We released butterflies in the air the Sunday before she died. Our neighbor invited us over to their home to release the butterflies they raised. It was our first Sunday without mama, our first Sunday full of despair, full of grace to bear all we knew we had to do to. Angie had woken up after-all. There was hope, though we feared the end, dared the end, even as we tried to bear the end. Her breaths were shallow. The end was near. She saw mama. She spoke when mama spoke and cried when mama cried. It was all to much to bear, to much to see, the rare sighting of the end. Cancer had the upper hand. The tumor had spread, but our God was more than any spread, even could outspread. So we stayed close, reliant on his word for what God cannot do, does not exist. We screamed it for anyone who cared to hear us. We remained confident, hoping she would defy the odds, hoping even for hope itself. It was in these desperate moments, that our neighbors pierced through and reached us in our despair, stroked us with care, as if to dare death and all it leaves behind, the tears, the sorrow, the never ending pain, we are all forced to bear.

It was in this moment that my neighbor saw me, saw us and asked if we would like to bring our kids over to release the butterflies they were raising. From the depths of our sorrow, the depths of our souls we said yes. When you release butterflies, you release fear. We learned so that afternoon. You also release love which opens its wings and spreads out to the skies.

Nothing is taking for granted. The fluttering of wings, the uneasiness, the missteps, the tensions, the fear, all of it disappears, the moment butterflies fly, the moment you choose to fly, the moment you choose love. We choose to fly that afternoon. We choose to release all that weighed us down since this ordeal began. We choose love too. We loved and desperately wanted Angie with us. We knew heaven loved and desperately wanted her too. Every butterfly stepped out in fear, but moved with easy, the moment they took their first step, moved in love. We stepped too in fear, in love. Death was knocking. Ready or not. We were blocking. Hands up in protest all summer. Death knocked louder. We kept blocking, until the week before she passed. We stepped out into the field and one by one released butterflies. One by one, each butterfly helped us release Angie, to a place of love, a place of peace, a place for us to release our fears. Keep releasing butterflies whenever you can. I was so moved by this experience that I wrote a short poem after we returned home that day. It’s called ‘When neighbors release butterflies.’ See it for the first time below.

When neighbours release butterflies,

They release love which spreads and flies.

They begin by welcoming you to their home,

To their gardens full of sunflowers which feeds their butterflies.

They show you their larvaes,

Tiny little larvae’s munching through leaves.

You will see their milky weeds,

With tiny little larvae’s still munching through leaves.

You will see their caterpillars,

Big brown caterpillars now crawling through leaves.

You will see a net filled house full of chrysalis,

Tiny green chrysalis hanging around the nets.

You will also see caterpillars on the nets,

Big brown caterpillars slowly building their chrysalis.

Then they will show you their butterflies,

Twelve brown and orange monarchs spreading their wings.

They will place the monarch on your open palms,

The monarchs spread their wings open and are ready to fly.

You’ll hold the monarchs tightly in the palm of your hands,

And watch as they discover how to fly.

So that when neighbors release butterflies,

Through you, they release love which spreads and flies.

August has been a whirlwind month. We are still making sense of this month. Still hoping that we would wake up from this dream. Still asking questions. Still wondering why. Still confused as to how we got here. Still wishing we never got here. Still hoping for all this to go away. But most of all still wishing Angi was here with us. Today marks two weeks since she left us. My husband still has questions. I have some too. We have no answer, no way of getting to the bottom of our ordeal and this is the most difficult aspect of it all. To think we could have saved her if we knew on time. My sister should be alive is all he says. I agree is what I say. We know that our questions will never fully be answered. Still we ask them to ourselves, to each other, to remind ourselves that no woman, no girl too we know, or don’t even know should ever go through this ordeal again. It’s our mission. One we hope to share with the world, to make sure we get to the bottom of cervical cancer. We can end it. We will. We were encouraged by a card we receive in the mail today. A perpetual Catholic mass card in Angie’s honor. It came today, exactly 2 weeks. We are motivated. Our fight will be perpetual too.

