Remembering Alice: Community supports family after young mother of four dies

Alice Nyazahabu died at Concord Hospital on May 7 after a long illness.

Alice Nyazahabu died at Concord Hospital on May 7 after a long illness. Courtesy

Mwamba Kizungu sits in his living room underneath family photos including wedding photos on Wednesday, May 29, 2024.

Mwamba Kizungu sits in his living room underneath family photos including wedding photos on Wednesday, May 29, 2024. GEOFF FORESTER/ Monitor staff

Mwamba Kizungu sits in his living room underneath family photos including wedding photos on Wednesday, May 29, 2024.

Mwamba Kizungu sits in his living room underneath family photos including wedding photos on Wednesday, May 29, 2024. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

Mwamba Kizungu sits in his living room underneath family photos including wedding photos on Wednesday, May 29, 2024.

Mwamba Kizungu sits in his living room underneath family photos including wedding photos on Wednesday, May 29, 2024. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

Alice Nyazahabu

Alice Nyazahabu —Courtesy

By MICHAELA TOWFIGHI

Monitor staff

Published: 05-31-2024 3:05 PM

Modified: 06-02-2024 3:06 PM


On Alice Nyazahabu’s wedding day, she wore a long white dress with lace sleeves and a bejeweled tiara. She told her husband that life brings three reasons to celebrate: births, deaths and marriage.

Their official wedding was a sparse gathering. She wanted a ceremony with a white dress and a celebration to follow. Her husband, Mwamba Kizungu, obliged and wore a blue suit and a floral bow tie.

Anything to keep his wife happy.

Four framed photos from that day now hang above the couch in their apartment.

“Anything she was asking I was giving to her,” he said. “Just to see her live a happy life and be good.”

Kizungu celebrated her life in a different way this May after Nyazahabu died at the age of 32, following a long illness.

Nyazahabu’s illness is in fact what first brought the couple together. They met in 2012, shortly after Kizungu moved to New Hampshire. He noticed her in the parking lot of their Royal Gardens apartment building in Concord. She had shingles at the time and a young son. It looked like she could use a friend, he said.

“We’re just friends and we don’t know each other but we help each other,” he said. “I’d go to work and come back and check in with her.”

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They both came to Concord from the Democratic Republic of the Congo. But their paths getting to the United States diverged, with Nyazahabu immigrating from Burundi, and Kizungu resettling through Tanzania.

At the time, Kizungu was set to marry another person. But he called his parents, who were still in Africa, and said he was going to break off the wedding. He knew Nyazahabu was the one he should be with.

“I can’t let her go,” he said. “I need to stay with her.”

Kizungu didn’t talk to his parents again after that conversation.

The time went by in waves – six good months, followed by four months of her unwell. The couple had two kids together in Concord.

Nearly a decade passed before she sat Kizungu down.

Her mother died after she had four kids. She feared her fate was the same.

“My life is not going well,” she told him. “I feel like I don’t have a long time on this Earth and maybe I am going to die like my mom.”

Kizungu didn’t want to hear it. With three young kids already, he didn’t understand her fixation on death.

But she had a premonition.

She told him he needed to be ready. She asked him to care for her oldest son, who she had before they first met. She prompted him to talk to her about how he’d feel.

“I said no, I don’t want to talk,” he said. “But then I didn’t get to answer her.”

They found out Nyazahabu was pregnant with their fourth child last fall. After seven months, her health began to decline again – she wouldn’t eat or drink, until one day Kizungu took her to the hospital.

He spent his days driving between Concord and the hospital in Lebanon, where she was. He’d check on the kids, who were being watched by friends, and go to work. Then he’d drive up to check on his wife.

One day after returning to Concord, he walked into his apartment and didn’t even have time to sit down before his phone rang. It was the hospital asking for his final decision.

“They said, you might lose both. Or you might lose one. We don’t know,” he was told. “I just said, yes, go ahead.”

His daughter was born premature and sent to intensive care. And after the delivery, Nyazahabu was in the ICU as well.

His daughter came home a few months later. But with the good in that, still came the bad, he said. Doctors told him that his wife’s health was still declining.

He asked for her to be moved to Concord Hospital, where family and friends could fill her hospital room. She died on May 7, leaving behind Kizungu and her four kids – the oldest 12, the youngest just four months.

Two weeks ago, people gathered at the Mill Brook School for a memorial after her funeral. In African culture, after a burial, friends and family come together to talk about the life of the person, to share stories, remember and celebrate, even through grief.

Teachers at Mill Brook wanted to make sure that Kizungu had a space to do that.

An online fundraiser has raised over $7,000 to support the family. And these gestures are a testament of Nyazahabu’s life, he said.

“If you treat people good, you’ll be good,” he said. “She was a nice person. Some people are still crying because of her. She was nice, nice, nice, easy for anyone.”

The other day, his daughter came home and pointed to the wedding photos on the wall.

“Daddy, you know when I see these pictures it makes me so sad,” she told him.

But she’s still your mom, Kizungu explained. Even when she’s gone, people are still going to talk about her and tell her someday that she reminds them of her.

“Now she’s not here, but that’s why you need to grow up to be a good person,” he said.

She knew she was going to die young with four kids, he said. But she also knew that those kids would carry on her legacy. Together, with Kizungu, they’re a team.

“If I go wrong, I know my wife will come face me,” he laughed.