Seven years into her marriage, Margret Lukwiya, 48, lost her husband Dr. Mathew Lukwiya to Ebola in 2002. She found courage to raise her children, educate them and finish constructing the two-storey family home, writes Samuel Lutwama.
With the recent outbreak of Ebola, I thought about the Late Dr. Mathew Lukwiya’s family. Guided by the sign post that reads, “Dr. Mathew Lukwiya Road” on Ntinda—Nalya Road, I found Margret Lukwiya roasting groundnuts for one of her sons who was preparing to go back to school. She was hesitant about the interview, reasoning that the wounds are still fresh in her heart. But she composed herself and with great emotion shared her story.
Margret's life story almost begins with death and pain. When she was two years old, her father, George Ayero, a celebrated boxer of his time died. She was raised up by a single mother who struggled to pay for her education. But like fate would have it, her early education was interrupted by the guerilla insurgencies during Idi Amin’s regime.
However, after the liberation war she resumed her studies and joined Gulu High School. It was while there that she met her future husband, Lukwiya who was an intern at St. Mary Lacor Hospital. They got married in 1988.
No easy ride
Sadly, by this time the war in northern Uganda was at its peak.
“The initial challenge as a newly wedded couple was to accommodate many relatives who besieged our home because of the insurgencies,” she says.
In 1998, Dr. Lukwiya’s family moved to Kampala when he was pursuing a master’s degree at the school of Public Health. Margret enrolled for a hotel and tourism course.
Life was good until October 7, 2000 when Dr. Lukwiya received a call from Dr. Cyprian Opira, the then acting medical superintendent of St. Mary’s Lacor Hospital, informing him about a strange disease that was killing student nurses.
Lukwiya travelled to Gulu and while there, he informed his wife that the deadly disease was Ebola. He warned her against travelling to Gulu until the situation was contained.
“The call broke my heart. I cried that night and asked God why this was happening at time when our marriage was fine,” she said.
On his 42nd birthday, Margret gathered the children and they sang the birthday song to their father over the phone.
“As we were singing, he sounded tired and was breathing with difficulty. He dismissed my fears, saying he probably had flu,” she recalls. For the next few days his phone was off and Margret’s heart was not at rest.
“I was cautioned against travelling to Gulu to see him and that confirmed my fears that something was wrong,” Margret said.
She, however, defied the warning and went to Gulu where she met Dr. Lukwiya battling Ebola. He had been transferred to the Ebola ward.
“I felt as if the world was collapsing on me. I asked God to give me the grace,” she recalls.
She was given protective clothing and sprayed with JIK before she was led to the ward. Fortunately he was conscious at the time. He refused her embrace and told her to accept the situation as it was. She broke down and started sobbing.
Without being allowed to nurse her dying husband, she said a simple prayer and read him his favourite scripture, Palms 23 before she left the ward. For the subsequent days, Lukwiya’s life hung on a thread.
Before he was put on an incubator, he whispered to his wife: “Margret I love you, please tell my children that I love them, let them be good and wherever you go, be with them.”
“As a believer, I hoped for miraculous healing. Unfortunately, Dr. Lukwiya, my best friend and father of our five children lost the battle.”
Life without Matthew
Mrs. Lukwiya describes her late husband as a “true portrait of a family man”. Such is her admiration of him that Lukwiya’s photos are everywhere in the living room.
A few days after Dr. Lukwiya’s death, Margret felt lonely. But after soul-searching, she realised that she had to steer her five children to the future their father would have loved.
As if by miracle, she felt strong and with the help of some of her husband’s colleagues and relatives, she took on the reins.
“The death of my husband crafted me into a prayerful person and I learnt to rely on God in every situation,” she says.
With her husband gone, she had to adjust. She moved her family into a relatively cheaper house. She also moved the children from their previous schools where they were stigmatised to Kampala Parents School. Life wasn’t any better at her place of work, she was isolated because her husband had died of Ebola.
She needed a break to digest the emotional pain. With the help of Dr. Corti, she and her children were flown to Italy where she joined her brother for a healing retreat. It worked.
On return to Uganda, she steered the family to a new frontier, starting with house construction project which was still at the foundation stage.
These new tasks required her to be enterprising. “I started importing traditional African attire from Ghana which I sold in Europe and here in Uganda.” Besides, there were several memorial services held in honour of Dr. Lukwiya and some of the money raised coupled with gratuity from the Government helped her to construct.
The gift of “angel”
Six years after her husband’s death, she still felt lonely and the loss had also taken a toll on her children. “I remember my twins getting so concerned that one of them came to me and said they needed a baby sister,” she said with a grin.
Before she could digest it, another twin yelled “mum we need a father figure”. She told them that they all needed to pray about it. Then she had a strange dream: “In the dream, I saw Mathew telling me that I was lonely and I needed to move on with life”.
From then on her relationship with a friend, Zeru Abukha who was in Germany at the time, took another twist. When he came back to Uganda love blossomed. He is the father of Angel, the boys’ desired baby sister.
“My children and angel's father are getting on well. They love him. Somehow he has rekindled my life,” she said. “Angel who is now six years is a gift from above” she added.