Kenyan widow finds love online, one year after husband's death

Jackie Vukalika Ing'airu is seen during an interview with The Standard at her Karen home on May, 10, 2023. [Samson Wire, Standard]

“Who will love me like you did? Who will fix my breakfast in bed? Who will make those random calls to say they love me? Who will buy me gifts like you did? Who will give me random kisses? Who will I share my dreams and goals with?” These are the questions Jackie Vukalika Ing’airu – Elsworth asked when her husband Dave Elsworth died on January 20, 2022.

Jackie and Dave - a British national – were married for thirteen (13) years. His death shattered her. “I don't know how to live life without you anymore,” Jackie posted on her Facebook account.

In the days that followed, Jackie openly mourned Dave. She posted regular updates that included her visits to the morgue, the memories of their marriage and Dave’s final wish which was to be cremated.

Fast-forward to May 3, 2023. Jackie announced to the world that she had found love again and was engaged. “Last week on Wednesday April 26 morning, I got engaged. This is something that I will not stop celebrating soon because my heart is filled with joy knowing that I said yes to a man who I want to spend the rest of my life with and he does it too,” she shared on Facebook.

For a person who is very open about her life on social media, the engagement news generated mixed reactions. Jackie had gotten engaged 13 months after Dave died, which got many people – including her family – very uncomfortable.

Life with Dave

When The Standard team visited Jackie at her Karen home, we found her, and her fiancé Jason seated outside at her lush garden enjoying a bowl of snacks while listening to music. Jason is visiting Kenya for the first time to see Jackie. Keeping them company was Sir Tabu Elsworth, Jackie’s dog.

In person, Jackie, 45, has a bubbly personality, just like her Facebook posts. You can tell she is free spirited, and loves talking. She lives her life with no regrets, and as far as finding love is concerned, she goes for what she wants.

“Dave and I were married for 13 years. He already had two children from a previous relationship,” she says describing her marriage to Dave as perfect. His family loved and accepted her despite her race and not having children. “I never bore any children, but we formed one big happy family,” she says.  

Before Dave died, he conveyed his wishes. “Dave asked me to cremate his body and spread his ashes in Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe, to demonstrate his love for nature and Africa as a continent,” Jackie says.

However, she is yet to fulfil the last part of Dave’s dying wish. His ashes are stored in an urn at their Karen home as she waits for Dave’s granddaughter to come of age so she can participate in spreading her grandfather’s ashes. 

Jackie Ing'airu plays with her dog at her home in Karen, Nairobi. [Samson Wire, Standard]

Alcohol and suicidal thoughts

Jackie says the real funeral begins after the burial or cremation of a loved one. “I was alone. Went to bed alone. Woke up alone. My support system is amazing, but they had to get back to their lives and hustles. Quite understandable,” she says.

There were days Jackie never left her bedroom except to go to the bathroom. For three months, she survived on chocolates. “I had loads of chocolates on my bedside table and I nibbled on them when hungry.”

Then came the suicidal thoughts. “On several occasions I contemplated suicide. I wanted to die so I could be with Dave,” she says.

She also found comfort in alcohol and cigarettes. “I can't count the number of times I drank alcohol. I basically drank to get high and sleep. I hated the fact that Dave wasn't here. I stopped enjoying my drink and started abusing it.” She adds that she could easily smoke a packet of cigarettes in one night.

With everyone gone, Jackie sank into depression. The only living thing she found solace in was her dog Sir Tabu. “I could not sleep at night because of loneliness and the grief. Tabu kept me company in my bedroom the whole night.”

Finding love online

Exactly a year after Dave died, Jackie decided to look for love. The loneliness was too much for her to bear. 

“On January 6, 2023 I got a message in my Facebook messenger. The guy had introduced himself and stated what he was looking for. I read his message but only replied after three days. We had a video call for me to confirm that I was not chatting with a Nigerian man somewhere in Roysambu,” she jokingly says.

They started talking and the man, who said he is Belgian, promised to visit Jackie in Kenya. However, less than a month into their affair, the man disappeared and cut all communication. Jackie was devastated. “I cried for a love I never had,” she says.  

She remembers going to the closet and taking Dave's ashes. She held them and sat on their matrimonial bed sobbing. “I told him I was tired of being lonely and crying for him knowing that he was never going to come back to me.”

During that time, a friend, also a widow, recommended an online dating site. Jackie was reluctant at first, but decided to give it a try. As she was browsing, she came across Jason’s profile.

“I sent the second hello and introduced myself and stated what I was looking for, plus my age. He just read and didn't say anything. I asked him, ‘are you going to say something or just keep quiet?’ Jason then asked if he could call her, and they spoke for 45 minutes. After the call we never stopped messaging.

He does not mind that Jackie is a widow. “He even advises me to keep the memory of Dave alive and is aware that I still keep his ashes in my house.”

Jackie believes in online dating and recommends it widows and widowers who want to get into a relationship. “Online dating is an option. I tried and succeeded because I knew the kind of man I was looking for,” she says.

However, there is a caveat. She advises widows looking for lovers outside the country to first ensure that they have a reliable source of income to avoid disappointments at the onset of the relationship.

Jason and Jackie are planning to get married at a private ceremony. "After the wedding we will stay in Kenya. I don’t think there are better employment opportunities for me outside the country, besides I am self-employed, and I want to manage my businesses here,” she added.

 Jackie’s engagement ring. [Jackie Vukalika, Facebook]

Expert opinion about moving on

As Jackie enjoys her newfound love, she must contend with critics who think she moved on too first and should have given herself time to mourn Dave. She is yet to inform her immediate family about the new man in her life.

There is no best time to move on after the death of a spouse or partner. According to Shillah Mwavua, a psychologist based in Nairobi, it is unfair to put a timeline. “Loss and grief depend on an individual as people handle each phase of grief differently and at their pace,” she says.

She further adds that a widow or widower should first let go of the memory of their loved one to allow them to be emotionally available to the new relationship. “She (Jackie) may still have unfinished emotional attachment to her late husband which she has to let go first before it rebounds or develops into something else,” Mwavua says.

The psychologist cautions widows or widowers against getting into new relationships as a way of dealing with loneliness. “In Jackie’s case, if the man has not yet fallen in love with her, he will grow to love her with time. He might struggle to compete with her late husband which could see him quit the relationship and it will be a double blow to her,” Mwavua opines.

[email protected]