Grieving the death of my husband, KCB Rugby star

Tuesday, April 28th, 2020 00:00 |
Tony with family. PD/Courtesy

TONY ONYANGO, Kenya 7s and KCB Rugby star collapsed and died in his house on March 3, leaving behind a young wife, MARIA MUINDE, 29, and autistic son. Weeks after his burial, she penned down on her social media what will go down as arguably one of the most tear-dropping tributes to her husband 

Harriet James @harriet86jim

March 3, this year began as any other normal Tuesday for Maria Muinde, a 29-year-old research assistant.

She was home with her late husband, Tony Onyango, who had woken up in high spirits and began his normal morning routine with his son, Shane Owala.

He prepared Shane’s breakfast, bathed and dressed him before walking him to the school van. 

A rugby player with Kenya Simbas, Kenya Sevens and Kenya Commercial Bank, Tony‘s schedule was to go coaching, but he changed his mind and decided to join his team for training.

“Halfway through the training session, however, he left the pitch sighting dizziness and heart palpitations.

He went against his coach’s advice of going to hospital and insisted on coming home to Shane and I,” narrates Maria.

He took his favourite snack; tea and chapati while catching up with his coach and teammates.

Little did they know that this would be the final conversation and moments they would have with him.

“The night Tony didn’t get to tuck Shane in bed. He was on his way to plug his phone in the charger when he got a cardiac arrest.

I was changing Shane in preparation for his bedtime on the seat next to his dad.

When Tony died in my hands, Shane was fast asleep next to him. And just like that, I became a single mother,” Maria recalls.

Maria Muinde with her late husband, Tony Onyango, a rugby player with Kenya Simbas, Kenya Sevens and Kenya Commercial Bank, who died early last month after a cardiac arrest. Photo/PD/Courtesy

How they met

She remembers how they met at Strathmore University back in 2010. Both of them had just enrolled for undergraduate degrees.

Maria was pursuing her Bachelor of Business and Information Technology while Tony, Bachelor of Informatics.

“It first started with friendship and as a friend, he was an amazing person,” she recalls . 

They started dating in 2011  and in 2016, they had their family introduction, Ntheo ceremony and the same year they had their son.

The young lovers began their life from the bottom supporting each other on their way up. “Given how young he died, we can say he was at the prime of his international rugby career.

When we started dating, many senior rugby players used to keep their partners away from the limelight.

Tony was different. If you wanted to find him, you’d have to find  where I was and vice versa,” Maria narrates.

As a father, Tony gave his all taking care of his son who has Attention Deficit Hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

The young boy thrived on routine and due to the high cost of therapy, the couple invested in sensory play toys and became actively involved in home therapy sessions replicating the exercises he had in hospital and learnt online.

“Tony made the burden of raising a special needs child bearable. He loved Shane unconditionally and joined me in our journey of raising awareness about autism, understanding and acceptance as well as advocating for inclusion,” she says.

Maria views her husband’s body. Photo/PD/Courtesy

But now, he was no more. “Before Tony was buried, I went to view his body several times.

It took two and a half weeks before he was buried. Where I come from, a burial is conducted in just a few days.

I came to appreciate the value of mourning someone for a fortnight before they are buried. It gives you ample time to process your emotions,” she explains.

Maria recalls the tough nights after Tony’s death. She would wait with her son at the door for him to show up or sneak out and wait for him at the balcony.

Watching his son broken, not knowing what had befallen his father was the hardest bit.

“It was overwhelming for him whenever his team mates  visited to condole with us and my son would stare at their faces hoping to spot his dad.

Watching him staring at his dad’s portrait, embracing it and kissing it before bedtime also broke my heart,” she says

She also faced accusations from relatives who couldn’t understand why their son, who was healthy and fit could die so young.

“For someone as fit as he was to die suddenly, especially at his home, prompted people to blame me for his death.

Also, people process death differently. How I handled mourning disturbed some people. I chose to cry in my son’s absence the few times that I did.

His father’s absence and the house constantly being filled with mourners was already hard enough for him. Seeing me in tears would have broken him.

When I battled my tears and made a choice to keep a strong front, some criticised me. Whenever I laughed, it rubbed some people the wrong way with some saying I was celebrating his death.

When I chose to dress up nicely one last time for Tony, some got angry about my choice of dressing saying they were expensive clothes. Whatever I did, was under scrutiny.

I couldn’t even engage in banter without getting criticised. Someone even had the audacity to tell me how she thinks I should mourn and constantly kept throwing in the phrase “You’re now a widow” when she didn’t even know what it meant, let alone how it felt like to be one.

Writing the viral Facebook post

On March 8, Maria opted to write her tribute to her late husband on her Facebook wall.

“When I sat down to write his tribute, I purposed to focus on the great memories we made over the years.

It was like taking a trip down memory lane. Writing his tribute gave me the opportunity to mourn,” she says.

Though the post gave her peace of heart and closure, she didn’t anticipate the kind of positive reaction she received afterwards.

People showed their love, praying for her and sending words of comfort. Widows too came forth and resonated with her pain.

Women who’ve constantly encouraged me and checked up on me,” she narrates. 

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