There was a 90 year old woman, I came across, unafraid to die. She had lived life on her terms. She wanted no heroic measures. Only to go meet her maker in peace. She even had a green folder full of information in preparation for whenever she became unable to make decisions on her own. Listening to this story made me stunned. To live to be 90 is a stellar feat. To prepare to die, your own way, is equally sterling. I paused to reflect on my own life upon hearing her story. The mystery of life is that our tomorrows are never our own. Today too is a privilege. What then would it take to prepare, not at 90, but everyday? And while preparing, how am I living?

We begin this weekend entering a very solemn week in my family. Prepared to send our dearest Angie home in a befitting ceremony. I started to pack things up as customary for every trip to Nigeria and I found myself crying, because for once I would not be leaving any package for her. Instead, the package was for her daughter. Almost immediately, I heard a voice say, it is fine. The voice was distinctively hers. I heard her say Osodieme. You didn’t have to. I felt a warm embrace almost immediately. Her spirit is everywhere, even now as I write this. The outpouring of love has been enormous. Some have booked Catholic mass in her name. Others have planted trees. Many she never met. Yet, I am sure she knows she is loved. We weren’t prepared for her death. It still feels surreal to see us preparing for her burial. She was just here, we spoke too, and she assured us that she was getting better. Not hearing her voice is painful. Knowing she is never coming back is equally painful. I imagine we all have to leave one day. I know that we may not all leave like the 90 year old lady. But when we do, may we have some form of preparation, and if lucky, filled in our own green folders.

We never got that with Angie. The closet we came to preparations was the week before she died. The fast thinking from my Zobam and I to send mama home, still keeps me speechless. We acted as if we had one day. I prayed Angie would last for one day so to at least see her mother. We got a week. The week before Angie died was all we had to bid her farewell, was all we had to truly prepare. I wish we spent the last month with her preparing for her death and not wishing we could change the course of events. But then again, the 90 year old could say all she needed to say, including the need for no heroic measures because she has access to health care.

In places like Nigeria, cancer, even those as easy to prevent or treat like cervical cancer remains a death sentence. We may not have prepared for her death, but we are prepared to build a legacy in her name, where no woman would have to go through what we went through. I have no idea how we would do this, Angie, wherever you are. But I know even your death is not in vain. For you, Zz we will keep fighting, beyond this week, to get to the bottom of cervical cancer. We may not have prepared for your death, but we are prepared for your legacy. It truly matters now more than ever.

A tree planted in Angie name. A step towards building her legacy.

For trees, storms are a matter of life and death. Peter Wohlleben, the New York Times author of the book ‘The Hidden Life of Trees’ briefly stated why in his beautiful book. Winds blowing 60 miles an hour can uproot a tree, pummeling mature trunks to nothingness with forces equivalent to 220 tons. Trees that are unprepared fall. The pressure is enormous. Forest floors sink to nothing too within minutes. But some trees, like deciduous trees, withstand the pressure. They do so as a community, helping each individual tree swing back and forth depending on the direction of the moving winds. While some trees are straightening themselves after the first gust of wind, others may have sprung back quickly, absorbing and distributing the strong gust of wind throughout the tree. The result is that each tree gets help, depending on the way the wind blows and despite the storms. So too is death of a loved one.

Some of us are still struggling, barely a week later. I am one of them. I can’t seem to think straight these days without wishing that this is a terrible dream and waking up is just around the corner. It isn’t and the idea of never speaking again to Angie just keeps me in awe of life. Others are still asking questions, revisiting how we got here, how we didn’t know, how she never let on about the pain she was in. And she was in pain. Imagine, everything, all your vital organs giving away, and you have no single pain medication to cope with the onslaught your body must be going through. She was rather a tough woman and a fighter till the end, always saying she felt better, thus making it seem we had time. It wasn’t until she saw her mother, that I knew we were really at the end. I will never forget how she called her and called her and she never answered or how Angie cried when she finally saw her mother by her bedside. For sure, I am in the struggling camp. I am also in the camp prevention and camp advocacy now. I never really paid attention to cervical cancer until now. I am ready for the battle. Like trees, I am prepared for the storm ahead too with prevention in a country where many people still have no idea that HPV vaccines exist or that you should be checking your cervix once you turn 30 years old. We have lots of work to do. And as a community, we will bend whatever way the wind blows as a community and individually so no other woman or girl gets cervical cancer. Until then, keep swinging back and forth like trees on a windy day, to end cervical cancer.