Today my mom will die


This is my mom, Jane. This picture was taken at Studio One on Moi Avenue. If you were born after 1990 you probably don’t know how sanctified Studio One is, a time when you didn’t call yourself a photographer because you have an Instagram account. This picture was taken when my big sis was off to the UK, and because it was 1989 it just seemed right that we all took a family portrait, something to remember her by in case she met an odiero and decided to settle as a housewife in Yorkshire, engaging in high tea after a hard day tending to her bougainvillea garden.

You can see from this picture that mom struggled with that smile. She always did. And Tamms- named after her- is like that; always struggles to smile to the camera, and when she does it’s often a deceiving smile, offered only as a conciliatory gesture. There is a little of her in Tamms. There is a lot of Tamms in me. And even more of me in her. Which means there is a lot of Jane in me.

This is the only picture I have of her from back in the day, before Coronary Tuberculosis entered her heart and broke ours as a result. The rest of her happy pictures – taken in her healthy days– are back in shags, a place I have successfully avoided since her demise because it’s just not the same. It’s haunted. It’s like someone else’s home. Plus dad got himself a new wife (my nigga!) and as much as we are happy for him, as much as he doesn’t deserve to sit in that big empty house listening to the echo of my mom’s ghost in his dreams, it’s just hard to reconcile myself to this fact. During my pragmatic and rational days I try to see it for what it is; that he is only replacing his wife, not his mother.

Jane was the one with the sense of humour. She was the queen of hyperbole and ridiculous imagery. Even my officious dad, with his forest of humourless books about great men of African renaissance and African literature, would often laugh at her quips and heavily garnished yarns.

There was this time she was in HDU at Mater, one foot literally in the grave. Machines beeped and whirred all around her. Doctors came with their clipboards and grave expressions. When she (half) stared at me, I saw fear and a hint of tears in her eyes. And when she gestured to my sister and whispered her ATM pin number in her ears, I joked, “Oooh, OK, it’s like that now, it’s you guys against me now?” She mumbled with a creased smile, “It’s four digits, she can memorise it better.” (I was never good at math in school).

At that point I knew she wasn’t going to make it through the night; this was not in doubt when we left the hospital at 1am. Sure enough when my sister and I walked back into the HDU unit the next morning her bed was empty. My sister wobbled and held onto the bedpost to steady herself. (Girls!). I felt my hands immediately go cold, like I had accidentally touched my area MP.

Then this nurse walks over with a smile and says, “Madhe improved in the night and was transferred to the General Ward.” Here is the thing – do you know how sometimes you go back to where you thought you had parked your car but you don’t find it and get all panicky, very sure that kina Chege have finally come for it, only to realise that you had parked it elsewhere and when you finally see it, you want to hug it and tell it, “don’t you ever do that to me again Linda?” This was the feeling I had; I actually hugged that poor nurse.

Precisely today two years ago, at the time of posting this, she was in the hospital bed, hiccupping. It was a Sunday. Her blood pressure was dropping faster than that cartoon figure in the opening scene of Mad Men. My grandmother, sitting near her deathbed, held her hand, but knew that this was it. She had buried many sons and daughters and grandchildren and friends, death was beyond sneaking up on her. She says mum gasped at the end. My other aunt who was there says she turned her head away, as if embarrassed at having to go. Another relative said she just stopped breathing. I wonder what really happened: What was the last thing she thought about when she felt death drawing the curtains on her heart? Was she fearful? Did she silently recite a verse? Did she wonder where the hell we were? Did she feel lonely? I wonder. I always wonder.

After two years the grass is slowly growing in the footprints that her departure left behind. Exactly a few days from now, two years ago, I was standing at Aga Khan Hospital Kisumu, staring at Jane lying on the cold slab of the morgue drawers, a vein running down the left side of her face and my big sister touching her cold forehead and literally breaking down like a sand statue hit by a wave.

If your mother is alive you don’t know just how lucky you are. Go see her on Mother’s Day and tell her you appreciate her. Yes, even if you’re gangsta. Especially if you are gangsta. You have the time now, but you don’t have it forever. So go ahead and tell her. It will burn her heart with love.

So what if you mom lives far away – in Kisumu, Mombasa or Nairobi – hop into a JamboJet with the rest of yuppies taking pictures of the plane’s wings with their tabs (by the way, JamboJet have a new Mother’s Day promotion: Sh1, 850 one-way!) and go see mom. You can carry the world to her, but the only luggage that will make the biggest impression is your hug.

Go because you just won’t believe how little time you have with your mother. In fact, it will shock you just how little

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time we all have together.

Happy Second Anniversary, Jane. The candle still burns.

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  1. Loving tribute, totally moved my heart. May God keep comforting you for those kind words to your mum. I love my mum and moms are special!

