She Always Will Be

Tomi Olugbemi on Loss

Dying does not hurt the dead but I fear it is different for Mummy. I often worry that she may be grieving too, floating about in some existential plane and mourning the absence of her husband and children. I chew on the meaning of rest in peace. Is it mere banality or is death a form of rest? Perhaps it affirms the belief that eternal bliss follows dying.

I was angry that barely two weeks after the funeral; a guest minister at church preached on God’s healing power. I was angry that many people believed her death to be God’s will: that He knew best, and Mummy’s time had come. I scolded myself for not coming home months before she passed and for believing that she was on a path to recovery. When Faith Evans voice came on the radio, three days after Mummy died, singing: every single day, every time I pray, I’ll be missing you; I closed my eyes, tightened my jaw, and wept on the inside, instead of telling the taxi driver to change the channel.

In Mummy’s death, I lost the only person whose personality traits perfectly mirrored mine. I took after her in the way she swallowed her pain to soothe others and in how she folded into herself and feigned wellness even when sickness or depression ate from her vitality. We loved alike, silently but on full throttle, often walking the lines between worrying about a person and loving them intensely. We remained quiet in the midst of strangers but could be extremely goofy around familiar faces.

Grief is not as persistent as it used to be; my life continues and I have to concentrate on things besides carrying the weight of sadness. These days, grief visits in spurts, like a houseguest rather than a tenant, revealing itself as sudden re-realisations of loss when I place my mother before things: Mummy’s key. Mummy’s car. Mummy’s dresser. Mummy’s cancer foundation or while watching a mother die in a film and remembering that mine died too. Grief is the sadness in Daddy’s eyes masked with a smile when he abruptly interjects her name, Funke, while telling an anecdote about her. It showed on my brother, Dami’s, distraught countenance as we shot his graduation photos sans Mummy. And my other brother, Tofa’s wishful thinking on Twitter that heaven had visiting hours.

Like all the tragedies that have befallen me, I do not know that full recovery is sure. I do believe however, that in time, we adapt to regain normalcy by holding on to the love of, and for the departed; and conjuring their pith by drawing from past events. Thus, memories become more profound, more precious, like little vials of moonlight set aside for the days when the dark feels too present. Because even though they are dead, they breathe in reminiscence.

In losing Mummy, I am reminded of love’s eternal pursuit, its limitlessness, and how it travels beyond the boundaries of physical contact. That not even death can quell its power.  I have learned to still love what is no more. I have learned that loving another person is a life-long endeavour and that loss is not the end.

I hope that like Mary Elizabeth Frye, in her poem, Do Not Stand At My Grave And Weep, Mummy is wearing a glinting smile, saying: do not stand at my grave and cry; I am not there. I did not die. Although she no longer is, she always will be. Rest in peace, Mummy.

© Tomi Olugbemi 2017

Tomi Olugbemi is a poet. He spends his free time fretting about words and recovering from pessimism. He blogs at tomiolugbemi.com.

 

Photo Credit: https://pixabay.com/en/tea-rose-corolla-caf%C3%A9-book-teapot-1871837/

 

©Timi Yeseibo 2017

Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Timi Yeseibo and livelytwist.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Before I Die

life is not too short

I log into Facebook and read about a friend’s death.

The post on my newsfeed is hesitant and the questions that follow cry for answers. The news is inconclusive. Why tag a dead person in a post I wonder as I go over to his timeline. More questions greet me.

What am I hearing?

Someone tell me it’s not true o?

Is he really dead?

I just saw him two weeks ago. What happened?

Is this a joke?

On and on, the first reaction to death pours in. If the dead could talk, what would he say?

I spend the evening watching grief on social media. Words multiply quickly with high-speed connection. Small details here, small details there. An illness. A brief illness. A girlfriend. A babe. A teaching hospital. A brother. A mother. Two sisters. An engagement ring. Suddenly. Last night.

Hours later, denial gives way to acceptance on his timeline.

RIP

RIP

RIP

RIP

Although RIP carries as much eloquence as HBD, I do not conclude that grief on social media is impersonal, but rather reflective of the times. We wail in brief because something else on our newsfeed catches our eye. Our grief bears the mark of post-modern efficiency. It is not today that we shortened okay to kk.

His family posts a eulogy with a photo of him much later. Comments follow. I let my cursor play over the comment box. I type, you will be missed, and then delete. It is not good to lie to the dead. I join others for whom silence is fitting. We like the photo like signatures in a condolence register.

I don’t cry because I had not known him well enough for his death to unlock the door behind which my tears hide. We had drifted apart over the years as old friends do. He’d found me on Linkedin and we’d shared a couple of brief conversations about where we were in life and where we hoped to be. I do not remember what he said. I do not remember what I said. I must have told him about my blog; it is what I always do.

