top of page

Remember me..

Updated: 3 days ago

The first time I told him about a girl, I was in high school.

“I will marry that girl someday dad. I have loved her from when we were in primary school.” Dad chuckled, “Love eh? That one Hawi, you will forget about. Wait and see.”

“You don’t get it dad, she…”

“I do. I get it.”

And true to his words, I forgot about her, went on to finish high school and plunged into the daily grind. Once when I travelled home to visit, dad asked me, “Still single? With all your good looks? Take your time son. When you meet her, you will know.”

That’s the kind of guy my dad was. He liked to wrap his words with oil and a tinge of humor when he spoke. There was never a dull moment with him. Growing up, I had nothing but fond memories of living in SONY (South Nyanza Sugar Company) — *Bet some of you didn’t know that’s what the initials meant* — where dad was an agricultural officer who had a love affair with farming. I guess he used the same skill he learned tending to his crops on us as kids.

We were eight. Kids not crops. And every corner of our house was brimming with endless childhood banter. Yet dad would still add a relative or two to our pack in the name of paying for fees or some other thing. In his house there was always room for one more.

“Family sticks together,” he liked to say. And we did even when we lost two siblings to sickle cell disease.

Once, my mom asked my elder brother to do something and he talked back at her. I think he felt he had outgrown his body and could do as he pleased. Dad heard him from his room where he was taking an afternoon siesta. Before my brother turned to walk away, he found his feet treading on air. Dad had him by the neck, pinned to the wall; his voice was soft but crisp, “You can speak to anyone else the way you want, except your mother.” And his feet touched the ground in a thump. That was the only time I witnessed dad get angry. You see, his usual way of conflict management was to have a sit down, talk and resolve matters calmly. But clearly mom was a touchy subject. That should never be touched.

It was only later that I came to learn that he liked to keep his cool because he was hypertensive. So he chose his battles wisely.

After a few years in active service, dad retired and moved to the village with mum. He still kept his daily routine of rising at dawn to listen to BBC news on his transistor radio, then he would read the paper cover to cover and plough his farm. It was in these sunset years that he started to say he felt like someone had put a match to his feet. It was so bad he would ask for a basin of cold water to dip his feet. Sometimes he would get strange sensations as if an army of ants were nibbling at his feet. It got so bad he stopped going to the farm.

At the local hospital, the clinicians said it was a neuropathy and would put him on meds which gave little relief. Little by little he began to melt off and grew so thin I sometimes felt he would snap with any sudden movement. Sometimes his limbs would be as stiff as cardboard and we had to assist him to move around. I would look at him and recall how he would walk with us to church when we were kids; which was a long way away. Because our tiny legs would tire easily we would take breaks to sit by the side of the road and dad would patiently sit with us without a care in the world. At that time, he held a managerial post at work yet sitting by the roadside with eight to ten children did not move him. It was hard to reconcile the person he was then with who he was becoming. The neuropathy persisted and he would wax and wane between wellness and illness.

I remember once when I travelled home to see him, we were sitting by some trees in the compound, his feet in water as I read him the newspaper. He asked, “So Hawi have you found someone yet?”

“Actually dad, I have met someone.”

“Really?” He put on his cheeky face, “What tribe is she?”


“Aah those ones are loyal.” And he went on to give examples of the Kamba women he knew who had married his friends who lived nearby. “You know some of them even lost their spouses but have chosen to stay here and even learn the language. I would like to meet her.”

I came back to Nairobi planning my next visit home with my new catch — Betty.

Then things changed.

Dad woke up one day, went through his usual routine and when mom walked into the room he asked, “Who are you? Where is this?” He then started packing his clothes in a huff saying he wanted to go home. One minute he would be lucid, the next he would switch and behave like a stranger lost in an unknown world. A blank page. One of my sisters took him to hospital and the clinicians attributed it to old age. But it didn’t stick; because he was in his 60’s! It hurt his wife of 40 years that he could forget her and the next time he asked her who she was she retorted, “What do you mean who am I?” He was so startled he never forgot her again.

When I took Betty home to meet him, we found him lucid, waiting for us in his signature white shirt. My whole life I had never seen dad in any other colour of shirt but white. It was his belief that a white shirt was a symbol of cleanliness and Mr Oguna was known for that. We sat with him and spoke at length. He was his usual witty self, cracking us up with his stories and calling Betty, ‘Nyar Loka.’ We sat with him for hours and then at some point he turned to me and said, “Who are you?”

His blank stare dug a hole in my heart, filled it with sorrow and very nearly buried me with it. I could not reconcile the sudden change. I leaned forward and introduced myself; my emotions muddy, “Dad, it’s me Hawi.”

“Oooh yes. Welcome. You have come to visit?” It was as if his mind had reset to the beginning of our visit. Then he turned to Betty, “Nyar Loka it is great of you to have come to see me. Do you like the place? Are they treating you right?”

It was unfathomable how he could remember her and not me!

He would have moments when he was himself and doing his thing then the bulb would go off and he would say, “I want to go to my home.”

After that visit we decided to take him to a specialised centre for further evaluation. That was the first time I heard the word, Alzheimers and dementia. Words that were hard to pronounce and even harder to acknowledge. The doctor took time to explain the disease process to us; each word came as a solid punch to the gut. “Patients with Alzheimers often feel terrified because they wake up to find pieces of a puzzle missing and they can’t trace them. So you have to be patient with him when he switches off.” He then gave us some meds to manage his other symptoms.

