Sunday, August 4, 2013

Farewell, Dear Kiki

Our family consisted of Janice and me, Zachary, Michael, Jeremy … and Kiki.

Kiki was Christine Affouye Koffi.  She came from The Ivory Coast leaving her homeland, her family, her two daughters and her son about 22 years ago to earn money and to make a better life for them all.  She did it the only way she knew how -- by becoming a part of other people’s families and loving them.    

Kiki and her boys
Christine became a part of my family when she moved in with us about 18 years ago.  The twins were about one and a half.  Jeremy was not yet born.  Zachary and Michael could not pronounce Christine, so they shortened it to Kiki which she has been ever since.  Kiki was a native French speaker.  At first, we were concerned that the boys would not be with a native English speaker to help them acquire language.  It never mattered.  Kiki loved my boys and when Jeremy was born, she adored him as well.  She would hug them and play with them, cook for them and smile at them and always made them feel special.   She would lovingly say, “a tu…” to them.  Directly translated it means “to you...”  When said with love, it means so much more.  And she made Janice and I feel loved as well.  She called us Mommy and Daddy. We ate our meals together and asked each other about our days and little by little, thanks to her improving English and my returning French, we learned more about Kiki and her family back home. 

It is an amazing person who can leave her family when her children are so young and take care of other people’s families.  It is an amazing person who can miss her own children for years and still love someone else’s children without a trace of anger or resentment.  I remember one week when I had focus groups at work, I missed tucking in the boys 3 nights in a row.  I told Kiki that it was terrible that I haven’t seen my kids in 3 days.  She said, “Daddy, I haven’t seen my babies in over 5 years.”   It was the only time that she ever reminded me.

Kiki and Jeremy
Kiki went home to Brooklyn on Friday evenings although in more recent years she moved to the Bronx.  She cooked, she cleaned her apartment, and most important, she went to church every Sunday where she was part of a wonderful community from different French speaking African countries.  She was a deeply religious person and travelled everywhere with a well worn bible.   On Sunday night, she took the subway to the Port Authority and caught a bus back to Wayne where I met her and drove her home to our family.

When Janice cut her work hours and the kids began attending pre-school, we had to find another family for Kiki to love.  She would still be working for us if we couldn’t find the right family.  But we did find her a new family by asking around and reading classified ads.  Janice drove Kiki to the interviews and even more than the new families were interviewing Kiki to see if she fit the bill, Janice was interviewing the new families to see if they fit the bill.  Over the years there were Barbara and Bob and their daughter Catherine, Hindi and Jeff and their kids Noah and Dara, and most recently Mike and Lauren and their son, Jake.

But no matter where Kiki went, she added to her growing family.  We all kept in touch with each other and we all spoke to each other to check in.  Originally it was to see what kind of food Kiki liked.  Later on it was just to say hi and exchange stories of Kiki and the kids. 

Kiki and Alfred
One of our biggest thrills with Kiki came about 5 years ago.  We helped arrange for Alfred, Kiki’s 20 year old son to come to live in the United States.  We worked with a lawyer, filled out paperwork and one weekday afternoon, Janice drove Kiki to JFK to greet the son whom she had not seen since he was about 5 years old.  In addition to cooking, and cleaning, and church, Kiki now had something extra special to go home to on weekends.  Alfred enrolled in community college and began working in a restaurant.  On occasion, Kiki and Alfred would visit us on a Saturday afternoon to see how we were all doing.  And of course, Kiki called on Mother’s   Day, on Father’s Day and for the Jewish New Year.

This past Friday afternoon Janice received a phone call.  Kiki had passed out at work.  Janice went to Morristown Hospital as soon as she could.  Alfred arrived shortly thereafter.  Kiki was on life support.  Excessive bleeding from her brain.  It was not fair.  Kiki was only 1 year older than both Janice and me.  She had survived open heart surgery a few years back and had been doing well.  She was with another family who adored her. She had hopes of one day seeing her daughters and grandchildren.

But the doctors said she was essentially brain dead and was being kept alive by machines.  We returned to the hospital on Saturday.  We sat by Kiki’s bed and were joined by Hindi and Jeff who showed up as well to say goodbye.  We reminisced.  We showed pictures and told stories.  Kiki’s friends came from her community in the Bronx.  Women wearing similar dresses and head scarves.  They refused to accept the prognosis.  They gathered around Kiki’s bed and chanted and prayed and petitioned God on behalf of their sister, their aunt.  They said they believed in miracles.  And Alfred wanted to believe in them too.

The doctors were hoping to have Alfred on board before they withdrew life support.  But he was not on board.  How could he be?  Without him the process of Kiki’s passing would be drawn out.  Janice spoke with the doctors and nurses and then sat down with Alfred.  She took his hand and hugged him and tried her best to explain the circumstances.  It was the very least she could do … to show her love and her concern to the son of the woman who did the same for our sons for so many years.

Today, the friends continue to come, the prayers continue to be said.  But God has already decided.  I don’t know why but he has decided to take a young woman with a perfect soul and a beautiful heart away from us, a woman who lived a life of humility, who gave and gave and loved and loved.   A woman who never got to see her own grandchildren back in The Ivory Coast but a woman who loved and cared for so many families with such tender love and such warm spirit.

It is an amazing person who can leave her family when her children are so young and take care of other people’s families.   Today, there is one less amazing person in the world and for that, so many of us are heartbroken.  A tu, Kiki.  We will miss you so much.


1 comment:

  1. Thankfully there's a lot of love in this tribute and memoir, but there's more sadness. Not only Kiki's tragic illness, but also her long separation from her chikdren and grandchildren. Great that you were in touch all those years and able to help. Still, a tearjerker.