Sunday 19 November, 2017

Mother's Day: Shenelle Escayg, surviving against the odds

Shenelle Escayg and her family. Photo courtesy Sancho Francisco

Shenelle Escayg and her family. Photo courtesy Sancho Francisco

Many believe that to have truly loved, loss should look and feel like debilitating sadness or insanity. Being pleased with one’s recovery or good coping skills can easily turn to raised eyebrows and rumours if the timing is thought too quick. But does a mother have the time for long grieving days and sleepless nights? One child is hard enough to manage. What about five? Now, add to that a successful career and life-long penchant for keeping it pushing regardless. What would that grieving process, granted for the love of your life, look like? According to Shenelle Escayg;

“I go through all the motions. I just try to keep it away from the kids."

Shenelle always knew she wanted to be married with a big family and is thought by many to be in the ranks of the ‘supermom’.

A day in her life, chronicled via her Instagram page looks like the equivalent of a week in most others. Each child has different activities and schedules that could make logistics frustrating for many but Shenelle gets it handled.

“It’s less active now though,” she says. “I took pride in being a mother and a wife. I took pride in the fact that I had my family. Going back to being single and being a widow is crazy. At times you feel that things are getting on track. You’re working and having fun again and you think ‘wow, I didn’t expect it to be this easy.’ Then it hits you again that life isn’t normal anymore.”

Shenelle misses her husband. They had been married for ten years and raised five children, two of whom were from respective previous relationships.

Eleven months ago her husband, Kevin Escayg, was killed when he was caught in an exchange of gunfire. Her son was also shot in the spine during the exchange. It was the day of Shenelle’s baby shower for their fifth child and her husband was out and about doing business with their son K’chaud, 5. In her last conversation with Kevin, he had asked for pictures of the festivities. When the shooting happened, it became immediate national news but her shower guests kept it from her until the end. They knew it was the last happy moment she would have for a long while.

"Kevin had already passed, K was in surgery and I was due in two days. They didn’t want to panic me,” she recalls.

When she did get the news she went into survival mode. She had to get to her son.

“His intestines were blown out. He came to the hospital with them in a bag. They thought they couldn’t save him but one surgeon took the challenge. I expected he would be in a coma but when I walked in he looked at me and said ‘Mom I’m so glad to see you.’ He was worried he would have been given to another family.”

Although dealing with high-stress situations was not usual- she had already battled with ovarian cancer while pregnant with her daughter and was used to managing multiple projects and a big family - how does one tell children their father is not coming home? How do you prepare to bring a new life into the world when you are still reeling from the death of your husband and praying for the survival of your son?

That night when she got home to give the news to her 7-year-old daughter Isis, she says the first words out of her child’s mouth after being told about her dad were ‘that’s ok mummy, he’ll be our guardian angel.’

Kevin had always been open about life and death with them, another thing she is grateful for.

Some people melt but Shenelle admits she deals with stress differently. Just as a mother immediately springs into action at the sound of her crying child so too she immediately triggered in high trauma situations and this was the highest thus far. She consoled guests at her husband’s funeral, her days became visits to the Homicide department, taking care of her family and keeping vigil at her son’s bedside.

 “It’s like survival mode. You don’t know what’s happening. It is just happening. You come up with a plan and get things done,” she says.

One thing, however, was not getting done. She had been due two days after her husband’s murder yet three weeks later, she was keeping vigil at her son’s bedside still pregnant. A nurse took one look at her and directed her downstairs. She was way overdue and after investigation, it was found that she and her unborn baby were being poisoned internally. Again everything around Shenelle became about survival and after a 12-hour labour, the doctors decided on emergency C-section and her son Kooper Kevin Escayg was born.

“I thought I was going to die. Now Kooper is here I keep thinking he will never know his dad. That’s crazy to me. The others got to enjoy their dad. He won’t get that.”

Kooper is now ten months and looks like his dad. Her son is still in recovery but already defying the odds by walking and being back to school. Shenelle is back to work, gym and navigating life without her life partner.

To date, the relationship between the children and their father remains tangible – before this interview, she had been at her husband’s grave with her daughter Isis who had wanted to go to her father. As to dating again, Shenelle is not opposed to the idea and through therapy and the support and love of family and friends she is walking her path in her own way regardless of what others may think the journey should look like.

 Though she admits she has had backlash from those who think she is recovering ‘too quickly’, the wave of messages received from others asking how to survive their own trauma serves as testament to the fact that she is simply a woman determined and capable of doing what many others struggle to do every day- Survive.

“God has a way of slowing you down. I couldn’t plan my life. The most important thing is making sure my kids are secure.”