Nothing is worth falling out over

World marathoner, Kamau Wanjiru, was finally buried last month after a bitter public family row that left many aghast. Though he is resting, hopefully in peace, the battles of the living seem destined to continue. There does not seem an end in sight for mother and wife, whose battles have moved to the courts. While we were being treated to this whole Wanjiru saga on public television, I could not help but wonder what has happened to the family unit – the very foundation of strong nations seems to be crumbling right in our eyes and all we are doing is cheering.

Many found Wanjiru’s mother whipping a machete from her bag, ready to harm anyone attempting to burry her son without her consent a sight to behold, and the subject of discussion in bars and other public places, but what I found most heart-rending was the fearful face of Wanjiru’s young wife, Teresia. That she found the safest place to seek refuge was behind the shoulder of Wanjiru’s grandfather (her mother-in-law’s father), who was helping mark the grave where her late husband would be buried, showed the depth and intricacies of animosity the family was grappling with during this painful and emotional time. It was akin to a scene in a Mexican soap opera.

Wanjiru’s story shocked the nation and I hope it pricked our conscience to refocus on families and ask when the rain started hitting us this hard. Without a doubt, most Kenyan families are in turmoil. Brother has turned against brother; child against parent… Alcohol, drugs, infidelity, love of money and total loss of values has turned families against each other. Many siblings don’t talk to each other and parents and their children are arch-enemies. When they are not cutting each other’s throats while fighting over property, many spend their time and money in courts over dragging cases where nobody in the end is a winner.

The closely-knit family fabric unit that should be the norm has loosened. It is time all of us refocused on this important area of our lives, because without strong families we are doomed. Many families are suffering from strained relationships – from siblings who don’t speak to each other, in-laws who don’t see eye-to-eye, families in court fighting over property – the battlefields are many.

The thing about family enmity, unfortunately is that, it runs in families but we can break this cycle with a purposeful determination to keep our nuclear family unit intact. We all learn by example, and if you grow up in a family where people have long-term feuds with relatives, that tends to become the norm. That means that if you stop speaking to your own mother or father, one of your kids may spend his adult life not speaking to you. If your kids observe violence in the home, chances are one will be violent with his own family. If your kids observe infidelity and lack of morals within the family unit, they may turn out the same in their adulthood. It is a childish form of behaviour to demonstrate to our children, that you can fight with family members or cut them off for no reason or for issues that can easily be ironed out through communication. We need to be our children’s role models.

It is such a shame for children to observe on TV scenes as those from Wanjiru’s drama. Not only is it pathetic that we would rather fight or cut off family relationships instead of sorting out the problems at hand, it is also sad that through such fights, we end up without a parent, child, brother or sister, and at the same time deny our children the love and sharing of grandparents, uncles, aunties and cousins, the very people who should be there for us when we need them.

Good family relationships are the strongest and most fulfilling relationships you could have. When things go wrong, your family should always be there to get you through more reliably and without complaining than anyone else – that is if you have a relationship with them. This is what we should all aim for, as it is the perfect situation to be in – knowing that your family will always be there for you. When you are sick, going through difficult situations such as divorce, death in the family, financial difficulties, facing a court case, having a problem with drugs or alcohol, or whetever might come along in your life, it is family who will stick by you even if they don’t approve of your actions. Family continues to stick by you for months or years until you are back on your feet.

Family is worth a lot. It is worth forgiving and forgetting whatever it is that tempted you to stop speaking to each other. If you want your family to be there for you, you have got to be there for them. That means letting go of the frustration and the anger families can sometimes cause, turning the other cheek, and realising that the families who stop speaking to each other are the ones who will leave you in the lurch when you hit times of trouble.

Whatever your sister did, your mother-in-law said, or your father thinks, is not worth breaking the family. Sure, politely and discreetly give them a wide berth for the time it takes you to stop fuming, but don’t cut them off. If you do, you will be missing out on the support and strength of a loving family. Families may bicker and squabble, but you must maintain a relationship that ensures you are there for each other when you need each other.

My prayer is Wanjiru’s mother and her daughter-in-law will find reason to forgive each other, iron out their differences so that they can find ways of keeping the name of the man they both loved, and who has torn them apart, alive. Who can blame a mother for loving her son and feeling the pain of his death, or a wife who feels the same way? Wanjiru, dead or alive, needs you both. You are his family. Please honour him by learning to co-exist.