This morning we slept in because it was pouring rain outside. We have been excused from rosary and mass if needed occasionally due to weather or health reasons. After waking around 7:30 I got ready for my day. I was scheduled to teach handwriting to grade 5 at 8:05am. I have become particularly close with the 5th grade at Our Lady of Grace. They were the first class I taught at the school and were the first to embrace me into this community. As I crossed over the road toward the school from the Dominican compound I heard girls crying. I looked up to see two girls, one of whom is in the 5th grade and the other in 2nd, being escorted by teachers across the school grounds toward me on the road. My pace slowed as I watched them wondering why they were crying and where they were walking to. One of the teachers looked up and waved to me but the group kept walking. As I passed them heading toward the primary school I saw Mr. Okoth walking toward me. Mr. Okoth is the principal of the primary school. As we approached each other he stuck out his hand and said, “Good Morning Kate.” I shook his hand and returned the welcome and asked about the girls who were weeping. Mr. Okoth informed me that he was just going to join them. He said the girls had just been informed that the mother had died this morning. I lost my breath. My hand shot up to my chest as I reflected on what I had just heard. Mr. Okoth continued and told me that their mother had been ill with terminal cancer and had been a patient at the hospice run by the Hawthorne Sisters down the road. The children were going to view her body before the burial ceremony began. He also told me that their mother was their only living parent, and that their father had died some years earlier. My heart broke. I cannot fathom what it would be like to lose one parent but to have lost both before the age of 12, unthinkable to me. The two girls also have an older brother at the school in grade 8. These three children became “true orphans” this morning. As Mr. Okoth continued to speak I lost all words to reply. I said, “I cannot imagine what this is like for them; to lose a parent. I am so sorry.” Mr. Okoth looked into my eyes and said, “That is the reality of life.”
Such an incredibly hard reality for anyone in life, let alone children. As I walked to my classroom I prayed for those children and their mothers’ soul. Before I started class, I asked the students to pray for their classmate who was going through an incredibly difficult time. We all bowed our heads and prayed for our friend. About 45 minutes later there was a knock at the open door to the classroom. When I looked up from the blackboard “Iris” (the 5th grade student who lost her mother) was standing there asking permission to enter. (That is a school rule that they must be granted permission before entering the room in the middle of a lesson) I looked at her, her eyes all swollen and bloodshot and nodded my head. All the students fell silent as she walked to her seat in the back of the room. I was at a loss. Do I just continue with the lesson? Do I stop and speak to her? Have all the kids hug her? I turned back to the board and gave the children an assignment. As they began working I walked over to “Iris’” desk and knelt next to her. She just stared straight ahead as I told her that she did not have to stay in the classroom. As soon as I said it, I realized she had nowhere else to go. I suppose she could go to the principal’s office and sit alone but as she looked over at me I knew she needed to be with people. I asked if she had been sent back by the teachers who took her to see her mother’s body and she nodded. As I told her not to worry about the lesson or her work in my class I rubbed her back and clutched her arm. Tears streamed down her face as she silently wept. I took some tissues from my bag and gave them to her to use throughout the day if she needed them. I also told her that it was okay to cry and to be sad. I told her that although she may not understand why this happened, her mother was no longer in pain from being sick and that she was now with God looking over her. She nodded and looked away. It is difficult to console adults who loose parents and that is normal. Consoling a child who has lost her only remaining parent maybe one of the most trying things I have faced. I just wanted her to know she was loved and cared for and so I just knelt next to her and rubbed her back letting her know I was there if she needed anything as her classmates worked. At the end of class some of the girls came around and stood near her. Open affection is not something I have witnessed in Kenya and I don’t think the girls first reaction would be to console through hugs and touch. They just stood near “Iris” and I told them to take care of her while she was going through this difficult time. The other girls nodded.
I will never be able to forget “Iris’” face today for as long as I live. I have been surrounded by these children for almost 3 weeks now hearing stories of their deceased parents and knowing that they were orphans but today put all of that into perspective. I witnessed a child become an orphan today. Those three kids will have to live the rest of their lives without either of their parents. There is nothing that can replace the love you receive from your parents but maybe with love and care from others these children can continue to grow and move forward. For now, though, it is their time to grieve.