Some feelings can never truly be described. Words can not fully express them… No matter how much we try, we barely manage to scrape even the surface. How do you describe love so deep, so powerful, it engulfs your whole being? How do you begin to describe pain so great that you can feel it on every inch of your skin, every surface of your being?
I have tried time and again to describe what I experienced during that one month and how it completely changed my life. However, time and again, the words have failed me. I have picked up my pen, ready to begin and , each time, the words have escaped me. I am always left sitting for hours, staring at the blank page, wondering what to say, how to say it. Enough times, I have wished to be able to take my heart out and place it on the paper. Maybe then, you would be able to fully understand what I experienced.
I have often wondered if sharing my feelings would make them less precious…if sharing them would maybe take them away from me. I have asked myself several times if it is even my story to share…But then, I realised that nothing can ever rob me of the preciousness I was gifted. and this story, is as much of mine as it is theirs. So, today I am ready. Ready to share my story, our story.
Just recently, I took a semester break. The plan was to do a bunch of other activities outside of school. So, for one month of my four month break, I volunteered at Kenyatta National Hospital in the Children’s Cancer ward. I would report to the ward early in the morning ( by 9am ) just when the children were waking up and , for the rest of the morning into the early afternoon, I would help around the ward in whatever way I could. Some of the tasks I would do included: helping the children bath and dress, feeding them when they were unable to do so themselves, helping them when they needed to vomit or use the toilet especially when they were unable to do so themselves, taking them for their routine injections and chemotherapy…I would also play with them, colour with them, tell them stories, etcetera. Three times a week for a month, I would go to KNH and faithfully do my tasks.
I began my one month at KNH armed with knowledge. I was fully aware that most of these children were terminally ill and because of this, most of them would die whilst in that very ward. That was the reality. I went there fully aware that I cannot save these children. The most I could do is give them some joy, some love, some kindness. And so, everyday, I would Pray and report to KNH ready to make a difference in my own little way. Every day was different, each with its ups and downs. There were good days and not so good days. Nevertheless, each day was a new experience, each with a new lesson … and each child had an impact on me,each one in their own special way. I would love to tell you of all 27 of them…maybe later. Today, I will tell you of just 3: Ruth*, Kevin* and Arnold*.
Ruth was a tiny girl of just 4 years old. She was in critical condition by the time I had began volunteering at KNH. The greedy cancer had spread all over and was taking her quickly. Each and every day, all Ruth would do was cry. She would snatch a few moments of sleep in between her crying episodes after which, she would wake up and resume her crying. I could not even begin to imagine the amount of pain she was in. But I could always hear it in her cry.Every afternoon, Ruth’s father would come to the hospital to feed her. These were the few moments Ruth would stop crying. Her father would cradle her in his arms, always so gentle. He would rock her and softly sing to her as he fed her. After this, he would help bathe her. Once again , ever so gently, carefully wiping every surface of her body. Sometimes during these moments, I would hear Ruth laugh. She would laugh, amidst all her pain and struggles! Never had I seen a scene so beautiful, never had a laugh been so sweet. Ruth pushed on, but, by the end of the month she had passed away. It took many by surprise, how long she held on. But I was certain, the love of her father was enough to wake her up each day, to keep her going just a little farther.
Kevin had Leukemeia. He was an angry child, always so angry. A hostile child…but somehow, we became friends. It took some time but we eventually did.Very good friends at that. So much so that everyday, he would gift me a smile, something, he would rarely do for others. I remember watching Kevin die in a span of 5 hours. He started dying at 9am one morning and by 2pm all his cells had failed and he was gone. Just like that. As I sat there with him, he reached out for my hand and I gave it to him… he held onto it and we sat in silence. I could see the fear in his eyes as he struggled, tried to fight. Eventually, at around 1pm, he let go of my hand,gave me one last look and turned away, his back now towards me. He was crying. Silent tears streaming down his cheeks. In that moment, I realised how alone one truly is in death. I sat there, my heart slowly breaking. Kevin, my brave Kevin. He could probably see right through me…he could see me breaking. I have always believed that this is the reason why he let my hand go and forged the last hour on his own.
Arnold, was definitely my favourite. He was 11 years old. I watched him waste away every day of that month. I watched as death patiently caressed him and finally claimed him. While most of the children in the ward were active and somehow always tried to get my attention, Arnold was withdrawn, he was silent. He always looked tired. It was evident the disease was wasting him away. Arnold didn’t get as much attention as the other children. He was neither cute nor charming and he was cranky most of the time. But, Arnold and I became friends quite fast. We would talk about nothing in particular and , many times, he would just want me to sit with him, to hold his hand, to hold his head in my lap while he napped… And this, this I did with all my heart because I was so in love with my sweet Arnold. So much so that all these ‘nothings’, meant everything to me. As the days went by, he lost interest in food. He would only drink maziwa mala ( sour milk ). I never imagined he could get any thinner…but he did. He slowly became a shadow of himself. But whenever I looked into his eyes, all I saw was this little boy I had learned to love. This little boy who loved me…and so, my heart clung on even tighter to my sweet Arnold.
On the last day, I saw him , I begged him to eat.
‘Just one more bite Arnold. Look here, how about we drink some mala?’
‘Paulyne, I am so tired. I am so tired.’
I looked at him, struggling to breath and I told him to rest.
‘Rest Arnold, its ok, rest.’
He closed his eyes and slept
I gathered my belongings and left. I could not bear to watch him go.Not him.
He pushed on for a night and another day and then he too, passed away.
Up until that month, I was not aware of many things. I was not aware for instance, that the heart could house so much love and so much pain all at once. I also never knew how much beauty, joy and love one can find amidst suffering and pain.That I could hate and appreciate death all at once. And these, these stuck with me.I cried for many days, I wept for my children during that one month and for a long period after. I still do. I tried to talk about the pain I felt, the loss I felt, the joy and love I experienced but I could not put them in words. I still have difficulty doing so…and so I let the tears fall, healing water. I let my eyes shine each time I remember my children. I silently smile every now and then, thankful for that experience. See, Some feelings come and they will leave you… you will move along. Others, are more than just pain, more than just fear, more than just love…more than anything. They are inexpressible. And these, these stay with us. These,forever change us. They change us for good.
Rest in peace my darlings. You are forever with me in my heart.
*not their real names.