It is because of his memory lapses and inability to move that dad missed our dowry ceremony. An event that I badly wanted him to attend. Yet when he had one of his lucid moments, he instructed me on who he had appointed to take his place on the negotiating table. Clearly his mind was still like a steel trap. “Hawi, call my cousin. He will accompany you to Betty’s home.” And he would give clear instructions and after that he would switch off. It felt like he was leaving us little by little;sometimes he was the person I once knew, other times, just a trace.

He missed the wedding.

My siblings and I made a point to take turns to go home to see him every fortnight. We would spend time with him even if his memory kept dissolving like an aspirin in acid. Funny though, even if we had to remind him who we were, he never forgot mom again!

Years passed and Betty and I got our first son who we took home to see him. By now it was usual to get to the home and introduce ourselves. “Oh yeah I remember, I remember.” But he would stare at us as if he was trying to join the dots. You would see him try to piece things together and look lost and struggle not to show he was lost. “Nyar Loka you have come!” he would quip with a smile on his face. Betty was also never forgotten.

One day while at work, mum called me, “Dad wants to see you.” I had a sinking feeling when I heard her voice. I left the following day with my siblings for home. When we got there, he looked suspended between two worlds. He was lying still in bed; the only sign of life was the rise and fall of his chest and a cough that sounded like a dry chunk of meat was stuck in his throat. We wanted to take him to hospital and it’s funny he had the energy to say no. But late in the night he got worse and this time we did not discuss. We prepped him and left for Kisii and went to the first hospital I could think of.

Because of his cough, they started by doing an x — ray. They wheeled him away and after several minutes when they were done they called us to see him. I remember looking at his face in shock. A white paste coated his lips and tongue and he seemed to be choking on it. He was stiff like something had starched up his whole body and was coughing up the liquid with a blank stare in his eyes. One of the hardest things is to grieve the loss of a person who is still alive. I went into a panic when I saw him like that. Next thing I knew I carried him out to the car and moved him to a different facility.

When we got there, one look at dad drove them to action. He was admitted as patient 01 — their first admission; because it was a new hospital. You could see they were giving him all their attention — catering to all his needs, addressing each of his symptoms. We thought he would stay a few days and would be discharged but he ended up staying three months. Each time he seemed to get better a new symptom would crop up. His blood pressure kept spiking; then his blood level went down and his dementia got worse. Mom stayed with him throughout. She would only leave to go check on the home for a day or two then go back to stay with him.

Our trips to shags were no longer trips to shags. We would drive to see him in hospital, stay the weekend then go back to report to work. It takes a toll on you. The chronic illness of a loved one. In time he started to go down and even stopped talking. The stories had stopped flowing. The doctors however held their own in the tug of war on his life. They never relented.

A few weeks later when mom had left to go home, they called me for the usual update. “We want to transfuse dad but your mom is reluctant. Please talk to her so that we can proceed.” I spoke to her and she consented while on her way back.

She didn’t make it back in time. The gentleman in white took a bow.

The world stopped when dad died. His mind died before he did and to some extent I hope it hid things from him. Like his pain. Even though he may not have remembered us in the end, we remember him.

As narrated to me by Hawi Oguna


Dementia is a broad term for a group of brain disorders that cause memory problems and make it hard to think clearly.

The symptoms of dementia often start off mild and progressively get worse. They include: ●Forgetting things ●Confusion ●Trouble with language e.g. not being able to find the right words for things ●Trouble concentrating and reasoning ●Problems with tasks like paying bills ●Getting lost in familiar places

As dementia gets worse, it can: ●Cause anger or aggression ●Make people see things that aren’t there or believe things that aren’t true ●Impair people’s ability to eat, bathe, dress, or do other everyday tasks ●Cause people to lose bladder and bowel control

The different kinds of dementia are:

Alzheimer disease — This is the most common cause of dementia. It is a disorder in which brain cells slowly die over time. ●Vascular dementia , Parkinsons dementia and others you should see a doctor or nurse if you think you or someone close to you is showing signs of dementia. Sometimes memory loss and confusion are caused by medical problems other than dementia that can be treated.

Your doctor or nurse will decide which tests you should have based on your individual situation. Your doctor might want to do a brain scan (either CT or MRI) to make sure that your symptoms are not caused by a problem unrelated to dementia.

How is dementia treated? — That depends on what kind of dementia you have. If you have Alzheimer disease, there are medicines that might help some. Sadly, there really aren’t good treatments for most types of dementia. But doctors can sometimes treat troubling symptoms that come with dementia, such as depression or anxiety.

If you have dementia, you might not be aware of how much your condition affects you. Trust your family and friends to tell you when it is no longer safe for you to drive, cook, or do other things that could be dangerous.

Be aware, too, that people with dementia often fall and hurt themselves. To reduce the risk of falls, it’s a good idea to: ●Secure loose rugs ●Tuck away loose wires or electrical cords ●Wear sturdy, comfortable shoes ●Keep walkways well lit

There are no proven ways to prevent dementia. But here are some things that seem to help keep the brain healthy: ●Physical activity ●A healthy diet ●Social interaction

741 views3 comments

Recent Posts

See All




Lutawo Ouma
Lutawo Ouma

So well written. So vivid. So enlightening.


dela crucifix
dela crucifix

Well narrated and informative!



The thought of having this illness with a difficult name to pronounce (dementia), is very scary. I cannot imagine what you went through, Hawi, but I trust that you have/are healed from the pain that is why you can share.

Post: Blog2_Post
bottom of page