It’s Sunday morning and I’ve just had to scrap my entire column for today. It’s also my birthday and I’m just finding out that Fidel Odinga has passed away. The person who broke the news to me got only three words from me – “awful, simply awful’. It is. I’m still quite raw from the death of my sister and my heart goes out to his siblings. Poleni. Allow yourselves to feel what you need to feel. Everyday will be different.
Rosemary, Junior and Winnie, I want and need to dedicate my limited word-count on this page, today, to you. Adult siblings are sometimes called “forgotten mourners” because their grief is often overshadowed by that of other family members, such as the person’s parents, spouse, or children. My prayers and thoughts are with you because it’s so easy to overlook you. I’m scrolling through Twitter and Facebook and I can see the support and concern for your parents but there’s very little thought for you. Your parents are important and so are Fidel’s widow and his young lovely son – but so are you.
Please try with all your might to hold each other close. Take the help and support of friends to walk you through the next few weeks and months. Take the help that is offered. Your friends are desperate to help and they know they can never ever feel the loss you feel as deeply as you do. This is a fragile time for all of you. I remember just a few months ago as I laid my sister to rest I had to grieve alone and where my parents couldn’t see me because I had to be strong for them and my younger brother and sister. My friends held me up.
Siblings are often deeply connected with each other, having been present in each others’ lives through all of their ups and downs. There are things you each know about Fidel that neither of you knows and nor do your parents. The death of a sibling may represent the loss of a friend, protector, and confidant – I know, I’m still dealing with Regina’s absence. She was my friend and confidant.
At this time, it’s going to be really tough to share the details of your loss and pain with family members, after all they are coping with their own grief. Please lean on the friends you know you can count on. The ones who won’t be caught up and who will be watching out for you fiercely and not allow anyone to distract you. You know them, lean on them.
Some days you will be sad and other days you will be mad and other days you’ll be fine. Whatever space you find yourself in, find someone who simply wants to listen. Better still, if that person didn’t know Fidel as well as you did. One of the people who has really helped me work through my grief is a friend who never met my sister. She listens and nods and pours tea and/or wine and cries when I cry and laughs when I laugh. No judgment, no drama.
Siblings have the world’s most awesome most crazy relationships ever. We compete, argue, and challenge each other. At this point, I want to ask you to forgive. Forgive yourself for any unkind things you did or said or for things you wish you had done or said but did not. Forgive yourself for not maintaining a close enough relationship with your sibling. It does not mean you did not love him or her. Please let go knowing he loved you and he knows you loved him. Let the “what ifs” go. There’s no going back and any attempt to do so will not help the healing process. Trust me.
Above all, get away from the noise and the crowds and have a chat with Fidel one on one if you can. The team at Lee Funeral home (awesome people) allowed me an evening of my own with Regina before the requiem mass. I knew once we had mass and travelled to Ukambani, I wouldn’t see her again. So I asked Lee if I could have some time with her and they obliged. So the Wednesday before we went to church, I hang out with Regina - we spoke, I made her the promises I knew she needed from me, said the things we needed to say each other, I asked forgiveness and then I released her. Rosemary, Junior, Winnie - between now and the day you lay him to rest, the world will be a blur – catch a moment with Fidel if you can. I can breathe today because I spent those two hours with Reggie.
The last time I saw Fidel, we were at a birthday party. A mutual friend had a party for his son and Fidel was playing with his baby son and making him laugh in the cutest way. My last vision of Fidel is his tall frame swinging his son in his arms and laughing. A gentle giant at play. I weep with you in the full knowledge that when I say I know what you’re feeling – I truly do.
I so hate this journey you’ve been put on!! But there is no choice. It’s a journey that we have no decision in. You must take it. My condolences to Hon. Raila Odinga and Mama Ida. I never wear my heart on my sleeve but Fidel was special. I don’t know if you’re aware but he never let the politics interfere with friendship. Looking back he taught me how to separate the two. Friends are friends, politics is politics. Fidel listened to my show, read my column and always found time to send a text or a whatsapp message totally out of the blue that made me smile or laugh out-loud. To the entire Odinga family, I mourn with you – I pray for you. I will miss Fidel.