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I lost half my family on the same day, Nelly Obiero

Achieving Woman
 Nelly Obiero with her son, JJ (Photo: Courtesy)

There’s no telling when tragedy will rear its ugly head. What we do know is that when it does, we’ll have to find a way to cope no matter what. For Nelly Kemumo Obiero, 33, her world was turned upside down on February 27, 2020. 

That morning, her husband Patrick Mumbo, 33, dropped her at work as usual. Their three-year-old daughter Natalie Rose Mumbo insisted on accompanying them and Nelly couldn’t see any reason why not. 

“Before I went to shower, Natalie woke up suddenly, she had been fast asleep and asked me to make her breakfast,” Nelly recounted in an exclusive interview with Eve. “I told her I was a bit busy because I was running late. But she insisted so I did that. They dropped me off at work at around 7:30am."

 It had been an ordinary day but one that would change her life forever (Photo: Courtesy)

But what happened a mere 10 minutes later would change Nelly’s life forever. 

“Someone called me, I was at my desk at work. An askari told me...he used these words, kuna gari imepata accident hapa na kuna mtu amekufa endea mwili City Mortuary [there’s a car that’s been involved in an accident here and someone has died go for the body in City Mortuary].”

Upon hearing the number plate, Nelly confirmed that it was their family car.

“At first I didn’t believe [him]. I thought there was some confusion.”

 Her husband Patrick, and their daughter Natalie, were killed in a tragic road accident (Photo: Courtesy)

She inquired after her daughter and the caller couldn’t give her any information on her whereabouts.  Another person called Nelly’s colleague and informed her that little Natalie was at Mater Hospital. Nelly’s colleagues rallied behind and supported her. “They [her department] divided into three: some went to City Mortuary, others went to traffic headquarters in Upper Hill and others came with me to Mater.”

At the hospital, Nelly couldn’t get clear information on what condition her daughter was in. It wasn’t until one doctor spoke to her that she was informed that Natalie was no more.

Dealing with loss

Nelly’s grief is two-fold. She lost two of her loved ones in the blink of an eye. With their family of four now halved, Nelly and her then six-month-old son JJ, Jermaine Jenkins Mumbo, had to face their new reality.

“That first month was tough. I barely slept. I had nightmares. I would wait for daylight, around 5am, so that I could sleep."

 At just six months, JJ noticed the absence of his father and sister (Photo: Courtesy)

But her family has been there for her. They made sure that she ate and slept and that she had enough breastmilk for her young son.

“From the day of the accident my mum and sister have come and stayed with me,” Nelly confessed. “Of my four siblings and in-laws, those who couldn’t stay over would, in that first month, come in the morning and leave late at night, there wasn’t a curfew then, and made sure that I had eaten and was okay.”

While all this support has helped, it was the moments alone that brought on the reality of the situation. “I would cry and let it out. Crying helps to let it out, and talking about it. The difficult part is the accident scene. When I remember that, it makes me angry. I just hope they didn’t feel too much pain.”

 Nelly with her husband Patrick, and her children JJ and Natalie (Photo: Courtesy)

Her employers and colleagues have also provided invaluable support. Nelly, an accountant, got one and a half months leave from work and her colleagues would call to check on her. Her company also provided her with a grief counsellor. When she went back to work, they reduced her workload.

“I also got support from my church. Before corona, they would come and pray with us. I also got new friends, total strangers, who volunteered to run the many errands I had after the burial."

Nelly’s neighbours also stood by her. As for 11-month-old JJ, Nelly has noticed that he has since become aware of his father and sister’s absence.

“That day [of the accident] he was looking for his sister and the dad but he couldn’t find them. There’s a picture on the wall in the living room, at first he would cry when he saw them but now he looks at the pictures and smiles.”

 For Nelly, acceptance is the first step to moving on after a loss (Photo: Shutterstock)

Acceptance, Nelly says, is the first step towards moving forward after a loss. 

“Accepting that even we will one day die [is important]. At the end of the day, if we are born, we must die at some point,” she reflected. “God had a reason why it happened as it did,” she confessed. “I comfort myself by saying that they are in a good place.”

In order to help her cope with the grief, and get a semblance of normalcy, Nelly moved houses. 

“The change of environment helped a lot,” she observed. “I tried to change how my house looked. There are memories. You go to the sitting room and remember that he used to sit here, doing this or that. I tried to change the look of things. In as much as it looks very simple, it helps psychologically.

“We are a Christian family so Bible study every evening has helped me move on with life since the Bible tells us that there is hope at the end of the day.”

 JJ is her motivation to moce forward (Photo: Courtesy)

“I have many memories that I will share with him when he is old enough to understand,” as she recalls how Natalie and her husband were so close that you could never find one without the other nearby. “Natalie was so clever for her age, I used to ask her ‘Ukienda shule, utaenda kufunza mwalimu ama yeye atakufunza?’ [When you go to school, will you teach the teacher or will she teach you?]”

While no amount of comfort can bring Patrick and Natalie, Nelly is determined to move forward. Her son JJ is her motivation and the support she continues to receive and her faith keep her moving forward.

“There’s a gap but at least I have people to talk to, to help raise my son,” she averred.

If you could pick only one person to live with forever who would it be?

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