I fell deep into the unknown this past week. Everything was out of place. Even my face broke out in ways unknown.
It was as if life was full of chaos and change, all spiraling out of control.
I tried to relax, take things in stride but a life relaxed seemed like a luxury my strides couldn’t afford.
Not that I didn’t want it, but apprehension and anxiety seemed to keep me in a flight mode. So I figured I’ll learn something new about all I was experiencing, including those I wished I could fly away from.
Death has a funny was of reminding you about the gift of each day. The gift and voice of people too. Those you take for granted and those you ought to cherish much more.
So we moved in stride. Still anxious and apprehensive about our days, but appreciating all they bring.
The chaos, the change, life and death, all still completely out of our control but consoled that one day, we will meet again. Even boldly smite death’s threatening wave.
Throw away all you think about life. Throw it all. Then just live. Life is too short. I am realizing it more so these days. Tomorrow isn’t a guarantee. Tell all those you love why you love them everyday and make them sick and sick of your love. I am in the mood of infecting my life with love and people that matter and these days, all I want you to know, is that I would do what makes me live out my best life. This is the moment I have been living for. The realization that I have been blessed for a very long time to live out my best life. The immense fragility of life, all its sweetness and sadness too, makes me what to turn up to a dark field to simply stare at the silver moon and everything bright the dark night has to offer. The raw cuts of life caught me off guards today and I have been numb and obedient to the moment.
I got news that knocked me off my feet today. I have been in a daze and just in awe of this thing called life. Poppa George has joined the ancestors club in a way that I never expected. I cried because I thought we had time. I remember when we spent time together. I’m still in a daze and it’s not even 24 hours later. I barely did anything today and if I did, lord knows my mind was everywhere and no where. George was more than a father to me. I considered him like a father. He took me under his wings when I was in college with his daugther. Took us always to the best diners and restaurant in Philly. Made me feel loved and respected and valued and showed me how a true gentleman should always treat a lady he loves and cherishes. I knew what love was in college because I saw it first from George. He was the perfect gentleman. A firefighter too who knew how to take care of all those he loved. I have been numb today because I never got to tell him just how much I loved and valued him. I never got to tell him that he was my idol too. I know he is smiling down from heaven but George just know I loved you and I know that God loved you more. We will always be there for the love of your life Ms Toni. This isn’t a goodbye. More like rest until we meet again. With all my love. Your Jules. I intend to live out life, with love, just as I know George would have wanted.
I have been wondering out loud what people may say if they came to my funeral. No I’m not dying. But death is inevitable. My grandma died this past week 25 years ago. Her death is forever in my memories. My first death experience too. The first time I knew death existed was the day my grandmother died. The day death came knocking, knowing that I will never forget that one day it will greet us too. Even the richest person or the poorest person on earth today will eventually die. The great equalizer that no one can ever cheat, ever beat or even tweet. The day you die will arrive one day. On that day, what will people say about you. Will they cry? Or will they greet your death with lamentations laced with sorrow and joy. Lamentations for a life once lived. A life lived to the fullest. A life worth celebrating. A life forever creating. A life once pulsating. A life forever educating. A life often frustrating. A life forever motivating. A life once stimulating. A life always translating. A life fully captivating. A life forever listing. Hence why I have been wondering, when I die, what would people say. I wrote this all as a verse, for my thoughts kept wondering.
When I die, what will people say? Who will cry for my journey? Why will flowers line my tombstone? When will they come again with flowers for my cold stone? How will people describe my life, my journey? If these thoughts may seem unreal. They are. But I wonder for the people I greet today. Did I meet you well? Did I treat you well? Or did I beat you well? Life can be so fleeting. Our last words can be so depleting. Unless I keep this for the day death comes greeting. A day I truly won’t be tweeting. But on that day, when you come to my funeral, if you come to see my passing, don’t cry for a life once lived. Don’t let tears fall where our love once lived. Don’t let sorrow thrive where our perseverance continue to live. Don’t speak of our yesterdays where broken hearts once lived. Don’t wonder for our tomorrow, where endless possibilities continue to live.
Don’t let your heart be full of sadness for where our joy once lived. Don’t let this silence cause you to question where our devotion continue to live. Don’t let this passing cause you to hide, where our light once lived. Don’t let the end cause you to forget how our dreams continue to live. When you come to our funeral, don’t cry for a life once lived. Rather live, for we lived, this thing we called life. Looking up to the mountain, to the sun which never hurt, the moon which never failed, this life we once lived.