I started with these words ‘with total submission to the will of God.’ I realized immediately that I would prefer something else. We are still struggling with this will that saying we submit, seems false to me. So then how do you write the perfect obituary, the perfect last words to sum up a life you wish never ended? I have been tasked with this duty and words fail me. I want to say much. Not the will, but the sadness, the despair, the pain, the anger, but then love and feelings of loneliness and her lasts words to me. Suffice it to say, no words will do. Nothing. All I can surmise for sure is that hearts are broken and words won’t do. How do you write the perfect obituary? You don’t. Nothing can be perfect where an obituary is concerned. Finding the right words to use to convey feelings of brokenness, feelings of my heart in shatters is enormous. Living is going to be tough till we meet again. Until then, we are going to soar up to the skies to meet you in flight, to be with you, as you soar faraway. At least now, we have our own Angel looking down on us from heaven.

Love was in the walls and headboards. It triumphed beneath the floors where feet’s stomped and jumped to the sounds of Amen and Hallelujah. It was also in the faces of everyone who came to hold on to it longer. From as far as the US and her hometown Nimo, to as near as her brother’s Festac town, everyone who knew and loved Angie made an attempt to hold and pray for a divine miracle. It was all we had. Cancer’s power had revealed itself where her body had cracked and fallen to the depths of no return with its wide reach, impacting everything in sight. So love was all we had left, was in every face that met her eyes, every questioning gaze full of whys and how, every gentle squeeze and audacious pleas.

Love was in her mother’s eyes, her tears too were full of it. She was afterall her first born child, her first experience of creation, her first love personified, her first companion amongst men, her first every thing worthy of gist. Under the turmoil of Cancer’s reign, under moments of shared bliss, even in the middle of pain and despair, love continued to lean in deeply, gleam brightly too, as it tightened it’s grip around her. Through a storm of tears, that flowed for moments of slipping away, love continued to roar, continued to fight, continued to ravage the storms, refusing to turn and flee. Wherever love went we followed. We were prepared to go the distance, to do all we could, even to delirium, so long as love reigned eternal. Cancer’s grip was strong, but love was stronger, tougher too and ready to push any boulder up or down any steep hill. We were all held in captive and could not move for love’s grip kept our soul still.

Looking back to last week, we thought we had a day for love to stare into each other’s eyes, for mother and daughter to drown wildly in love once more. We got a week. Little miracles of what the gift of time can do. The gift of being together too in love. Something my hubby and I are forever grateful we gifted this to his mother. When we got the call that her daughter was unresponsive last week. We sprung into action. I have never purchased a ticket the day you travel. Surely not one for an international flight in the middle of a pandemic with its glaring requirements for Covid testing. We got the ticket at about 7am and kept moving. Lucky mama was up. She was even dressed for the day. We told her she was heading to the hospital and asked her to wear something comfortable. She did. We were initially preparing for her to travel later that week. Just the night before we were speaking about what she would travel with. She had been preparing to visit home last year for one of her son’s wedding. But the pandemic derailed all her plans. So I had an idea what she wanted to pack. I watched as she brought them out and arranged them in piles. She was also waiting for me to bring her suitcases from our storage room. We were supposed to pack her items together. I did it alone.

Angie at her brothers wedding last year that mama missed due to the pandemic.

While my husband took her to the hospital to get her Covid requirements, I began to pack. One suitcase was not enough. Not even two. I didn’t care as I didn’t know whether we had a day or six months. I packed everything she brought out. Then I grabbed all 4 kids and rushed to the airport. We saw mama off at the airport. She never came back to the house. She never even said goodbye to the garden she had started to grow and love dearly. This was also the first time I saw her break down and cry. She asked why the rush. I started to cry which made her cry even more. I told her to stop crying that everything would be okay. She cried some more. I prayed to God for a day with mama and Angie.

The first day was unbearable. Mama cried and cried and asked whether we knew it was this bad. I cried too saying over and over that we tried everything. I kept apologizing that we couldn’t help enough. She said then let’s pray. We started to pray fervently. God gave us an additional week. It was plenty. We are still processing this experience. Still making sense of how we got here. Still asking questions. Still crying. Still even being angry with her but we know that it is out of our hands now. No mother should go through this. The only consolation we have is that they spent a week together. A day or even a week together with those you love is a lifetime. Treasure every moment together. That’s the keep I’m keeping. Being together. With love, we are granted this grace.

