Thanks to the Internet; our graduate class has reached out to one another and formed a strong fraternity. The seeds were sown decades ago during our five years in the medical school during Idi Amin ‘s reign of terror, 1971-1979. To survive and thrive, we became each other’s keeper. These strong bonds are still intact and are being fully exploited. Recently, we came up with a project to give back to the Makerere medical school that shaped us. We are ordinary doctors but we chose to buy 108 Research desks for the new extension of the Post Graduate section of the Sir Albert Cook Medical Library, established in 1924. Slowly but surely, things are falling in place.
Come March 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic descended on us and is showing no signs of going away any time soon.
We are now all 65+ and fall under the senior citizens bracket of our population. Sadly, we have lost two of our best: Dr. David Sennoga, a veteran paediatrician of Durban, South Africa and Dr. Sam Mutumba, a paediatric Surgeon, to COVID. The deaths left us rather helpless.
Due to the civil strife of the 70s and the fact that our Class was the last one to admit international students, we are scattered in several countries: Tanzania, Kenya, South Africa, Botswana, USA, Canada and Australia.
We were still struggling to come to terms with the deaths of our colleagues, relatives and friends, when our colleague: Dr.Sekkade Kiyingi of Brisbane, Australia lost his daughter, Makula(gorgeous)) to cancer of the bowel on the 7 th August 2021.
Makula was only thirty-four years old! She was in a specialised paediatric training programme.
Her elder brother, Kulumba, described her as a kind, ever smiling doctor, radiating positivity and optimism. She enriched the lives of all those around her.
She had a brave heart and a strong spirit and these carried her through the six years of fighting the cancer. She had fierce loyalty and protectiveness of those she loved.
I cannot begin to understand what the Kiyingis have been going through but I have seen my elderly mother almost go to pieces after losing her youngest child to cancer of the breast, four years ago. If she had her way, she would have willingly chosen to die and let her daughter live.
On Saturday 21 st August 2021, I was woken up by the alarm clock just before 5am local time to attend Makula’s funeral at 12 noon Brisbane time. I just felt that I had to be a part of the ceremony for my own ‘closure’.
Over seventy mourners gathered at the Belgian Gardens cemetery to send off our Makula Agnes Nabbosa of the Ndiga/sheep clan. There were several young women of Makula’s age , reflecting on Makula’s character; a leader and a friend to many. There were many of our age group- parents mourning the passing of one of their children. The gem in this somber mood was seeing my young sister Juliet and her husband John among the mourners. They have lived in Perth for over thirty years and had become like a brother and a sister to the Kiyigis. They had flown in two days earlier to console their friends. It was comforting to see a few women dressed in our traditional wear.
Half way through the Mass, Dr. Sekkade Kiyingi was given an opportunity to talk to the mourners. He stood up tall in a dark green African print shirt over black trousers and in a clear voice gave a brief tribute to their daughter then thanked all the mourners wherever they were for joining them at their daughter’s final farewell.
In my heart of hearts, I was crying as a bereaved parent- In Africa, a child is raised by the whole village. I was crying for all the potential buried with her.
It was sunny but so windy that the flowers on the coffin were bending in it. The coffin was then placed in a vault and the mourners were invited to place a few flower petals at the rear. The burial was over in twenty-five minutes! Life goes on for the living.
Instantly I remembered Abraham Lincoln’s quote: ” And in the end it’s not the years in your life that count; it’s the life in your years.’’
Makula in her short life had lived a life of meaning and purpose. She had lived a full life. Having lived a life of purpose had created passion and made her effective as an individual. She had lived with hope till the end.
I left the virtual funeral happy that she had rested from the pain and suffering but at the same time, her inner beauty- looking out for the beauty in each individual had enhanced her external beauty to her family, friends and colleagues. It was her inner beauty that had given her the confidence to be herself. This was a life well lived.
I spent the day thinking about death and life.
Kahlil Gibran ,the renowned Lebanese- American philosopher once said:
”LIFE IS A TEAR AND A SMILE.” He knew that it was the tears that made us more human.
He also believed that life and death were essentially two sides of the same coin. There is no life without death- accepting your mortality helps you to live a meaningful life and to enjoy your life more.
I for one accepted my mortality twenty-three years ago when I was involved a nearly fatal accident. Since then, I have learned to live as a person deserving that second chance at life.
At my age, I know with absolute clarity that I have lived more than three quarters of my life. This has made life so valuable to me. It has given my life a deadline so I have stopped procrastinating instead I just get on with things. I have had to reorder my life by getting my priorities in life right: relationships and my character. I devote 80 percent of my time on these two and they have given great meaning to my life. I have learned to use my life for something good for myself and others. I have also learned to take joy in all the small things that each day offers.
Comparing now and fifteen years ago, I am doing less and yet it translates into more done because I am focused and therefore more effective and productive. After all I am human; I cannot do everything.
The greatest tragedy in life is not death but living a life without purpose and not living a life you want for yourself. The latter leaves you with a lot of regrets in life.
This quote by Myles Monroe says it all: ”The wealthiest places in the world are not gold mines, oil fields, diamond mines or banks. The wealthiest place is the cemetery. There live companies that were never started, masterpieces that were never painted. In the cemetery are buried the greatest treasures of untapped potential. There is a treasure within you that must come out. Don’t go to the grave with your treasure still within YOU.”
Bronnie Ware, an Australian nurse who worked for several years with terminal care patients observed the top five regrets of the dying. They include the following:
- I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me. Many dreams were unfulfilled because the person feared to make certain choices or left it too late.
- I wish I had not worked so hard– many missed their children’s youth and their partner’s companionship because they failed to balance work and family.
- I wish I ‘d had the courage to express my feelings– many had suppressed their own feelings to keep peace with others. They lived mediocre lives. At the end they carried a lot of bitterness and resentment.
- I wish I had stayed in contact with my friends– many got so wrapped up in their own lives and let the golden friendships slip by over the years. Everyone misses their friends when they are dying.
- I wish that I had let myself be happier– happiness is a choice but many of these people had stayed stuck in old patterns and habits and forgot how to look for laughter, fun and adventure in their lives.
We all have our regrets at this point in our lives, but it is never too late to change and have a happy ending. Arise, play and dance to the music of life.
If I picked anything from Makula’s short life it is : Absolute clarity about life gives you focus and purpose and that we all need hope to cope.
Rest in eternal peace, our beloved Makula. May God give the family the strength, courage and inner peace they need to go on with their lives.