Mama returned home today. About two months after the greatest heart-wrenching ordeal, the longest mutterings of sorrow, of hearts completely in despair. Our hearts are still broken, still shattered in pieces. But seeing the glimmer in her eyes, made it clear; we would get through this deepest darkness. And the darkness is so deep, still so raw, and still so full of pain, as if we lost Angie yesterday. Nothing will ever change all we know. That Angie should be here. That her death shouldn’t be. That her living is all we know, all we hoped for, all we still long for. To know death, is to know a longing that time still can’t heal.
We’ve contemplated why her fire dimmed, asked how we missed the signs, wondered when we will ever meet. I still have plenty unanswered questions for her. The valleys of our pain, to feel it, to know this emptiness skillfully threading around our edges, is to know the bottom of a well, so deep, so hollow.
We know there is light above. We see it, feel it even, but here in this darkness lies our pain, our sorrow for a life gone too soon. They call it cancer, we call it, a dying sun, contemplating even why a sun dies too. We are still in mourning, burning with passion for a new morning, one where we will gloriously lift our selves from this sorrow. Lotanna made a card, to welcome mama home. She decorated it with pink crinkled paper flowers and blue ribbons. It made mama smile. We are all sorry about Angie. We all welcomed mama home.
Claude McKay once wrote a poem entitled ‘if we must die.’ In it, he shared that may our death not be like hogs who are hunted and penned down, while dogs, mad and hungry bark around, mocking us even for dying like pigs. We are better than pigs. Much more glorious. And so if death is to be ours, if all of us have to live through a last sunrise or a last sunset, then he noted that may it come nobly, so that even our living is not in vain. Yet so many people live in vain. Death will always be victorious, however you live. I know that. But try to be better than pigs even if we must die. Even Jane Goodall noted that death can be the last great adventure, the idea of what lies beyond it. Know it and you know life. All of this got me thinking of life. That and seeing a full moon tonite. So I literally penned a response to McKay and called it, “If we must live.”
If we must live, if we must do it our way, may we do it like the moon, unafraid to glow, unafraid to be brilliant. May we also live with people unafraid to dream, people unafraid to pass through uncharted territories, rugged landscapes or rough terrains because they are so drunk in their dreams. If we must live, may we be uninhibited by our dreams, drunk in them too and be with people who dream drunk. For what use is life without dreams even if the dreams are hazy and complex. All dreams are. What use is life without imagining the impossible, like reaching for the moon, touching it, knowing it’s there always, longing for it, seeing it and then somehow surpassing it. If we must live, may our dreams take us past the moon, take us to new heights that defy words. May we do so dreaming of life too beyond reaching for the moon. May we surround ourselves too with dreamers and together, may our dreams help us surpass all our hopes for life, even the audacity of surpassing the moon. For to live beyond the moon, is to be bold, audacious, and any other word that personifies daring. If we must live may we dare to dream. May we dare to be like the moon. Dare to be with people and places that take us to the moon and beyond, and keep us forever glowing in an ethereal radiance that can only come for life lived beyond the moon. So if we must live, may whatever lies ahead of us, be as brilliant as the moon and still surpass the moon’s brilliance. Imagine that, a life whose brilliance, whose glow surpasses the moon. What a life that would be, this life beyond the moon, beyond your wildest dreams. If we must live, may we do so beyond dreams that came before us, dreams that take us high through paths unknown, for whatever adventures that lie ahead. If we must live, may we go wherever our dreams take us. And may dreams light the path, however dark it may seem, for however long it maybe. And even if we must pass our last breath, pressed against death’s firm grip, may we whisper ever so softly, how we lived, because we dared to dream.
This dream, I dream, of life beyond the moon, is as breathtaking as a baby’s kiss, my baby’s kiss. I gave him the moon. Well at least a small glimpse of it. He kissed me right after, as if to say thank you. If we must live, may life’s many breath be the moon, be beyond the moon, and be as gentle as a baby’s kiss. I am dreaming in love. I am dreaming of my baby’s kiss. And life, is so worth living, because we, my baby and I, dared to dream.
I keep dreaming of Dahlias again. Yellow and magenta ones too, with their forever whorls. I dream of their florets. Tiny ones too opening up with endless swirl. Every single sighting is full of grace. How long will this grace last?They are the perfect flowers. Teasing my soul, daring us. Every sighting isn’t confused. They help to remember her smile, her voice, the back of her hands, the depth of her plans. Our hearts are still bruised. Grace, brought us this far. Grace will see us through. Keep the sights of graceful Dahlias.
