Looking ahead to Mother’s Day, Ubuntu Life’s Kenya-based Impact Manager, Sam Nkirote McKenzie, shares her musings on a mother-daughter journey of healing and hope.
A life-altering accident
In 2011, six weeks after I graduated from law school, my mum was knocked off the road walking home from church. All things considered, she was lucky; her only serious injury was a leg fracture. At the time, she was in her rural home in Kenya, and unfortunately, with a shortage of doctors, an inexperienced medical officer mishandled her case. She was left permanently disabled. Mum's strong, resilient, and deeply religious; she thanked God for her health and made the most of her situation, learning first to move around with a walker and then a crutch.
A Parkinson's diagnosis
Four years later, during a visit to her orthopedist, he noticed that something beside her leg might be wrong; he thought she might have early-onset Parkinson's and referred her to a specialist. We were both in denial, but in mid-2015, a neurologist confirmed the diagnosis. It was overwhelming for both of us but true to form; my mum took it in her stride.
I, on the other hand, was distraught. Her neurologist referred us to a Parkinson's Support Group that meets once a month. I went alone first to check it out. When the session leader invited me to stand up and introduce myself, I only said a few words before I broke down in tears. It was an emotional meeting, but as I shared tea with the group after the meeting, I felt less alone and hopeful for the first time since my mum's diagnosis.
Over the years, the group has been an enormous resource for us. When I was busy and couldn't attend, my mum would participate with her caregiver. Together they learned game-changing exercises that my mum could do at home.
The coronavirus pandemic put a temporary stop to physical meetings. Impressively, the group rallied and moved the discussions online, tailoring training for the moment. I was particularly grateful for the caregiver-specific sessions with support during the many months of the Kenyan stay-at-home order.
This Parkinson's Support group, spearheaded by women, is the epitome of what this year's Women's History Month honored and celebrated
. When my mum suffered her recent fall (susceptibility to falling being an unfortunate complication of Parkinson's), they were my first point of call. Their consistent support reassures and fortifies—my mum and I are grateful, and all the better for it.
Living with clinical depression
I would be lying if I said that caring for my mum is easy. It's not, but I can handle it, and I am the woman I am because of the unwavering love, care, and support she has given me throughout my life. My father up and left when I was seven. I think that when a parent leaves, there is a chance that you'll feel less than or unworthy. I never did, which is a real testament to my mum's unconditional love.
That said, our relationship hasn't been without its ups and downs. Which mother-daughter relationship has?
In my late twenties to early thirties, I went through a particularly challenging period of my life when I was diagnosed with clinical depression. I completely retreated within myself. I was hardly talking, hardly eating, hardly ever leaving my room. A mental illness diagnosis is not always well received by African parents. I have heard some real horror stories. I don't think my mum always understood what I was going through, but I know she made an effort to understand. An avid reader of the daily newspaper, she started to cut out mental health-related articles and leave them on the dining room table for me.
It took a village to get me through my darkest times. I will most likely live with depression for the rest of my life, but I am fortunate to have access to incredible doctors, a support group like no other, and my mum's steadfast healing presence, even in her time of sickness, keeps on. Like most women, my mum and I both heal, and are healed by each other, and in that lies boundless hope for today and always.