The grieving family, healed.

 It was one of those laid-back Wednesday evenings. I was unwinding at home with a mug of hot soup, after a long day. Wednesdays tend to be quite busy for me, having live radio shows and therapy sessions all in one day. My phone lit up with a notification. It was an email from someone seeking my services as a family therapist.

In the heart of Nairobi, there lived a family whose laughter once echoed through the halls of a warm, loving home. But life, as it often does, took an unexpected turn. The father, the pillar of strength, passed away leaving behind his wife and their four young children. The void he left was deep and in just a matter of years, the family found themselves grappling with debt, addiction and overwhelming grief.

The email came from *Chris, the eldest of the children. He was desperately seeking help for their family and family therapy was their last resort. His mother, now old but resilient, had been shouldering the burden of keeping her family afloat. Chris was working and living abroad, and was trying best he could to play the role bequeathed to him as the first born son. Not an easy one, he said. He had siblings who were twins, a young man and woman. The young woman, a teenage girl when her father died, had struggled to process the loss of her father, her hero. She had moved away from home young and had turned to drugs and alcohol in an attempt to numb the pain. She had been in rehabilitation programs twice and had relapsed within weeks of discharge. Her twin brother was still living with his mother, and he too was struggling. He had over time accumulated debts as he gambled his days away. On several occasions, he had been caught stealing from close family members in an effort to keep up with his addiction to gambling. The youngest, a son, was lost in the shuffle. His grief had manifested in silence and isolation. Nothing and no one could seem to get through to him. He had shut down shortly after his father’s death and it broke his mother’s heart. The mother wasn’t doing too well either. She had hardly received any social support after the loss of her husband, whose relatives had swooped in and taken whatever they could get their hands on soon after his death. She had ended up moving upcountry and struggled to raise her children through the years.

We agreed to have the therapy sessions virtually, to accommodate all the family members as they were in different locales. Technology is a wonderful thing, isn’t it? Chris had expressed concern that his siblings might not show up, but I hoped that they would. And show up, they did. That was a good start.

Our therapy sessions began with trepidation. They had all built walls around themselves over the years – thick and fortified walls. Grief tends to do this to some, you know! But as we delved into the heart of their pain one by one the walls finally began to crumble. It was time to allow them to speak about their father, their memories of him, his love for them and the dreams that he had concerning their lives. The sessions were emotional for every one of the family members, and they freely shed tears are they began to understand that grief was a journey they did not have to walk alone. Noting that they had processed the loss in different ways, I was keen on personalizing the approach we could use to help each of them.

With my training as a drug and substance abuse counsellor, I took time to explain that addiction was a beast that could be tamed, but it required a great deal of patience, empathy and support. The young lady struggling with substance abuse was receptive, and this was a good sign. We worked on strategies to cope and find solace in healthier habits and being able to support one another. The young man who had been gambling, at first distant and aloof, had now started to see the effects of his actions and was remorseful.

We tackled the issue of debt, which had for a long time been a tangible reminder of their desperation through the years, and needed practicality and proper planning to tackle. We laid out their finances and discussed setting goals and creating a budget that would allow them to manage their resources without the weight of impending dues. Chris was particularly keen on this. He was hoping to settle down and start a family of his own, and really needed an assurance that his family back at home would have a sense of sufficiency.

It was in addressing the family’s grief that the true healing began. We established ways to honour the memory of their father, which would allow them to express their sorrow and celebrate his life. Over the next couple of months, there was more laughter among them. The last born, once withdrawn, started opening up as they all found new strength in their shared experiences. Through the virtual family therapy sessions, the family learnt that healing was more of a process than a destination. They embraced the power of unity and strength in their vulnerability. They addressed their challenges with mental health and learnt healthy coping mechanisms. It was inspiring, witnessing them gain the courage to face each day with home. The mother was significantly less overwhelmed by thoughts of her children’s wellbeing and had a renewed confidence in her ability to lead her family forward.

I witnessed a beautiful transformation of a family once fractured by loss to one that was now fortified by love and understanding. Their journey was a testament of the resilience that we as human beings are capable of, and just how impactful therapy is.

In sharing this story, I hope that this will inspire others who may find themselves in similar situations. You are not alone. As a family therapist in Kenya, being able to serve clients within the country and beyond is a blessing. Witnessing families heal and thrive is my joy.

If you or someone you know is struggling, remember that help is just a call / click away.