In memory of Lilianne Otieno, and why you should take pictures of everything

On March 19, 2017, my friend Lillian went to be with the Lord in a tragic road accident. A week before her demise I had taken a challenge from my friend and journalist Silas Nyanchwani on how to write an obituary. You know one of those things we do as journalists is write obituaries. No, not those announcements you see at the backpage of the paper. It is a critique of someone’s life, the way they lived, their contribution to a particular discipline. The writing about Michael Jackson cannot be limited to the day he was born and his moon walking. Now I am here and I am trying to write Lillian’s and I can’t. I began the year in her company and I can’t believe, I’m going to spend easter laying her to rest.

I am an extremely sensitive person. I trust my intuition more than I do logic and the people I keep in my life are those I met for the first time and the cacophony of spirits I walk with calmed down. Lilliane was such a person. I met her and I knew she was going to have this profound impact in my life. She had this warm welcoming aura around her. She would laugh and you could feel her breath was laboured in that laughter because of how honest she was even in her affection and expression. She noticed the “littlelest” things about people and reminded you in the next meeting. When I told her I ran a modest clotheline, she would remember to bring that subject up whenever we met her friends. “If you want clothes designed for you, talk to this girl”, she would say. Lilliane showed up for the least of things for her friends…she celebrated birthdays, promotions, new hairstyle…anything. As I launched my clotheline last year, she had travelled at night to come support me. The discomfort she endured, made my heart create such a large space for her because that kindness is hard to come by these days. In January 1, 2017 we drove back to the city from western where she had gone for the funeral of a brother of her best friend Angie. And peculiarly enough, she lost her life coming from another funeral in March.

I met her through my buddy Sandra when I was on an extremely low point in my life. A tourism enthusiast and promoter of the brand Kenya, she would engage Sandra and her photography. An antisocial person myself, I would come lock the gate as she came to pick Sandra so that the two of them would go on their photography expeditions. Later, I would wait in the house to listen to Sandra gush about all the fun they had. Later, I would seat next to Sandra as she edited her photos. Early this month I went to the Nation Media Group’s library where I borrowed books on social media and everyday life. I wanted to study social media as a phenomenon… like religion or global health. One of the subjects I got there was death and grief in the digital age, and Lilianne’s life couldn’t have been a better way to demonstrate this phenomenon. She took photos of people she met, always with a kind word as a caption. Now in her timeline on Facebook,  the impact she had on people keep pouring two weeks after her death. People still post pictures of her free and generous spirit.

And I realise that while social media is criticised for being breeding antisocial behaviour, it gave people a chance to mourn over her death. Lilianne used social media heavily but her friendships were solid and deep. There are relationships that extended up to her days in high school in Kaimosi girls, more than 20 years ago. For the two weeks, people came out from all corners of the earth to support her sisters and help organise her funeral. Through social media, fundraisers were organised. In the wake, one person said that the last time she was with Lilianne, she(Lily) had nagged her to take a photo with her. She had bsent reluctant because she thought she was not presentable, but Lily had insisted to take the photo.

What her social media accounts demonstrated to me was while it is not a walk in the park, loving people genuinely and kindly leaves a legacy more than materials you may give them. Lily hugged, gave and comforted faster than she reprimanded. If there was a woman who had reasons to be bitter and hate because of betrayals, it would be her but instead Lily loved genuinely and unreservedly.

Rest in peace Mama Tendai

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