The news came at the peak of election campaigns last year. Kapsoya MCA aspirant James Ratemo’s children had disappeared on their way to church, and the family set up posters begging anyone who had seen them to report. A few days later, the bodies of Clifford Nyambane 6, Dan Nyamweya, 5 and Glen Ongaki, 3 were recovered from the raging waters of river Nzoia in Uasin Gishu. It halted parenthood for the couple. All their children were dead in what police described as murder most foul. The suspect was a relative and the motives pegged on a long family feud
It has been slightly over one year, and Ratemo opened up on holding on to marriage amidst deep loss. He says the arc of their union changed from a couple that had developed a routine around their children, to two grieving people battling bitterness and struggling to forgive the perpetrator.
The birth of their baby two weeks ago is the only thing they have celebrated since they lost their children in May.
“My wife would cry every day. She would lament over the loss, calling the children’s names. I would console her, but I was also breaking inside. I cried a lot too,” he says.
They never imagined they would go through a day without grieving. He recalls many moments when self-blame and regret sneaked on them, and they wondered if they would have done more to protect their children.
“You ask yourself so many questions. You feel like you failed them, yet you have to embrace that it was God’s plan,” he says.
He had several conflicting thoughts, and they had to reach out to friends and relatives when they felt everything was sinking.
On learning that they were expecting another child this year, they got anxious. It dawned on them that the tragedy had erased their confidence as parents.
“My wife cried through most of her pregnancy. It was joyful when she had a safe delivery of our son,” says Ratemo.
They have named him Clinton Nyamweya, after the first born they lost. Ratemo says little Nyamweya has restored their marriage.
“When he cries, it lights up the room. The silence is gone. The pain will never go completely, but it is slowly fading,” he says.
He says what helped them sail through the dark times was their belief in God, and the social support they got from people around them.
The wound is slowly healing
When Moses Otieno and his wife Trizah Achieng' got their first baby, they were elated. They anticipated watching little Kyle go through childhood milestones, but death came and altered everything.
Otieno had travelled from his home in Kisumu to Nairobi for a workshop. He recalls checking his phone and seeing many missed calls from his brother.
"It was strange. I called him and he told me my son was unwell and I needed to go back home," he says.
He went into panic. It is while at the bus that it dawned on him he had forgotten to call his wife.
"When she answered the phone, I could hear a lot of screams in the background. I asked where she was and she told me she was at the morgue."
His worst fears had become a reality. He did not need to ask further questions, his son was dead.
He later learnt the house girl had overfed Kyle and in the process the baby choked.
The seven hour ride to Kisumu was torturous
"I shed tears in the bus for one hour, crying nonstop. I couldn't believe it," he says.
They mourned their son endlessly, and it is the birth of their daughter Sandra that brought semblance of joy over the tragedy. Sadly, Sandra died barely three months after her birth. At birth, the baby ingested amniotic fluid that later affected her breathing, making it difficult for her to breastfeed. Her death, Otieno says, almost ruined his marriage.
"I contemplated leaving everything behind, I almost gave up on the relationship because I did not understand why our young marriage was plagued by death,'' he says.
Sandra was more than a second baby, she was an oasis of hope after they lost Kyle. And now she was gone.
Otieno was sleeping beside her only to wake up abruptly and find her dead.
"I could not believe that I was going to bury another baby and I wondered if I had done something wrong," he recalls.
After burying Sandra, the devastation became unbearable. He remembers family, friends and neighbours trying to comfort them but nothing they said would take away the immense grief they were feeling.
"We felt like we were being punished by God. This was not the bright future I had pictured for my children,” he says.
Trizah says that their children's death changed the dynamics of their relationship.
''I got depressed. The relationship was not working. We almost divorced,'' she says.
The loss made her insecure as she felt that she was bad luck to her husband's family.
"The deaths were so sudden. It makes you wonder if you have a bad omen,'' she says.
They had to go for counselling. Otieno sought counselling at work while Trizah found a support group to talk to.
He also kept himself busy. The solitude in the working environment ironically gave him time to reflect and process loss.
Despite the devastating loss, they held onto their marriage and started over. Six years down the line Moses and Trizah were blessed with two sons, Sidi Otieno born in 2013 and his three year old sibling Amani.
Their story, he believes, is an embodiment of resilience, strength, hope and the beauty of tapping into inner strength to realise human's potential to overcome any hurdles.
My marriage ended after the loss
It has been one year since Margaret Magutu lost four children in a tragic accident. She says it has been a journey through darkness and grit – a path she does not wish on any parent. She describes it as a year of confusion and seeking God amidst tears.
"I dream about my children. Nights are full of their voices calling me, and when I stretch my hand to catch them, they slip and fall. I wake up crying, then I remember they are gone, and the pain starts all over again," she says.
September 28 is a day that will forever be etched in her mind. She was asleep when she heard a screeching sound, followed by a loud bang and a yell from one of her children. It was slightly before midnight. She rushed to the small room where her children were sleeping, and was confronted by a scene that still torments her. A lorry had veered off the road and flattened their wall and bed. She could see one of her son's limp arm peeping between the tyres.
"Shooting pain went from my head to the pit of my stomach. It was as if I was in labour all over again," she says. Everything that happened after is a blur. She remembers running barefoot and clinging on the broken glasses, trying to save her children. She does not remember how a nail got lodged into her palms. She grabbed the lorry by the wheels and pushed it using strength she says is reserved for mothers whose children are in grave danger.
By the time the imposing lorry's engine had been silenced, and neighbours had started coming to the scene, Magutu from Mabera, Migori County was bathed in dust, tears, sweat and blood.
When police arrived and started bundling her children's bodies into bags, Magutu had collapsed into a helpless heap. She was wheeled to hospital in an unconscious state, and was later told that only one of her children, Coletta Ncangwa who was 17, had survived. The others aged between 15 and 3 succumbed.
"I kept praying for death. How do you move from losing four children in one night?" she says amidst sobs.
When she returned home, her relationship broke. The man who she had lived with for years packed and left. He could not take the loss and the whispers of "curses and witchcraft" that floated when the children died.
"They said something must be wrong with me for my children to die like that. I woke up one day and he was gone," she says.
Her constant calls to him went unanswered.
Maguta says she knew their marriage was ending from how cold and distant her husband became after the tragedy. She admits that she did not work towards strengthening the marriage because she was immersed in her own grief.
"I worried over my remaining child and how she will go to school. She dropped out at form two because there was no money. I was buried in my own grief, I could not even work to take her to school. I feel like a failure," she says before breaking into a soft sob.