Shahada’s story, part four; Written by Cabral Opiyo

Shahada’s four part story finally comes to an end. She had hit rock bottom and every facet of her life; marriage, family, children and financial well-being was failing and to add salt to the wounds, she had lost her mother whom she had sacrificed so much to take care of. Most caregiver stories end with loss and bereavement, but Shahada gives us an insight into her life after everything that could go wrong went wrong.

When her husband did not come to pick her up from the hospital after she had given birth, Shahada shrugged, discharged herself, took a cab and went to her mum’s home where she walked into a family in mourning planning a funeral for her mum. Her in-laws never once contributed for the funeral never showing up for the meetings and only barely attending the funeral, including her own husband and after the burial she went home, packed her clothes, took her children and informed her husband that they had reached the end of their union.

Life after the burial was no piece of cake and she stayed at her mum’s house for three months before moving out and finding a place of her own. They locked her mother’s room for over a year because they didn’t want to deal with all the memories attached to it. Her father dropped a bombshell on the still grieving family by announcing his intention to remarry barely three months after their mother’s burial.

“I felt a sense of betrayal when he told us that he had already found a wife, especially because I felt that he had not really been present during the peaks of my mum’s illness and now it felt like he had always had this other relationship on the side.”

Shahada had to hold her siblings together in place of their deceased mother and absent father while trying to rebuild her own tattered life with two children depending on her. Most nights she still woke up with hospital visits on her mind, they were part of her routine. She went in and out of depression as she tried to come to terms with her loss, thinking of things she could have done better in what is termed as caregiver’s guilt. Shahada, a devout lifelong Christian was angry at God for letting her mum suffer through so much pain and still take her away from them after all the struggle and sacrifice.

The first thing she did was reopen her business after a year of being away because she needed to boost her flagging finances.

Two years after her mum’s passing, Shahada reconnected with Akiko, a long-time friend and fellow caregiver who had lost her husband as well and could relate with the pain that Shahada felt most days. When they got to talking about their caregiver journeys, they realised that they had a lot in common and started establishing patterns of behaviours acquired due to caregiving and they sought to bring comfort to others by forming a caregiver’s support group.

The biggest lesson Shahada learned from her interaction with other caregivers was compassion fatigue. Compassion fatigue is a condition characterized by emotional and physical exhaustion leading to a diminished ability to empathize or feel compassion for others, often described as the negative cost of caring. She learned how to deal with it by; training herself to take breaks when tired and learned how to understand why she felt other people’s pain so acutely.

Compassion fatigue makes caregivers irritable and causes caregivers to stop taking care of their own welfare because their lives are dedicated to taking care of their patients.

“It’s easy to lose your mind when all these things are happening in your life and you’re caught in the middle. I had lost my mum, marriage and my father was remarrying so I had to hold my siblings together while also nursing a new-born baby. For years, I had not really slept when taking care of my mother and I was always running up and down purely on long-lasting adrenaline, I was exhausted.

I started taking better care of myself the more I learned about the toll caregiving can have on you and your day to day behaviours. I’d take a day off and just lock myself in my room till the next morning, which is my version of getting me-time.”

She learned that she had been projecting her anger onto her kids after learning the source of the anger and how to make amends for it. Finally, on the third memorial of her mum’s death, Shahada finally came to terms with it and accepted that her mum was pain-free and in a better place, little did she know she was going to need that acceptance a few months down the line.

There was still one huge phobia that she had to deal with, she always thought the worst whenever anyone she knew got sick and she would slip back into bad habits that included not sleeping for the duration of the illness waiting for bad news. Her worst fears were confirmed when in October last year, her dad became ill with Malaria coupled with pneumonia and when he was being transferred from Lodwar to Eldoret after a relatively short illness, he passed on just as Shahada had decided to go and visit him. Luckily, she had mended fences with him earlier after realising how important their relationship was, she had always been a daddy’s girl after all. This was a new Shahada, she had learned not to waste time on conflict after losing her mum, her new found instincts proving right almost immediately. Her acceptance of her mum’s death just a few months prior definitely helped her cope better with her dad’s passing on and she did not spiral after the fact.

Her father’s death took a bit of time to settle in even after she had accepted it because he had always been away, it felt like he was just at work out of sight and not gone forever.

“When the grief from his death hits me randomly, I let it out even if I’m in a matatu but mostly after the kids are in bed, I cry and feel better. I always felt that dad was an anchor and a protector, for example whenever I was broke I would call and he always sent me something even if he was broke himself. These days, I pick up the phone, start dialling his number and remember that he’s no longer here.”

Shahada also mended her relationship with her son whom she had neglected in the throes of grief and at the height of her caregiving struggles. She spends more time with him teaching him how to read and colour and whenever he comes into the kitchen, she allows him to help her cook. They watch movies together and even when she’s visiting friends, she brings her kids along just to include them in her life. The Covid pandemic has helped bring them even closer as they spend more time together. Luckily, her son is an energetic and free-spirited lad who does not hold onto things and his bubbly persona is still present.

She used the anger from her divorce to fuel her hustles and even when her ex-husband threatened to take the kids away, she did not retaliate. She kept the conflict one-sided for so long until her ex-husband realised that he was fighting a losing battle with a nonchalant person not interested in conflict and therefore retreated into civility. She let him keep all their possessions including; a piece of land, the car and all the household items that she had single-handedly purchased; she just wanted the process to end and to start afresh.

Shahada has regained a love for the simple things she used to enjoy; she’s getting back into swimming and singing in the choir, cooks occasionally and is planning on taking an instrument class with her son who loves instruments. And finally, after years of anxious sleep, Shahada finally sleeps like a normal human being and she loves it, snatching random short naps whenever she can manage it.

She is in a relationship with a long-term friend and over time they have come to understand each other’s trauma which has bonded them even more. The light at the end of the tunnel is getting just a bit brighter each day for Shahada.


  1. Nyambura Njuguna says:

    What a roller coaster?! It was tragedy after tragedy. I wish Shahada well in her future. May God bless her and brighten her days

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