The space of time between when a person has been confirmed dead and put in the morgue, and when the person is brought home for laying in state, sometimes lends itself conveniently to forgetting. Perhaps they have travelled and they will be back soon. Or they are in the hospital and I’ll go visit them tomorrow. But when the person arrives on that day lying in a casket, and all evidence points to the fact that they are really no longer in the land of the living, then, you have no choice but to face the hard and painful truth.
For me, this day came with my dad after 2 months of me knowing he was dead. I hadn’t seen him for two years when I got that fated call. And then the funeral was not held for almost a month after I arrived in Ghana. When I walked into his sitting room where he was laid in state that fateful Friday, I called everyone who was nearby a liar because I claimed they were passing off some dead guy as my father. Such blasphemy! Oh My! Did I cause a scene! Tonight, as I write, I am thinking of my aunt and my cousin, but more so my aunt, who will be receiving her husband and lover of 30 plus years, back to their marital home, in two weekends. She saw him off to the hospital that first week of December not knowing it would be the last time she saw him alive. In 2 weeks, when they bring him home from the morgue, she will finally have to face the truth she has known for the past month. That breaks my heart.
For the last few weeks since I arrived in the US I’ve been pondering death. You see, death stole another member of my family on December 12, 2011. Wait! Maybe I should blame the cancer first. Since September 2010, I’ve lost three family members, two to cancer. The kind of cancer that robbed them of a right to enjoy food—stomach and colon cancers to be exact. The most recent, my uncle (from my aunt and uncle duo I wrote about on April 12) died exactly 8 months from when I wrote that entry. The sad part is that I watched helplessly as the disease consumed his flesh, and I mean kwata kwata (empty-no sign of anything better existing prior). A doctor and a nurse who were now beyond medical help! Depressing!
The best part: I got to be in Ghana for 6 of those 8 months, and for this I am very grateful. I got to help my aunt take a bath and rub oil on my uncle’s body. I experimented with different fruits when I discovered they had a smoothie maker still in its box. I coaxed him to try my various creations. I made them pancakes, which is what we call crepes, because they were light and both of them could tolerate it even though my uncle complained that he didn’t want the obronyi food. We joked about my having grown up away from a father’s scrutiny and he took pleasure in chastising me if I was gone from the house for too long. We quarrelled and then not knowing how much longer he had, I quickly made up. After all, what good is not talking when there might not be enough time to talk? When I told him I was going back to the US, he made me promise to buy him a book. Now I am torn about whether to still buy that book or not. I believe this is just a distraction…
So in all honesty, I’m sure this topic will come up again. It’s not the crisis of facing my own mortality per se but I’m really pondering why our family, and feeling a bit more stressed about my own health. With my mom being a hospice nurse I’ve heard the stories, but experiencing it first hand was a calming experience. After a while, I just had to make a conscious effort to just enjoy the time I still had with them, rather than cry or hover over them in pity and fear. I will miss his chuckle and jokes and his shuffling feet which had become a signature tune in the house. If I think of him and miss him this much, I can only imagine how my aunt and cousin feel left alone in the house. My heart really goes out to them.
My Sister and My Tribute for the funeral booklet:
We grew up knowing Uncle Addo and Aunty Aku’s house was where we went for respite from Grandmother’s strict house rules.
Sure they too were strict, but they were fun and allowed us to be kids.
There, we were allowed to go pasare (gallivanting) in the Sakumono flats’ neighbourhood.
There, we were allowed to help pound “purple” (made from cocoyam) fufu.
There, my usually shy little sister would answer to her nickname of “laa” when “Shee” was belted out by Uncle Addo or Aunty Aku.
There, we had voices and these two encouraged us to use them.
After years of living abroad, I still know of their house as the place where I can be myself.
I feel privileged to have had the chance to spend more time with Uncle Addo during the past 6 months.
We were able to crack jokes while I rubbed him with Baby Oil or coaxed him to drink just a little more of my experimental fruit smoothies.
It was a sad ending to my 6 months in Ghana to lose him two days before my departure.
Difficult as it is, today I am choosing to dwell on this privilege to have had a chance to re-know and re-love my aunt and uncle instead of my loss.
We will miss you, Uncle Addo but you live on in our memories of our times together.
Kuukua and Sheela
2 thoughts on “This One is About Death Y’all”
Thank you for writing about this, dear Kuukua. I appreciate your open emotion in this post. It must be so hard to say goodbye, but it’s good to recognize what a gift it is to have had those last months to spend with your uncle — and even just to watch his journey through illness. I’m thinking of my grandpa and how I only see him every few weeks at most; it doesn’t feel like enough, only getting to see him through these little glimpses of old age. I don’t get to know him during this phase; I only drop in. I’m sure your continuous presence was a blessing to your uncle (and your other family members).
Thanks Lisa for reading and reminding me of the blessing in disguise.