That is not to say his death means nothing to me. It does, but in a general way that makes me look inwards. Nothing like another’s death to bring your life into sharp focus.

Around midnight, I fall asleep. When I fully awake, I drink tea and scan blogs. Death is everywhere, disguised as poetry, woven into prose. I stumble on Robin’s post, Motivational and Elevating, as I try to air my mind. All these things: watching grief on social media, thinking about my life, and reading Robin’s blog, are connected and I think there’s a lesson for me. Robin leads me to Candy Chang.

 After losing someone she loved, artist Candy Chang painted the side of an abandoned house in her neighborhood in New Orleans with chalkboard paint and stenciled the sentence, “Before I die I want to _____.” Within a day of the wall’s completion, it was covered in colorful chalk dreams as neighbors stopped and reflected on their lives. Photographs of the wall spread online and since the original wall in 2011, more than four hundred Before I Die walls have been created in over 60 countries and over 25 languages by passionate people all over the world.  

before i die Candy Chang 1

before i die Candy Chang

before i die Candy Chang3

Thinking about mortality brings no fear. I feel confident about that place we must all go, but I don’t want to go just yet. Inspired by Candy Chang, I scribble and marvel that my long- and short-term goals colour my paper with broad strokes. Perhaps now I will live more intentionally. Perhaps now I will be who I am.  I don’t want to settle for something less because I tired of waiting for something more.

Some of the things I want to do before I die belong in my diary. Some I can share here.

Before I die, I want to . . .

  • Travel just because; feel warm sand massage my feet, see mountains I dare not climb, and drink tea from antique Arabian teapots
  • Light as many candles as I can. I lose nothing by lighting other candles for together we brighten the room
  • Let the people I love know that I love them. I do not want them to waste even a day questioning my love
  • Make more money so I can buy a Bentley and give to causes dear to me
  • Read the books and watch the films, that I should have already cancelled from my to-do list

before i die

What about you?

©Timi Yeseibo 2014

Photo credits

  1. http://pixabay.com/en/sit-grandstand-theater-139664/
  2. http://beforeidie.cc/site/press/before-i-die-savannah-by-trevor-coe/
  3. http://candychang.com/before-i-die-the-book/
  4. http://beforeidie.cc/site/press/07-chang_before_i_die/

Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Timi Yeseibo and livelytwist.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

A Long Way Gone: Introspection and Tears

a long way gone

The photo on the cover—a boy on a dirt trail, hair uncombed, mortar cartridge behind his neck, and a gun with a bayonet hanging from his shoulders drew me to Ishmael Beah’s book. The green flip-flop on his right foot, useless and slanting in the wrong direction, a testament of happier times, sealed my fate. Reading the blurb was a formality as was thumbing Steve Job’s biography, which I had intended to buy in the first place.

I paid for the book and went home.

I read the book through one heart-wrenching weekend, stopping occasionally for the weight of sorrow to lift. It did not.

Beah tells his story, in my view, without an agenda or an axe to grind. It is as though he says, “This is my story. Jump to conclusions if you want. Ask questions if you care.” He narrates about his experience as a boy soldier in Sierra Leone, a boy flung into the throes of a war that consumes his family.

His memory is photographic, capturing detail in a way that helps you journey with him. The picture of him wandering in the forest haunts me still.

I walked for two days straight without sleeping. I stopped only at streams to drink water. I felt as if somebody was after me. Often, my shadow would scare me and cause me to run for miles. Everything felt awkwardly brutal. Even the air seemed to want to attack me and break my neck. I knew I was hungry, but I didn’t have the appetite to eat or the strength to find food. I had passed through burnt villages where dead bodies of men, women, and children of all ages were scattered like leaves on the ground after a storm. Their eyes still showed fear, as if death hadn’t freed them from the madness that continued to unfold. I had seen heads cut off by machetes, smashed by cement bricks, and rivers filled with so much blood that the water had ceased flowing. Each time my mind replayed these scenes, I increased my pace. Sometimes I closed my eyes hard to avoid thinking, but the eye of my mind refused to be closed and continued to plague me with images. My body twitched with fear, and I became dizzy. I could see the leaves on the trees swaying, but I couldn’t feel the wind.1

Reading this book almost upended my theology. Why do bad things happen to innocent people? If God is real and good, why doesn’t he stop it? What about ethnic cleansing and genocide in the Bible?

I have not found intellectually satisfying answers. I do not need them to believe, I only need them for debate.

After I closed the book, it took many days for sadness to leave me.