  2. Not just mothers….appreciate your loved ones while you still have time with them….they won’t always be there. Nice read as always.

  3. same applies to those with fathers…haven’t been to Alego for a while now. Its hard when you are now Nine Years An Orphan

  4. This one touches the core of my soul… *wipes away tears*. Jane would be so proud. You write well Biko.

  5. *sigh* When your loved one passes on and you try to imagine what their last thoughts were? What they felt. *sigh* I know this too well. :'( R.I.P Jane

  6. That is one great piece! Will definitely head home to see my mom 🙂 Jane lived a good life…

  7. i enjoy reading your stories,sometimes i burst into laughter,then i realize people are watching me,so i pretend i’m not laughing but deep down my heart,i can’t stop laughing.But today i decided to remain silent,the article was emotional.Kudos.

  8. Thank you for our precious Mother. Let us remember, honor, celebrate and reflect on the moments in our lives in our relationship that were affirming, nurturing and caring. May we continue to live our lives, with the utmost of integrity, honoring, respecting and cherishing others, as we continue to find ways to bring honor to our Mother, who gave us life and was responsible for our very existence.

    Honor is not about a perfect childhood. Honor is about gratitude and respect. And Your only commandment with a promise is, “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long.” We have been taught to stay in Your Holy Word. Meditate on it day and night. AND in great faith, stand firm on God’s Word! Then rest in Your promise that You will honor our obedience. We know that honor and healing are intertwined. Honor brings healing. And we know that a life well lived is pleasing to You, Father God.

  9. i have a mom that doent appreciate me my prophetess of doom my heart just went numb one day and i stopped loving her. Biko is right if u have a strong woman who has stood by you loved u irregardless of your wrong choices in life then u have a gem dont go mining for gold because u have whats valuable….. happy second anniversary mama biko

  10. This reminds me of the first time i fell in love with your writing, it was a through an article you wrote about your mom in True Love. She clearly was a wonderful mother and the gap she left no one will ever fill. I thank God that He gives us the strength to smile again after our hearts are shattered by the loss of loved ones. The candle will burn forever.

  11. RIP mama Biko, I still revisit the post you wrote after your mom passed on. It is still my favourite albeit sad. Beautiful woman.

  12. Oooh Biko, you have revived my wounds of losing my mum 3 years ago. Guys heed Biko’s advice, it is important to check on her once in a while. RIP Janes (Biko’s and mine)

  13. Back in the village we tell the “just dead” to pass our greetings to those who went earlier. At this point “Wuora Ogola Adoyo” does it for me!
    RIP Jane

  14. Thank you for this Biko!!! Thank you for this reminder. I just texted my mum to tell her how much I love her. Thank you for the simple reminder. Also thank you to your amazing mum who, even with the angels, has used you to remind us of such a noble and simple thing which we might think is a norm, the mere assumption that our mothers ‘know’we appreciate them. Wahhh!! Thanx for this, keep up with this amazing work!

  15. This is the second article I’ve read about your Mum. Still as deep as the first one. Happy Anniversary Jane. PS: You are my favorite writer!

  16. I remember feeling your pain every time you write about about your Mum. She was a great woman. Happy Anniversary. My mu m is miles away from me, what I could do for a hug right now. Happy mother’s day.

  17. Thanks for reminding us about Mothers Day. I will surely call my mum tomorrow morning and tell her how much she is appreciated. By the way, my mum had more confidence in my maths than Biko’s had in his.

  18. Thanks for sharing this personal story. Your experience can be a teacher to many. Happy mothers day to all mums and Jane.

  19. just this past Saturday afternoon, I had this very talk with my best friend, as we laid his dear mum to rest and its very true, mothers are a treasure and we don’t have eternity to share their love and moments, lets make the few days and years work, for th

    thanks Biko, she rests well.

  20. Wow! Beautiful, no I’m not crying *sniff*. Having had a health scare with my mum last year, it’s a constat reminder of how things can just change in an instant. I strive to make each day count. I’m sure your mum is smiling at this piece. Beautiful!

  21. oh my goodness!! ah! *sigh* beautifully written.. I’m sure you’ve burned Jane’s Heart with this post… love it! *goes to look for my mommy… mummmaaaaaay!*

  22. oooh….as emotional as the first piece on your mum…..i lost my dad three years ago and still very fresh to date so i can relate to your story and i always try and visit and hug my mum as much as i can coz i realised that time is short on this earth…….love the new look by the way!

  23. twenty years on….i cant believe she is no more…thanks a lot for the read…very inspiring…

  24. I relate with this post, it’s my mother’s tenth anniversary later this year, my father is now remarried and being an only child who’s now starting out my adult life, the one thing i miss is the reassuring hug of a mother. It’s irreplaceable.
    Thank you so much for this. And thank you for sharing a part of Jane with us.

