A tribute to my mother: Celebrating The Life and Love of Lonnie Constance Kalua-Manduwi – The Lady At The Helm
In 2018, as I was driving from home, Mangochi, to Lilongwe to start my first job at the MRA, I was involved in a car accident at Nathenje.
I called my dad to let him know that I had been in an accident, and that though my car was damaged, I was unharmed. I did not call my mom, because she was not the strong one, and she had a heart problem.
They (mom and dad) of-course rushed to be by my side, as they always did. I remember mom narrating to me how dad had broken the news to her that I had been in an accident.
At the time I had called, dad was not home. Dad knew she was not strong, and he did not call her to break the news. He waited till he got home, and started chatting with her, before he broke the news. A few moments later, after she was calm and laughing, he gently let her know that I had been in an accident. Of course, even when I had said I was fine, mom insisted that they drive to be by my side.
On the evening of Monday the 15th of August, 2022, shortly after I had just gotten in my apartment, I received a call from dad, letting me know mom was sick. My mother had been sick for 18+ years, so over the years, news of her sickness was not often shared. She preferred it so, as she was often ill, and did not want to cause any of us any stress.
As I listened to my dad ease me into the news of mom being sick, all I could think about was mom telling me of how he eased her into the news that I had been in an accident. I knew in my heart that something was wrong, and immediately called my sister after I spoke with him.
At first, Charmie (my sister) tried to hold strong, telling me that mom was just sick. She later broke down, and Nzengo (my brother) picked up the phone to speak with me. He too tried to hold strong, but I was not convinced, and as I pried, he broke, and say “I am sorry Ntha. Please stay strong.”
In that moment, I had to be the one strong. My babies, my mothers babies, had no business being strong for me. I called dad again, and he still pretended he did not know anything, still in an effort to protect me.
A few minutes later, he called me back. His words: “Mwakula, limbani mtima”. I told dad I was getting the next flight, rushing to be by her side, as she always rushed to be by mine.
I did not cry when I got the news. I have barely cried since I got the news. My friends rushed to be by my side, and they all asked me how I was holding up so strong. In my heart I kept thinking, how can I not be strong, when I grew up with a mother who was the definition of strength itself.
Mom and I used to joke that she, like a cat, had 9 lives.
Mom got sick in 2003. While she was pregnant with Nzengo, her joints started swelling up painfully, and she was diagnosed with arthritis. I would watch my mother crawl, as she could not walk, and watched her arms and ankles swell as she was in pain. She stayed strong.
My brother was born, and while the arthritis was getting better post-diagnosis and medication, she was still very much in pain. She could barely hold Nzengo as a baby, but still, she stayed strong.
Over the years, mom had multiple health complications. She had heart problems and diabetes. Needless to say the emergency hospital visits and hospital stays have been endless, and each time, she made sure she spoke with me and prepared me to be strong, should things come to the worst.
She would discuss with me how she wanted her funeral to go, what color she wanted to wear, where the virgil would be, that she wanted me to do her make up, that she wanted me to write and read this eulogy to you, and that she wanted this day to be a celebration of her life, not a mourning ceremony.
I want you to know that mom died a happy woman. She was happy, and she was content. She had a few wishes for her life, some of which included:
⁃ To get her retirement home
⁃ To watch Nzengo grow up to be a young man
⁃ To be there when one of her daughters gave birth
⁃ To go on vacation one more time
⁃ To die before my father
She got to live all these dreams. Nzengo is a young man now, soon to be 19. Zoe was born in her presence, and is now almost a year and a half old. I got to take her with Nzengo to Blue Zebra Island to celebrate her 56th birthday before I left Malawi for the US, and dad sent her with Nzengo to Cape Town for an international vacation. This vigil is being held in her retirement home, and the love of her life, my father, is here, as he has been every step of the way with her, to take care of her one last time, as she had hoped. We gave her all the love we could, and she was so so happy.
On the 15th of August, 2022, our worst fear came to pass. Our mother passed away.
As most of us are grieving today, I also want us to celebrate the life of the amazing and legendary woman that was my mother. My mother had so much love to give, despite all her pain, and she made sure she gave all of it.
My mother was an inspiration to all of us. The first female ship captain of Malawi. The first female principal of the Malawi Marine College. The first female principal of MCV and Gracious Private School. The founder and driving force behind Hillside Secondary and Excel Primary Schools. She achieved everything a woman of her stature could possibly achieve.
I am deeply grateful for my father, for keeping his promise to her, for better, for worse, for being her absolute best friend, for giving her the greatest and deepest love and care, and for sticking by her side through 33 years, 19 of which were in sickness.
As we say goodbye to Lonnie today, I want us to remember she loved to dance, and dad gave her the most beautiful last dance during his birthday this year. That memory lingers, and it is how I hope we remember her, loved, cared for, and happy.
There are no regrets from the Manduwi family, and while some might say she was taken from us too soon, I want us to perceive it as that God blessed us with 19 bonus years with her.
Her chronic illness, though painful to her, was a blessing to the Manduwi family. It was a huge sacrifice on her part, as she fought to continue living for us, and itwas a constant reminder of what a blessing it was to spend every new day with her. We made sure she knew she was loved, and she was taken care of. I want you to find peace in knowing that she was very prepared to go back to her maker, who she loved so deeply, and that she lived her life to the fullest.
My mother was one woman who knew how to show up, and she always made sure that she did. No sickness could ever stop her from coming to be with the people she loved, and I am deeply so grateful that you made time out of your busy schedules to show up for her today.
My mother loved living, and in honor of her life, I want us not to mourn but celebrate the life she loved and lived so well. I will commit to continue writing about my mother, so her life and love is embedded into our hearts and history forever.
Please remember her in all the ways she was; A LADY AT THE HELM (figuratively and literally), always in charge, full of life and love – a strong woman, a happy woman, a difficult woman, a fighting woman, a shouting woman, a dancing woman, a praying woman, and a loving woman.
These were her last words to me, and maybe to all of us: “You only live once, darling. Put on your dancing shoes, and kick a leg!”
To Lonnie, my mother, and my best friend, thank you for showing me and all of us what strong and woman combined mean in this life. We will miss you so much as you continue to live through all of us. We all are, because you lived. We will continue to live to the fullest, dancing in your honor.
On behalf of the Manduwi family, to all of you here today, thank you so much for sharing and celebrating the life and love of my mother, our mother – Captain (Mrs.) Lonnie Constance Kalua-Manduwi, with us.
Special thanks to the Mangochi Diocese, the Koche Parish, the Koche Community Hospital, the Malawi Maritime industry, the Koche community, and all friends and family. You gave my mother a farewell befitting of a queen, and we are indebted.