By Sheila Maonga.

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I was listening to him keenly. I had kept away anything that reminded me of Jared, except the photos. I had 10 years’ worth of memories locked away, both physically and in my mind. Juma was right. It was fear and guilt holding me back. I had never even gone to his grave. I feared that the grave was accusing me of his death. That is why I stayed away. But I was ready to face my demons. I was ready to open the memories and start my healing process.

“Rose, what I found out is that when it comes to suicide, the deceased is not the only victim. The ones left behind are victims as well. You and I are victims. His mother too. We are the ones left behind.” He said, gently.

“I always believe he was the victim. The only victim in this sad saga. I feel so sad that he misses out on life, and the way he loved life. He misses out on all of it. And, I fear that I contributed to that.” I whispered.

“Why do you feel responsible for his death?” He asked me. No one had ever asked me that question outrightly like that. Not even the therapist.

“Because he killed himself on the day he proposed marriage to me. I had waited for this proposal for ages. I feel I pressured him to do it.” I confessed.

“Rose, Jared was not someone that could be pressured into doing anything he didn’t want. He was notoriously stubborn.”

I smiled thinking of how stubborn Jared was. If he set his mind on anything, it was impossible to shift it. It was the trait that I disliked most in him. But now, in his death, it was the trait I missed the most. I missed all those instances he had exhibited such stubbornness that had led to so many of our arguments. I missed those arguments too. I missed him beyond measure.

“Yes, he was quite stubborn, I don’t dispute. But then why did he kill himself on that same day he proposed?” I asked him.

“Rose, that Wednesday, is the proposal the only thing Jared did?” Juma asked me.

I pondered to think. No, the proposal was the only thing the day. In the morning, he had been with Juma, helping him paint his house. He had also been to see his mum the day before, and the visit had not gone well, such that the Wednesday morning, they had had words on the phone. He also had been to see some old neighbour on his way to see me for the walk in the woods.

“No. He did other things on that day. He was with you in the morning, for example.” I replied.

“Yes. We spent the morning together. He was in a foul mood following a telephone conversation with his mother. He had been to see his mother before, in his brand new car that he dared to buy against her wishes. She was not happy. She kicked off such a bad storm, that he drove back the same day. She became livider. She wanted him to stay and take in the telling off. She enjoys quarrelling people. I have known her for a long time and her quarrels are part and parcel of her. She didn’t like to be interrupted mid quarrel. One had to stand there like a stooge and take it all in without a murmur. That day, Jared refused to stay. He stubbornly refused. He drove off. On the morning after, she called him to pick up the fight from where she had left it. It did not go well at all.”

“I hardly think of the things that happened before the proposal. I only think of the things that happened after the proposal.” I confessed.

“And that is why you arrive at the wrong conclusion that you are to blame for his death. There are many people that could decide to blame themselves if they think that he committed suicide on a whim. A one day decision.”

“People like his mother.” I said. “She had fallen out with him on the day he did it.”

“People like me too.” Juma said.

“Why you? Because he came to help you paint your house?”
“No.” He scoffed, “That morning of the painting, when we were parting, we agreed that we would watch football at his house that night. As it was, that night, my girlfriend needed me, so I cancelled on Jared at the last minute and went to see Akinyi. When you called me to tell me he was dead, I was hit by such guilt I almost stopped breathing myself. I thought that if I had been there with him, he would not have done it. Akinyi too blamed herself for requesting me to see her on that day. She had to have therapy to get over the guilt.”
“I didn’t know all this.” I said.
“Rose, I want you to know that we may never know why he did it. And, that is okay. We just need to make peace with that. What we have to know is that we that are left behind are blameless. We are victims too. We should not blame ourselves. You are a victim, Rose. Not a culprit.” He said, his words blowing like a gentle breeze, soothing my scorched heart. It was a breeze that was fanning out the flames that were searing my soul. His words were balm to my ears.

It then clicked why I was in so much pain and why it was not receding with time. It was because I was a victim as well. I had never thought of myself as such. Which meant that I was always running away from the pain. I had always cast myself as the culprit that caused his death therefore I was punishing myself daily for this. How wrong I was. I made up my mind that I would actively pursue my healing, and I would start by paying a visit to his grave. I was ready.

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