‘Bear in mind, that death is a drum,’ notes Langston Hughes in his poetry entitled ‘Drum.’ To him, it beats forever, until we answer it’s call. The call is not for the dead, but those living. Death is a drum calling those living to come. I can hear it’s pulsating beat. It thuds louder on days like today. Emotions are high. Hearts are broken. Everything seems surreal. As the drum keeps beating. She lies in state. We look in a daze. This is truly not a dream. And the drum keeps beating. Mama is crying. No mother should bear this loss. Still the drum keeps beating. We feel helpless. Hopeless too. For a life gone so soon. Yet the drum keeps beating. Death is truly a drum. Calling those living to come. Come as you are. For life itself is nothing, nowhere. Cancer too, may have won this round. As the drum keeps beating. We look for signals. There is none. So we watch. As they start to lower her down. The drum beats louder now. We watch till the last call. The last sands fall. As we all heed the call. Of a drum that keeps beating. We are breathless. Speechless too. There is no air. All seems lost, even time, and a day. Still, the drum keeps beating. We beat Angie’s drum, louder today, keeping Langston in mind. Beating this drum forever. As we too now bear in mind, that death is indeed a drum.
The outpouring of love for a live gone too soon is love. To bask in the thoughts and prayers of so many is love. To bid our Angel farewell, for a life gone to soon, but lived full, is love. To see tears streaming from eyes hungry for you, is love. To hear whispers of songs, sang in one accord, till we meet again, is love. To share in your life story, your dreams of yesterday and hopes for tomorrow is love. We are been engulfed in a bitter sorrow, for your life, for the sun set too soon, but now, our spirits are full of love. You lived your best race. Marching your love, like fire over our hearts. We are basking in your warm embrace. Though, now we say goodbye, truly we pray you sleep well till we meet again.
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.
I listened to an hour long episode of the life of Dr. Elizabeth Kubler Ross today on NPR’s Radio Lab. It’s was as if someone, somewhere needed to remind me of her work. Dr. Ross was the pioneer on death and dying and the stages people go through right before they die. From denial, to anger, depression, to bargaining, and acceptance, she showed through painstakingly research that people dying are humans too, with feelings and emotions worthy of documenting, if not for their passage, then for those that remain to get through life, one day at a time despite their loss. People left behind, also go through stages of grief that are similar to stages of dying. My grieving for Angie makes more sense now. I am still angry with her, denial too, for she was gone too soon, and all of this seems like a dream. The episode however, reviewed the beginning including how Dr. Ross got into studying death. I know of her work and her book, but not really her life or that she was one of triplets for example.
But of all I heard, what struck me what that as Dr. Ross was getting ready to die, as she prepared for her passage to the great unknown, the stage the cameras fully captured where the periods of her anger. Even Dr. Ross was angry about her own pending death. That’s when it hit me. Dying is inevitable. We all know this. Those who are lucky enough to witness their own death in plain view are the lucky ones. They at least get to prepare, whether they are angry with death or not, accepting of it or not. The key thing is that they prepare. It’s inevitable after all and so why not prepare for the journey to the great unknown. You can choose to be angry. Life is too short, so being angry with your own death is acceptable. You may choose to be happy. To see your own death coming, takes a lot of courage that happiness, acceptance of it is probably the sweetest part of living, a zen-like state that only the pleasure of dying can achieve. To think dying, can be full of pleasure is such an oxymoron that no one living wants to contemplate. But what if we do. What if we actually start living as if any single day just might be the day we die?
Of course, you may choose to become depressed, bargain with doctors even for the right to live, if you knew your death was near. I think of Chadwick Boseman for example. His one year anniversary of his passing is today. I know he probably accepted his death, but I recall feeling depressed for him when I heard the news last year. I would have bargained with all my might to live. I would have been depressed too for there were still so much to give from this young and gifted man. Yet, when his time came, he too left, in whatever stage he found himself in. The consolation too from all the reports I read following his passing was that he was prepared. Something that very few of us will have the opportunity to attain when our own time comes. Which brings me to the living. Death is inevitable. We all know this. Even the greatest and richest ones among us will die too. But what are you doing to prepare? How are you living as if today was your last day? It’s a powerful reminder to live life fully. Do it on your own terms so that when the time comes, you are prepared. And those you live behind, they too will be accepting of whatever stage you left with when your time came. It’s inevitable afterall. So prepare while you are still living.