The end of life always comes with a unique aesthetic stamp. It’s almost always alien to the natural parts of living. Almost always strange to experience this presence of a finite absence. To mourn this sense of loss for someone I loved dearly. To even expect this end giving the outcome is so debilitating. Woven into our being is this absence we will never be able to erase. This voice, we will never hear. Even though I can still hear her. It’s like the end of a music note, that lingers long after the song ends. It just lingers in the air, playing away on its own, refusing to end, though the sound itself has died down, as though the note was talking and sounding itself to oblivion. Such is the experience of living so close to death. Like a drum that pulse, I wish the beat never ends. So too were the last 2 weeks of Angie’s life. I wish the end never came.

We tried desperately to not prepare for this moment, for this absence. We finally received news of her cancer staging 2 Friday’s ago. We have been unsure since the first staging was a 2B from a small hospital, yet a massive lump obstructed her stomach. All of this too was happening in a country where common oxygen or even blood is a scare commodity. Listening to how her brothers went to buy blood for her always made me angry. Health should never come at a cost. But in a country where even the President is a medical tourist in another country, even blood is precious commodity.

So we sought another opinion. This time from a teaching hospital. They really tried all their best for her. Staged her at 3B as the cancer has spread to her pelvis. They didn’t have a CT scan and so again we were unsure of their staging. This was back in June. We knew this was a complex case back then as nothing made sense with how she was rapidly deteriorating from the moment we understood what was going on. We found out in May. To think she spent the last years of her life battling this cancer without saying a word is one of my greatest anger with her. I really wish I had time to even let her know how I felt. The sense of betrayal of our friendship, even our love. I thought we shared everything to each other. Both the good and bad. Even some of the most difficult issues I have ever encountered in my home was reserved for her ears only. She was my comfort, my blessed assurance, my grace, my counselor, my everything, that allowed my soul to sing. To think I won’t have her listening ears anymore just makes me so angry and numb. I want to believe that we could have prevented all of this if only she shared her own deepest fears in the way I did my own with her.

But then again this is Angie at her best. She was everything to everyone. Always took the time to put others and their needs before her own. Never wanted anything. As in nothing. She always wondered why I always gave her gifts as the last one she had was already more than enough. It’s the same way I feel about her gifts as well. We had this same spirit of gifting each other things and then complaining about why we gifted each other gifts. I loved her for it. I know she did as well.

By the time we finally got a brand new hospital in Lagos to do a proper staging, she was at a 4B. The cancer was everywhere. I was numb and cried my heart out. This was also the last weekend we spoke to her before she started to slip in and out of consciousness. The end of mama 90 day prayer fest where she left everything to God. Everything we did, seemed to lead to nowhere that the only thing left was to surround her with love, especially the love and bond between herself and her mother. Mama said Angie cried when she finally saw her for the first time. The tears make more sense now looking back. No daughter should leave her mother behind. Even in death, Angie was still putting others and their needs before her. I wake up crying, then calling mama and telling her not to cry, just for me to start crying and for her to then start telling me not to cry. It’s acycle that I would give anything to end if only it meant we would get Angie back. I desperately want this absence to linger on forever still. Like a drum beat that pulse, I pray it never ends.

One of the earliest gifts I received from my sister-in law was a purple scarf with a light pink intricate embroidery. I caught sight of it this morning while looking for clothes from an old pile for my baby. It glistened in the clear plastic bag full of clothes we dry cleaned following our water accident in the spring. I picked it up and thanked her for this gift. She always knew ways to make me feel special. Our shared experience will forever be a knowing so deep. Everytime I see the scarf, I will forever see her smiling as she called me by the name she gave to me, Osodieme.

To be named again, this time in my marital home is a precious treasure, a special gift that I am only now fully embracing. She knew how to use words to draw out of what is there in my life. Things I never really knew I had or was capable of possessing. Things I didn’t even expect to serve as a guide, to lead and help me as I lived side to side by her brother. Osodieme. It means, one who works alongside her hubby. I always found it strange as I am my own person. I don’t need my husband to tell me what to do. Our relationship was never built that way. Professionally for example, I still bare my maiden name, a taboo in most Igbo households, yet a function of the understanding I have with him. So I never really gravitated to the name, never really accepted it’s significance and only smiled when she used it, though never really thanked her for naming me this way. I am finally coming to terms with the name. Being in this strange place with her has a way of making me want to cling to everything I did with her, including the name she gave to me. It’s a special gift, this extraordinary perception, this profound intimacy I find in this name. One that I long for now to hear her say one more time.