  25. Emotional piece!
    Its been 4 months since i lost my Mum and there is no one day i have not thought about her and shed tears.Does it get better by day??
    To all our gone Mums….RIP

    1. Two and a half years later, the pain is just as real as it was that cold Thursday night when I was informed mum had breathed her last. May God give you strength

  26. Oh my! This is so emotional. I feel you.4 months down the road,i think of Mum everyday and still shed tears. i hold on to the last sms text she sent me and re-read all over, remember our last conversation trying to hold on to her voice……if only i got the chance to say bye.
    RIP to all gone Mummies.

  27. Couldn’t have said it better. I lost my mother more than ten years ago and you never stop missing them.
    Happy Mother’s Day to all the mums out there.

  28. That bit about kina Chege coming for it is funny. Am grateful mom’s still alive and well, I’ll sure carry a hug luggage for her.

  29. My mother died when I was fifteen,she was violently murdered.The world for me changed.It is always a bit easy to accept the death of a loved one if they have been sick.It is as if they are finally free from all the pain.Murder is different,it is as if you are holding something precious and someone yanks it away from your arms.It leaves a hole in you that can never be filled.I miss my mum so much,there is not a day of my life that I don’t think of her and how things would be were she still alive.It breaks my heart when I hear people talking about how annoying or nagging their mothers are.I would give my anything to have my mum with me for just a day.
    9 years mum,the candle is still burning.

  30. nice write up . thank you for inspiring many … am sure when she is proud of you wherever she is

  31. I’ve actually shed a tear! Going all out for my mom this mothers day. Biko you’re the best!

  32. I have read that story like I was the one writing it. Only that on that bed lay my dad and on that cold mortuary slab lay a man I could only compare to Rambo (lol). But mine is still fresh, just one month ago. I was not by his side when he breathed his last, my mum was and his mum. I still have a feeling that maybe if I was there, he would have had an extra week or month..sigh. Anyway, as you appreciate your mothers, don’t forget your fathers.

  33. Damn, wrong time to chop onions huh! a mother will always be a source, her departure will always leave us wanting, nothing can ever quench the craving of a mother, mothers will always rock rock rock rock

  34. My mum isnt dead. She has depression. She hardly speaks. Its not the same, but then I dont know what I would do if i couldnt just go up to her randomly and squeeze her tightly and call her mum and see her smile. Im sorry for your loss. I will do something for her this mother’s day. Havent done anything in 4 yrs .. But i will. Thank you.

  35. I celebrate your mum and all mums in the world..Your article reminded me I almost my mum 2years ago..I realized every second counts. She might not be her full self because she suffered a stroke,but we are happy because she is with us. Amazing read, thanks for the thoughtful and touching article.

  36. I have read very few writers who can tell stories in a spontaneous, authentic manner like you do. You smell of greatness. The time has come to write the book. Followed by books. Do not wait. Go for it my brother.

  37. true, so true.. i lost my mom in 2011 and now all i can think of is things i could have done,words i could have said. make the best of every chance you get, once its gone you never know.

  38. How do you mix the cloud of anguish and sadness with laughter? You!

    “At that point I knew she wasn’t going to make it through the night; this
    was not in doubt when we left the hospital at 1am. Sure enough when my
    sister and I walked back into the HDU unit the next morning her bed was
    empty. My sister wobbled and held onto the bedpost to steady herself.
    (Girls!). I felt my hands immediately go cold, like I had accidentally
    touched my area MP.”

  39. Not just mothers but also fathers. very little is said about the men in our lives who are/were real fathers. The pain of losing a parent is something that you can never be prepared for. i salute all mothers and fathers. Good read.

  40. Growing up I vowed never to be like her. Now that I am, I realised that I am slowly becoming like her… Just a bit of who she is, a joyful treasure to all who know her, her wisdom gleaned from years of experience.. Biko, may your mom’s candle continue to burn..
    By the way , I loove your new page….

  41. Great article Biko. I lost my mum a decade ago. I have her tattooed on my left pec chest muscle, that way she is forever with me.

  42. A nice piece. I have lived through this story with you, tried to feel your pain the way you feel it. But truly I cannot. I miss my mom too and though years have passed, the candle still burns.

  43. I feel you bro, losing a mum is the hardest thing in this life. i also quit going to shaggz after mama passed away, it’s never the same,never will be the same.check me out on writing inspires me.

  44. This is an amazing read and i hope it does encourage the people who are soooo lucky to still have their moms around. I too lost my mam, Mae, to breast cancer and i just dint see it coming. When i got the news i was in pain because i thought she would be lonely without us – her family!!i am ever consoled with her last words, i wish she phoned me but then again, i cant be selfish, there was 6 of us kids, she asked my sister who was watching her to ring my dad and said ‘daddy, i think my time to go has come please pray for me!’ at least i know shes in heaven, even if my dad was obviously in shock and did not pray right away as he rushed to where she was hoping he’d find her alive….