Is war like the Terminator movie? Does the good guy leave the epic fighting scene—usually a dark warehouse with chainsaws, spikes, naked wires, and bottles—limping into the light with the beautiful woman he rescued clinging to his arm, while we cheer and wait for them to kiss?

No.

I recall a scene from Machine Gun Preacher, where an orphan boy tells his story to Sam Childers, which unlocks my tears afresh.

I remember my parents in my sleep. My father was big like you. They shot him. The rebels told me, “If I do not kill my mother, they would shoot my brother and me.” And so, I killed my mother. If we allow ourselves to be full of hate, then they’ve won. We must not let them take our hearts2.

War leaves casualties as J.P. Clark describes in his poem, The Casualties3 (selected lines below).

The casualties are not only those who are dead;
They are well out of it.
The casualties are not only those who are wounded,
Though they await burial by instalment.

The casualties are not only those who started
A fire and now cannot put it out. Thousands
Are burning that had no say in the matter.

The casualties are many, and a good number well
Outside the scenes of ravage and wreck;
They are the wandering minstrels who, beating on
The drums of the human heart, draw the world
Into a dance with rites it does not know

We fall,
All casualties of the war
Because we cannot hear each other speak,
Because eyes have ceased to see the face from the crowd,
Because whether we know or
Do not know the extent of wrong on all sides
We are characters now other than before
The war began,

I have many questions, fewer answers, but I am at peace in the world as long as I do not let them take my heart.

 

©Timi Yeseibo 2014

 

1. Ishmael Beah, A Long way Gone, Memoirs of a Boy Soldier (New York: Sarah Crichton Books/Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2007), 49.
http://www.alongwaygone.com

2. Machine Gun Preacher Movie.
http://www.machinegunpreacher.org/

3. J.P. Clark, The Casualties, Poems of Black Africa, ed. Soyinka Wole (London: Heinemann/AWS, 1975), 112.

 

Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Timi Yeseibo and livelytwist.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Grief: When Words are not Enough

grief

I am a strong woman and I let my tears fall as often as they like. However, when I pull up in front of his house, I repair my eye make-up and then smile twice to drive sadness away. Tears are not welcome here, I remind myself as I get out of the car.

I let myself in and grief meets me in the hallway. The post lies in a scattered pile on the doormat. Blue envelopes, white envelopes, shiny envelopes, and magazines and periodicals, he does not read. I sort them in three groups: the urgent I place on the console table, the trivial I put in the drawer underneath, where he keeps his car keys, and the rest, the magazines, periodicals, and shiny envelopes, I dump in the dustbin, in the kitchen.

Here, grief is loud coaxing me to chide. I clear dirty plates, a half-empty sardine tin, and stale bread in the semi-darkness.

In the living room, the curtains say no to the sun. The light from ESPN’s classic football on TV illuminates his form. Grief is quiet inviting me to converse. Grief is still but I am not one to fill the silence as if I am a child colouring with impatient hands that cannot stay within the lines. It has been two days since he heard the news.

When pain overwhelmed my reasoning, my sister sat beside me, squeezed my shoulders, and remained quiet. When disappointment visited me on a Monday morning, my cousin sat beside me, a box of tissues separating us. She hunched her shoulders in sync with mine, let me cry, and kept quiet. When I exhaled the last bit of hope in my heart, a friend sat beside me, numb we stared at CNN, and then he kept silent vigil as I channel surfed.

So, I sit on the settee, careful to maintain distance. I sit until my nose attunes to the smell of day-old perspiration and until I can breathe in the stuffy air circulating in the room. Grief is hypnotic calling me to sleep. I sit until I awake. His head lies heavy on my lap. My skirt is damp and the soft sounds are not from the TV. They are from a man beaten by life, his hopes shred by the finality of death.

“My father, my father, oh my father.”

Grief feels like roulette. Sometimes touch is enough. Sometimes presence is enough. I know he knows that if we pull open the curtains, sunlight will burst through and in the night, the moon will give us light. But right now, words are unnecessary. This is the first time I have observed a man cry.

I have only ever seen two men cry. The first time must have lasted less than five minutes. Ten years passed before I saw another man cry. Perhaps it is because this occurrence is rare that each time I glimpsed a man’s vulnerability, I loved him more.

If we show our weakness, we may lose the ground we have secured and the advantages it conferred, but if we don’t show that we are weak sometimes, we may lose much more. We may lose the opportunity for others to love us for our humanity.

I wonder, at what age does a boy “man up” and decide to stop crying?

© Timi Yeseibo 2013

Photo credit: Pixabay

Original image URL: http://pixabay.com/en/candles-tealights-soft-209157/

http://pixabay.com/en/clapping-hands-shadow-poor-light-189171/

Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Timi Yeseibo and livelytwist.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.