“Initially, when asked if I was a mother, I would respond in the negative. However, I now realize that I am still a mother and that will never change.”
Wanjiru Mureithi has had an illustrious career, she has a background in business, she’s worked for the South African government but now she calls herself a wine educator. Wanjiru (self-stylised as WINENJIRU on her Instagram) has a flair for wine. She speaks about wine the way most people would talk about their favourite meal, movie or car. So these days she spends her time talking about wine and educating sommeliers. When she’s not talking about wine, she’s an avid marathoner and cyclist.
In this mother’s day special she talks about motherhood, loss and her will to keep going.
The poet Lang Leav writes in her book Lullabies, “Life went on without you. Of course, it did. Of course, it does. It was just an ending, not the end.” It is a line that describes loss and the passage of time with both melancholia and resignation and serves the purpose of describing the intricacies of love and loss.
It is also a line that best describes Wanjiru’s story.
On Friday, May 11th, 2012 at 3.30pm Wanjiru lost her beloved daughter Muthoni who was only 16 months and a day old. It is the day, as she says when life as they knew it changed.
Grief, like everything else in life, has its stages and sharing this story was one stage, at least for Wanjiru.
When most people talk about loss, they refer to the fact that they can never forget the day they got the call or found out. Is that the same for you?
(Nods) I remember every single detail about that day, that week. I guess because you try and recreate everything about that day, just to see if you missed something. Eventually, you also try to remember all the details of the 16 months she was alive. It’s like I want to set that day in stone.
What were you doing before the call?
It was a Friday afternoon and I had just come back from lunch with two of my friends when my nanny called. She said there was something wrong but she wouldn’t go into details. I rushed home. When I got there, I picked her up and we drove to the nearest clinic. I could feel that she was numb in my arms. By the time we got to the clinic, I was screaming for help. The staff had to calm me down. When the doctors came back they told me she was gone. I got the call at 2 pm and by 4 pm she was gone.
What was your immediate reaction when they gave you the news?
I rushed to her and took her in my arms. I didn’t know what else to do. Friends had started gathering at the clinic on receiving the news while trying to figure out what had happened. (Long pause).
At that moment I tried to remember all the Bible stories I’d ever heard or read about people being raised from the dead, like Lazarus and Jairus’ daughter. I was thinking about anything that I could do to change what had happened. It was only later that I remembered the nanny and wanted to get the full story.
“Cemeteries are not scary places for me anymore. I can walk in, sit down and stay for a while.”
Did she tell you what had happened?
She said she’d followed the daily routine, lunch and play and put Muthoni to sleep when she started acting ‘funny.’ In my opinion, whatever happened that day was something she thought she could handle, tried to resolve and could not. She took too long to help her and call for help.
What happened next?
Because it was an unnatural death, law enforcement was called to the clinic, as per procedure. They enquired about pressing charges and postmortem, I declined both.
You’d said there were a lot of people who offered their support…
The support given to me and my family was overwhelming from friends, colleagues, church members, acquaintances, even the Kenyan High Commission in South Africa. There was an outpouring of emotional, logistical and financial support. My brother took charge of the situation and co-ordinated everything.
Did you bring her home?
We brought Muthoni home to Kenya. This decision was mainly to allow my nieces and nephews to participate. I also understood that no matter where in the world I lived, Kenya is home always. So we chose this as her final resting place.
It is difficult to plan a child’s funeral. It becomes an adult affair, yet there are all these little children who were part of her life. She is laying in Langata because it’s a very convenient and accessible location. Cemeteries are not scary places for me anymore. I can walk in, sit down and stay for a while. The shock is unbearable at the beginning, one must remember that the body is just a vessel and that’s what we bury but her spirit is alive in heaven. The thought and belief of seeing her again makes it possible to cope. She’s not gone forever, we shall meet again.
What changed about you after the incident?
