On the 25th of March 2011, my mom went to bed and died in her sleep. I remember my dad telling me on the phone that she had passed. I can’t even talk about the darkness that engulfed my heart. My mum rang me the night she died. I didn’t take her call because I was rushing to do a nightshift in hospital. I reckoned she would ring the next day. She died that night. My phone was silent the next day. All I had was an automated text from my network notifying me that I missed a call from “mummy”. The guilt of not taking that call haunts me till this day.
Anyway, we as a family started preparing for her funeral. My dad took charge of the preparations. He constantly verbalised his desire to give her a befitting burial. I remember how broken he was following her death. As days went by, he became frail. We had never seen him that weak before. “The Boss” like we called him, had no strength to carry on. On the 3rd of May, five weeks after my mum died, my sister rang me and screamed into the phone that “daddy had shut his eyes forever!” That was all she could say. My dad died of a heart attack that morning. His heart literally broke. My dad without knowing it, planned his own funeral. He was “The Boss” to the end. We just bought a second coffin for him and followed his best laid plans.
My parents were buried together on the 27th of May 2011. I remember thinking that my siblings and I met them as one, and as one they left us. Five months later, on the 28th of October, my birthday rolled by. I woke up with this dreadful sense of emptiness. My mum was always the first to ring on our birthdays. Again the phone was silent. I remember going to work and an elderly lady I worked with gave me a beautiful bunch of flowers. She said “I can’t take the place of your mother, but I’m sure she wouldn’t mind me giving you this on her behalf.” My goodness!!! That woman made my day. I don’t know which aspect of her gesture made me cry. The flowers? Her kind words? Missing my parents? I think it was everything. I was a wreck.
A few weeks after my birthday, Christmas season rolled on. The streets were lit up with beautiful lights. My children talked endlessly about Santa’s visit. I remember not giving a toss about the bearded fat man from the North Pole. After all, he couldn’t bring my parents back. Christmas carols blared from shop speakers. They sounded like dirges to me. The only Christmas song I liked that year was Mud’s “It would be lonely this Christmas.” As far as I was concerned, that song portrayed my emotions. Mud got me. People looked forward to Christmas. I didn’t. I just wanted to remain in that lonely place called grief. If my parents were not celebrating, I didn’t want any joy of the season. It amused me when people told me I was strong, considering what happened. I used to think to myself “if only they knew”.
Oh New Year’s Eve! For me that was the worst night. It felt like the year was taking my parents away. I literally wanted to remain in 2011 forever. As the clock struck at midnight, people cheered and I wept. Like with most things, I had no control over time, so the1st of January 2012 happened, to my sadness.
I can’t vividly remember how 2012 went by. I don’t even know how subsequent years have gone by. They are that blurred sometimes. I know that my siblings and I became closer. Whenever we can, we talk about my parents and the wonderful years we had with them. I still find it difficult to listen to certain songs from my childhood. They just hurt. One thing is, I am still learning to live without my mum and dad. I suppose I have no option. Anytime I hurt, I still want them. I’m still learning to get used to not shifting my problems to them literally. In a very strange way, I cling onto their voices. There’s a formidable need to never forget their voices. Death just hurts.
I know my faith helped me. Through prayers I learnt to pass the burden to God. I think I also coped because of the trailer load of listening ears, and sympathy I received from people around me. My good friends and family listened as I talked about my pain endlessly. I’m sure I over did it at times, but they listened all the same. Ha! You are listening now. Listening is a wonderful gift for bereaved people. No matter how many times you have hear them tell their stories, please lend them your ears. Show them continuous sympathy when they crave it. Someone told me off for crying six months after my parents died. He figured that their deaths couldn’t hurt for that long. Oh well! It was his opinion. Grieving is relative and differs from one person to another. Trivialising people’s pain may send them into this loneliness and depression that could lead to harm. Sometimes it takes the loss of a loved one to empathise with others, but it is important to show them care.
As Christmas and New Year celebrations are rolling by again, please spare a thought for the bereaved. If it’s their birthdays, be like that woman with the flowers on my mine. Ring, text and acknowledge their festivity and loss. It helps.
Dedicated to my parents, Mr & Mrs Solomon Okoroafor.