Sunday, July 31, 2011
#20 Sister Judy
I have put off writing this email because the loss is so painful. I met Judy in 2007 when she was stationed here in Naivasha, as a social worker doing HIV education, going out to rural areas every day dispelling wrong ignorance and untruths, quietly encouraging the use of condoms to help reduce the spread, giving loving support to victims and their families. The small convent where the 4 or 5 nuns lived is within the inner parish compound, just a few yards from the rectory. She would come there to chat, laugh, share inner thoughts and just to be together. We “clicked” as sometimes happens with those to begin as acquaintances and grow to be dear friends. Pictured here are Judy and Sr Christine in the dining room of their convent in Karen. It was taken last summer when I visited them.
As you may recall, I was to visit her for a few days, beginning the day I went to Nairobi to buy Kizito his camera and the day she died. I had postponed the visit b/c I had to be back in Naivasha the next day and now the visit will never be.
I now have a greater understanding of what happened. Evidently she had a toxic goiter, which can very quickly affect the heart and cause the blood pressure to fall precipitously. I didn’t know much about that, but I happened to meet my pharmacist friend, Joyce Muturia at the funeral. She explained how quickly that condition can kill and there is little that can be done to reverse it. I had originally thought it was b/c of incompetent care, but I’m convinced that was not the case. I’m not quite sure why I feel better about it, but I do.
The funeral was at the mother house of the Assumption Sisters of Nairobi, which is in Thika. I remember years ago reading The Flame Trees of Thika, but I’ve never seen anything I would call a flame tree. Thika is west of Nairobi, on a terrible road (so what else is new?) We were 5 in the car, 3 nuns in the back, but they had sweetly saved the front for me. I don’t know whether it was in deference to my exalted years or my mzunguskin. As much as I try not to let myself be favored, it happens. I confess I was happy to be in front, as it is so bouncy in back. It also permitted the nuns to speak in Kiswahili (or Kikuyu) without my sitting there in silence.
The mass was to be at 9, but it’s a 2 hours drive and we left at 7:30. Evidently Fr Kiriti knew it wouldn’t be at 9 and in fact it began at about 10:30. It was conduced by the bishop of Nairobi, indicating the high esteem in which she was held. It is the tradition here to view the body. Coffins are constructed with a small window with a slide opening. Only the head and a bit of the torso are visible. I had seen that once before when I attended the funeral of Fr Kiriti’s aunt several years ago. In addition to the many nuns and priests in attendance, there were many lay people and a contingent of students from the center where she worked. The queue to view the body was long and I waited until I thought I had myself under control before I joined it. But my face must have shown otherwise b/c another nun I know, Sr Helen came to hold my hand and then another, Sr Pauline. I was so touched by their concern, as it was their loss too. In the past I have thought that viewing the body was grotesque, but I needed to see her to know that this vital, alive person was really no longer alive. And then I just felt a profound sadness and fatigue. I sat there, literally falling asleep, trying to be respectful but unable to stay awake. There were many eulogies and the mass didn’t end until about 2:30. Of course there was food to eat, people I know to talk to and Fr Kiriti knew practically every priest and nun.
Finally we climbed back into the car for the grueling ride back. Fr K decided to take a different route, which turned out to be far worse, b/c the traffic rivaled any jam I’ve ever been in—inching along, except here a skillful driver will do anything to pass even one vehicle, knowing that there are 1000 more vehicle ahead anyway. They go over curbs, pass on the right (only here it’s the left), nose out other drivers, make a lane where none is—you name it. It’s not a dull experience—I didn’t fall asleep!
And so this woman who loved to lead the choir and had a lovely voice, who always had a smile, a word of encouragement, a hug, and a hearty laugh has left us. She is missed.