A lot of things changed. Children transform you, so an experience like this transforms even more. What was profound for me after the loss was that when I came home (from South Africa), my cousin was pregnant with her third child. She related how she had had four miscarriages before her third pregnancy which she was carrying. I was so shocked. Miscarriages are very common so we treat them lightly, even though they are the loss of human beings. We treat miscarriages like the flu. As she related her story, I could only imagine that her experience was like losing Muthoni four times! It was too much to bear. She already had two healthy children but continued to try and try again for the third. I don’t take miscarriage lightly anymore.
Was it hard to hang out with your cousin or friends who were pregnant or parents after?
No, it was not. In most cases, I felt that people were more sensitive about my reaction than I was They didn’t know how to treat me. They weren’t sure how to act around me. In some cases, they would visit me alone and without their kids to “protect” me. On the other hand, I think kids handle it better. When the kids, especially Muthoni’s friends see me, because they know me as Mama Muthoni, they ask where she is. This is where I explain that she is in Heaven with Jesus. She left us to go to a better place. Hence my point earlier about the need to allow children to participate in an infant’s funeral.
Would you say you’re a more or less spiritual person now?
My relationship with God is definitely deeper. I rely on him more and more. Its only through him that I find the strength to continue living.
Did you ever have moments of doubt?
I have never doubted. What I yearn for is an understanding of the situation. Of what exactly happened and what it has to do with my purpose. In this life, things will happen. The verse 1 Corinthians 10:13 “He will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, He will also provide an escape, so that you can stand up under it.” In relation to this, I wonder, My dear Lord, why do you trust me so much? Can I really handle this? My prayer then is that God will help me understand why this happened and what I need to do to survive it.
Does it get easier?
Yes and No. Grief is like having a scar, it’s painful in the beginning as a wound, then heals and leaves a mark. This mark is always there, sometimes sensitive. Sometimes, you touch it and it hurts and with time, it becomes normal. It serves as a reminder. Sometimes I’m so sensitive and can break down at the slightest trigger for example in the middle of a run or while looking at her pictures or when I see her agemates. Other times, I can comfortably talk about her at length and sometimes I can’t.
Motherhood itself takes a toll on the body and mind. The irony was that it took about two years for my body to resume to pre-baby status, and at that time she had already left us. This too had an impact on my recovery and process.
“My relationship with God is definitely deeper. I rely on him more and more.”
Did mother’s day change for you after that?
Muthoni’s demise was just before Mother’s Day weekend. I wonder about the significance of the timing. Initially, when asked if I was a mother, I would respond in the negative. However, I now realize that I am still a mother and that will never change.
Why did you agree to share your story?
The fact that I’m alive and well is a testimony. This is not cliché. Loss can be traumatic and cause mental issues. We all have a little crazy in us, but when something like this happens people can indeed go crazy. Being able to choose healthy coping mechanisms like sports, charity is better than destructive options. I was lucky to come back home to my parents and take time to be restored.
I first shared my story publicly at my church last year and it was overwhelming and liberating. If my speaking out and sharing my story is beneficial to someone in the same situation, then its all worth it. Speaking out is a milestone in the grieving process. It has definitely provided me with access to a new audience that I would have otherwise not reached.
What are some of the charities you’ve participated in?
I’ve participated in charity events for a long time individually and formally with groups. After Muthoni’s passing, my involvement is always in her memory. I’ve had opportunities to contribute in a private capacity or through an event specifically designed for it like the 2017 Charity Cycle and marathon participation. I continue to seek opportunities to keep her memory alive and build a legacy.
We do not limit ourselves to one way of commemorating her so we do little things every year. I want to celebrate the time she was with us and remember the people whose lives she touched.
You called sharing one stage of your grief, what would be your next?
It’s important for me to reach out to her nanny this year. We have not been in touch for the past 6 years. I need to make contact and release her, get closure on this matter. I’m sure this experience affected her as it did us. It’s one of the loose ends that I need to close.