Mourning my ex-husband who died of Covid-19 pandemic

Wednesday, June 17th, 2020 00:00 |
Dr Faith Ngunjiri, her late ex-husband Charles Munene Mugi and their daughter, Imara Wema during their happy moments. Photo/PD/COURTESY

He wasn’t just the man Dr FAITH NGUNJIRI had divorced, he was also the man she had married, the man she co-parented with, the man she spent eight years of her life with. So, when he passed on, she chose to reflect on that.

Harriet James @harriet86jim

On April 24, this year, Dr Faith Ngunjiri got a call from her sister-in-law informing her that her ex-husband had been admitted to hospital due to difficulty in breathing, pneumonia and low blood pressure — he had just been diagnosed with Covid-19. 

“I told our children immediately that their dad was sick and that he had contracted Covid 19.

We prayed for him every day. On the fourth day of his hospitalisation, we spoke to him via video call—the children telling him how much they loved him, and I telling him we were praying for him.

Obviously he couldn’t respond to us, but we hoped he could hear us. He was on life support. That turned out to be our goodbyes,” Dr Ngunjiri reveals.

Charles Munene Mugi—formerly known as Charles Henry Nowlin III was a doctoral candidate at the University of North Dakota at the time of his death.

With the global pandemic making having funeral services and such nearly impossible, Dr Ngunjiri did what she knows best—process her thoughts and feelings through writing.

When his professors reached out to her about awarding Charles his PhD posthumously, she wrote and shared with them an obituary that she later posted on Medium. 

 The news of her ex-husband’s death brought a flood of memories and emotions in her mind that the associate professor of Ethics at Concordia College in Minessota opted to write her thoughts eight days after his death. 

Happily never after

“It’s like a public journal in that sense and since I’d asked my Facebook friends to pray for him when it became clear that things were thick, I felt that I owed them, in a sense, a ‘here’s how the story ends’ post.

The fact that it resonated so broadly was a pleasant surprise. He wasn’t just the man I divorced, he was also the man I married, the man I co-parented with, the man I spent eight years of my life with, so I wanted to reflect on that,” narrates Dr Ngunjiri.

The two had met in Philadelphia, US, in October 2009, and married in the May 2010, followed by a reception in Nairobi in June the same year.  

“He was African American, while I’m Kenyan and though we looked alike, it was pretty much like being in an inter-tribal marriage.

We had different cultural experiences. But we loved it, as we both immersed ourselves in learning about each other’s culture. I think it was a great marriage and great partnership,” she says.

However, eight years down the line, what seemed like a happily ever after, ended in a divorce due to what Dr Ngunjiri terms as irreconcilable differences.

She talks about how she approached the divorce by getting therapy, and inviting her family and friends to support her. 

“I went into the divorce with excellent social and emotional support. I continued with therapy, which helped me to ask and answer those tough questions and deal with self-blame,” she says.

She also used other self-care approaches to navigate the season including meditation, yoga and prayers.

Blogging helped her to think out aloud and process the emotions that were going on in her mind instead of burying them. 

Her older daughter who was three at the time of the separation, Imara Wema, was acting out a lot. Dr Ngunjiri took her for play therapy so she could process her emotions. 

Ikeno Baraka, her younger daughter, was just over a year old, a little too young to understand what was going on. 

“Kids see and feel a lot more than they can express with words. So, I took Imara for play therapy so she could express her feelings in ways that were age appropriate.

The therapist would explain to me what emotions she was expressing and translate that for me. It helped tremendously,” she recalls. 

And with the healing, came the post-divorce as the two moved towards a more positive relationship with each other. 

Moving on

“We lived 1400 miles apart and my children could talk to their dad anytime on video calls. Earlier after the separation, there was so much anger on both sides that we hardly communicated.

The children would refuse to talk to him when he called. We had work to do to bridge that chasm.

Each of us individually had to deal with our emotions, so that together, we could have a more positive relationship for the sake of our children,” she adds.

A year into being divorced, the two were communicating positively, and that helped the children to also engage with their dad more freely. 

“When you have children, divorce ends the marriage, not the family. We had our days of anger and bitterness, but eventually got into a more positive space where we could engage with one another and with our children without bitterness or anger. Grieving for him brings up a complex set of emotions for me. 

The kids and I talk about missing him, how we won’t get to see him again. But, they also talk about him always being present in our lives,” she adds. 

With the shelter in place rules in response to the pandemic, Dr Ngunjiri and her children were not there to bury their loved one. They are planning to hold a memorial once the crisis settles. 

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