  45. When i read ‘WE SUCCUMB’ i wept like a baby.

    Going through this piece…i feel the raw emotion that the death of a loved one brings. Earlier this year my mum was diagnosed with breast cancer and my! oh my! Those were the darkest days I have lived. Thanks to God and modern medicine she was healed. I will pray to you all who have lost a loved one and carry the weight of grief that our good Lord grants you peace to your souls. Its not easy…but I hope that God will make it bearable. Shalom.

  46. How sweet Biko. I see why the guy at Aga Khan hugged you. I also would. Here’s to a happy 2015 and great memories to come.

  47. This is touching – moved me to tears – just as it happened when I read your tribute to your mum – Jane – during mother day in another magazine. Small wonder why Fredrick M. hugged you. I love reading your articles, you tickle me to the bone…. Keep the pen moving into 2015 and beyond!

  48. Biko, I read this in a supermarket and it made me face the loss I try so hard to hide – of my dad. I broke down and really let the tears wash down my soul. It’s a beautiful gut wrenching piece. Thankfully she knew she was loved and you did too.

  49. Whenever one talks of article writing &/or blogging, what comes immediately on my mind is you Biko. You’re my all time favorite. Lost my mum too a couple of years ago, & this article just reminded me of the past. May the souls of all those 6 ft under rest in peace! Amen

  50. It will be Nineteen(*) years on February 19th,2015 since my dad breathed his last. For a nine year old girl…I mean what in the world was that? But as you said,the candle still burns. He never said anything to anyone that morning. He passed on quietly at 6 a.m :(. Appreciate people while they are still alive. Celebrate life. Be nice. Glad you are teaching folks the right thing to do. Just know you are not alone. I love your writing Biko. Keep doing this.

  51. “If your mother is alive you don’t know just how lucky you are. Go see her on Mother’s Day and tell her you appreciate her.You have the time now, but you don’t have it forever. So go ahead and tell her. It will burn her heart with love.” I can totally relate to this,The candle truely stil burns!

  52. “If your mother is alive you don’t know just how lucky you are. Go see her on Mother’s Day and tell her you appreciate her.You have the time now, but you don’t have it forever. So go ahead and tell her. It will burn her heart with love.” I can totally relate to this,my mum passed away 10yrs ago, and i always,just like you Biko, ask myself what was her last thoughts before she left, did she ask herself why I wasnt there, on her hospital bed? did she think maybe i thought in that hospital I would catch TB, same disease that was killing her? its sad, and it makes me cry,,it makes me sad, but am a man Biko, its true, am not crying now, am trying, look,,,but mummy makes me cry. ION, there’s is this charity idea giving me sleepless nights, and am sure mummy would smile if it comes true, want to know bout it, Biko?

  53. I lost my mum last’ll be a year soon. it tears my heart when i recall i’ll never see her again, hear her voice… everyone should make the time they have with loved ones count as we don’t know when it’ll be the last time we’ll see someone. *tears*

  54. Good morning Biko,

    On a bus headed to NOLA and I think I’ve read and reread a good chunk of your work …lol!

    This one..poignant. It’s been 26 years, feels like last week. I remember her scent and style, but will never forget that voice. If time heals all wounds… I need more time. May your mommy and mine rest in peace.

  55. This was so beautiful. It broke my heart and brought tears to my eyes. I lost my mum 1 month and two days ago and every time i think am ok, over it, something happens – i see something, hear something, think of something – and the pain hits me like a punch to the chest. Knowing there are others like me out there helps. Although i’ll never stop wishing i had had more time…

  56. One of my best articles by you. You spoke to me in ways i can’t describe and I can’t say i know how you feel but i will say i have experienced similar loss. Lost my mom in 2004 and you think about it and relive the pain like it never was gone. We take heart in the hope that they are in a better place.May God rest their soul.
    Great piece

  57. This is the most emotional piece I’ve read in your blog, Biko. Moms are so special, sometimes I wonder where I would have been had it not been for my mother. May yours rest with the angels.

  58. That’s a lovely piece. I hope your mum smiled from wherever she is. For those who still have their mothers, you are a lucky lot. Love and appreciate them more.

  59. “go see mom. You can carry the world to her,
    but the only luggage that will make the
    biggest impression is your hug.” This will stay with me for a very long time. Thank you Mrm Biko.

  60. This reminds me of how much I love my mom who is both dad and mom to me and I will make sure to spend every moment I can with her
    Biko may God continue to comfort your heart and bless your gift of writing

  61. I was moved to tears.. what a tribute to dear Jane. she is sure proud of the man you became .I gotta hop in the next mat to see my mum

  62. this is deep bro. The third time i have read this article and just when about to
    finish reading it i find myself dialling my mum’s line and reaffirming my love to her