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.
At the heart of our mystery as women is creativity. We literally give birth to new beings, new life. We finds ways to birth other things too, like writing for me lately or jewelry making, a reoccurring hobby of mine. To be able to make something, is to live life to the fullest, to live it also open, to new ways, new ideas, even new experiences. I have been learning to embrace each new cycle, every twist and turn, life throws my way, with words that are flowing faster than I even share on the blog. The ask for myself has always been at least one keep a day. I did so to keep myself in check. Writing more than one comes easy these days, though I still stick to the one keep a day principle.
Which brings me back to this idea of creativity. I am loving this process of using words to get through the most difficult experience I have experienced this year. I know and expect death. We all have to leave one day. The prayer I ask is that we leave surrounded by love, supported by love, secured in love. It’s the gift of a lifetime to see love manifested in this way. To feel it, even embrace it is truly magnificent. The purest forms of it, I am learning isn’t when you exchange vows in public. It isn’t when we have big celebrations or dance until our feet are weary. The purest form of love I am learning are during the birth of a child and during the experience of death. I have gone through birth 4 times to know that each process of bringing forth new life, is unapologetically profound and full of joy. Though we scream and shout and push, the gift of a baby in one’s arms evokes feelings that words cannot fully capture. I cry all the time. The tears keep flowing as I watch in awe of our gift of creation. It’s a gift I will forever treasure as long as I live. A gift that I remain grateful to have experienced 4 times.
Then there is the other extreme of life. The experience of death. I have also been here before with distinct experiences that ushered tears in my eyes. I remember my first experience with death. It was my grandma and I was 13 years old. The week prior to her death was eerily similar to my sister in law’s death. She too was surrounded by love, supported by loved and secured in love. We watched her as she slipped in and out of consciousness the Sunday before her death. We poured water on her face and she came back to herself. It happened so fast that she asked why were we crying and why was she all wet, oblivious to what she just put us through. For the rest of the week, it was as if she was in a celebratory mood. I remember receiving money from her that Tuesday evening following the Sunday incident, stating that I should purchase drinks for everyone in the house. Her request was strange as we had no cause for celebration. But I obliged and got the drinks for everyone. She kept insisting that we should be happy and celebrate life always. I nodded my teenage head and went on my way.
By Friday morning, around 7 am or so, she began to slip out of consciousness again. She was wearing a light blue flowery night dress with white buttons from the top to the bottom. The radio was playing ‘I surrender all.’ I remember this distinctively as I was in the room. She was waving her hands in the air as if she was praying. It was the last song she listened too. A befitting one, seeing as though she was slipping away from this world to the next. I pray to surrender, and freely give all to him when my time arrives. They rushed her to the hospital. I stayed behind expecting things to get better. I even shamefully picked up her Naira laying on her bed and got some butterscotch for myself as I waited. By the time, they returned from the hospital, the blue night dress was all they came home with. Mama has died was all I heard. I knew at that moment what death meant. There were no preparations, no warning, just tears that kept flowing. The presence of her absence was so unbearable.
I still see her bed, all the pictures of her children and grand children on the wall. I still see her staring at the window or from the balcony whenever anyone came to our house. It’s been close to 25 years since her death. This November 8th, would make it 25. Yet, I remember this day as if it was today. Death has the power to let memories of those you love and lost linger for years to come. It’s creative power is unmatched as it has the final word on how the story ends, how the music lasts or how the picture of our lives are illustrated. I am learning that once more now that I find myself surrounded by it again. To witness it’s last stroke is to witness the creativity inherent in all of us. We all come into this world with unmatched creativity that continues to baffle humanity. When our time is up, we will leave as well with this same creativity that no expert can vividly illustrate. Yet we cannot mourn or live as people with no hope, rather their is a gift even as we try to cope. No father or mother would gift the life they created stone when they ask for things. But rather, they would gift us all we ask. In times of despair, his plans are always good.
I am leaning on these words knowing that the ultimate creator would not give me more than I cannot handle even as I create or make sense of this experiences with words that flow these days with ease. This is the second of 2 essays I wrote just this morning alone. It’s the ultimate consolation. To still be able to create even in the middle of a loss so painful. I choose to keep this one because creativity is the ultimate gift. Keep it for yourself always.