I went upstairs, woke my son up, held his hand and took him to the girls’ bedroom. I locked the door so that it was only the four of us. I held their hands and prayed. Then, I told them that their father had gone to be with the Lord. You could feel their hearts break as they broke down into tears. Esther, who was only 4, was crying because she saw us crying. I don’t think she understood what death was.

Some people had come upstairs and were asking for the door to be opened but I refused. I needed to be alone, in this hurtful moment, with my children. This was one of my most difficult moments in life. There is no easy way to tell your children that they have lost their father.

God is faithful though, and He is able to take care of us even when everything looks dark. It is very important for the surviving parent to be the one to break the news to the children. This gives them hope because they can look to you and encourage themselves that they have at least one parent.

It is also important for children to be told the truth as soon as death occurs. I have heard testimonies of how children could not trust their mother because she didn’t disclose their father’s death to them right after it happened. Children expect the surviving parent to be open with them. They don’t want to hear such terrible news from third parties. Be honest with the children and tell them exactly what has happened. They need a shoulder to cry on and the surviving parent is the one they can get.

After crying with the children, I went downstairs where I found more people had arrived. Unfortunate incidents happen after a spouse dies, especially in cases of sudden death. Let me explain.

In Africa, in most cases when a man dies, the first suspect is the wife. Even if the person dies in a car accident, the first suspect is the wife. Of course, there are women who have been known to plot their husband’s death. These are the minority and I don’t know if they should also be called widows. I think they should be known as “self-made widows”.

I had a colleague from West Africa, a distinguished professor, who came to visit me when he heard of my husband’s death. He said he was shocked and felt sorry for me because he was worried that people may accuse me of killing my husband. He attributed it to his culture and how widows are viewed upon a spouse’s sudden death. However, he encouraged me by saying that my faith in God would help me survive.

When a husband dies, the wife is like a person walking in the rain without an umbrella. Your husband is the umbrella, so when he dies, the rain falls on you. Rain in this sense can come in the form of rumours and malicious talk by people. Some may take advantage of the death to spread hatred and discord. It’s hard to stop or control it, but what matters is that you surrender everything to God. He is more than able to protect you from all schemes of the enemy.

Brothers and sisters, do not slander one another. Anyone who speaks against a brother or sister or judges them speaks against the law and judges it. When you judge the law, you are not keeping it, but sitting in judgment on it. There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the one who is able to save and destroy. But you—who are you to judge your neighbour?

James 4:11-12 NIV

Many widows have differed with their in-laws because of leaning on their own understanding and advice from people who may not mean well. When you are bereaved, you are very vulnerable and are liable to make serious mistakes whose consequences can affect you and your children forever.

I know what I am saying is not easy to hear, but it’s the reality. However, with God all things are possible. It is only God who can give you the right counsel when you are going through the valley of death. God did it for me and He can also do it for you.

God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging.

Psalm 46:1-3 NIV

Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.

Proverbs 3:5-6 NIV

I don’t know what I would have done without God. My only sister lives in the UK, and at the time of my husband’s death, my mother was visiting her. The two most important women in my life could not be there with me and I felt alone at the time. But our God is faithful because He brought sisters and mothers my way who encouraged and walked with me.

In January 1997, we had left our home church, Nairobi Pentecostal Church (NPC) Valley Road (now known as CITAM Valley Road) with Rev. Dennis White and Sister White to plant a new church in Karen called NPC South (currently known as CITAM Karen). Just a month after launching the new church, the leadership was shocked by the loss of one of their members, my husband. I received a lot of support from the church members and Pastoral team. Even the ladies from the Women Ministry at CITAM Valley Road took time to comfort me. I will never forget the word Sister Adah Adoyo (wife to CITAM Bishop Emeritus. Rev. Boniface Adoyo) shared when she visited with the ladies:

What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written: “For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Romans 8:31-39 NIV

Romans 8:38 has remained my favourite verse to this day – nothing should separate me from the love of God, not even the death of my husband.

Immediately I felt calm. I had hope and peace to face the future, all I needed was to obey God and surrender everything to Him. The word of God is so powerful.

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Romans 15:13 NIV

That evening when people had left, I went to my bedroom and read Romans 8 many times. I thanked God for His word, which takes care of all our situations. I told God, “I want to serve you all the days of my life. May the death of my husband not separate me from You.” I cannot explain the serenity I felt after this night. God had not forsaken me.


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