We woke up this morning to the news of her death. It’s truly a knowing so deep when it arrives at your doorstep. To see it close a chapter. To feel the loss. To know the end has finally arrived is just as tough as it is painful. Tears kept flowing. I cried because I wanted to hear her say Osodieme one more time in that voice of hers. I cried because I wanted her to say that I didn’t have to get that thing or do yet another thing in the way my husband does. I cried because I wanted to listen to the joy she reserved for me. Our knowing was so deep. I truly took it all for granted. I cried because I wanted to let her know one more time that yes, I am what she says I am. Osodieme. It’s a name that I intend to live out the rest of my life, knowing you used it to pull this out of me. This thing that I am only now fully making sense of about humanity. Osodieme, is a name I will listen out now for you, the gentleness of your voice, your whisper as gentle as a breeze. The last thing you said was thank you as we prayed for you. The last time we spoke, all the children told you to get better and you said thank you. You asked after all of them and they spoke to you one by one. It was also the day mama said she had handed everything to God. I didn’t know what she meant, but knew how bad the cancer has spread, I knew this was then Gods plan. So we spoke words of encouragement to you. Even made you a bird-like card to wish you well. And God had this still in his plans. That you will soar to the skies and sit right next to him, even though we stay behind to imagine what next to do.

I wish we had more time. I wish I could hear you one more time. We need collective strength to get through this time in our lives. If we achieve it, it means you are forever our angel, our Angie as your name implies. We are already united. You had a way of making us all come together. This moment is holy. You left surrounded by love. You left surrounded by everyone who hold you dear. Osodieme is what you would want that I hold on to. And like the purple scarf you gifted to me in the beginning, I intend to do so till we meet again. God be with you. Rest In Peace Angie.

He spoke bluntly. Not because he didn’t want to spend a lifetime with his sister. But so we can all start preparing for the inevitable. It’s the last thing we want. We have been clinging to hope for too long but the prognosis won’t change, he said. It’s metastatic cancer after all. If we have a day, a week, a month, we are lucky. Every single minute with her is all we want. Yet to be unresponsive once more is heartbreaking, almost like a fresh cut every time especially for her mother. It doesn’t mean things are getting better or they ever will. It just means we need to accept the end. Though it’s the last thing we want. I listened, knowing he was being objective, but still clinging to hope. It’s the only thing we have. If she was here with us, he would send her over to hospice. It’s the last thing we truly want. Though he can’t talk about it with those that love her, including her mother, he knows that it’s the only way. Losing hope too is the last thing we need. The end is near. We know. But we will keep fighting. It is a fight after all. And doing so together is all we have.

I have been numb for the past 2 days. Words failed me. We came close to death. Cancer’s sting is painful. Helpless too. To see someone you love slowly slipping away kept me speechless for once. We tried everything. We had to be everything Cancer stole from her. I kept saying how sorry I was. No mother should bear the loss of their child. And so we have been crying. Tears that keep flowing with no end in sight. The heartache was unbearable. The questions too of how long we knew, was difficult to hear that all I could do was cry as I kept saying we tried everything. We did. We got the best of doctors. They flew just for her. We did all Science said we should do and still no result. She was not fighting enough and it’s a fight after all. We were prepared to fight. We needed her to do the same. This life truly exists in a delicate balance. We are all connected. Watching her take breaths that were difficult was painful to see. We are all connected still. Her shallow breaths were ours too. We have been understanding life. We have been respecting what each day brings. We have been holding on to things that connect us all. For once, I truly understood how tomorrow is a gift. We only have today. This week has been a great teacher of this lesson. Which is why we have been numb. Seeing as though we came close to death. We are learning how to come home to ourselves. Come home to the one for whom impossible does not exist. We have been learning how we are part of things way bigger. How our God is way bigger than anything even death. We have been listening to the spirit teaching. We have been fighting too. We are prepared to keep trying everything too, including hope. For we are all connected. Life is a set of choices. Be hopeful or hopeless. We choose hope. We also choose connection and so we have been connecting to the source of hope. And we will keep connecting. We will keep trying everything too, including hope from this sting called Cancer. We are no longer afraid. We know whose we are afterall!