It was the 13th of December 2000, and a rollercoaster of events scurried out of control and rocked my world. The day before, Emeka, my brother, had returned from the University for the Christmas holidays. We had a fun time listening to the latest music of the day.
We laughed and talked into the Wednesday night, bartering university stories of the semester we just concluded. Soon before we ended up for the evening, he indicated that he had started feeling nudges of the recurring sickle cell crisis. It made me sad to see him go through this on a full scale.
It was a burden we all shared at home. During the crisis, my mum was sad, and it saddened all of us, the atmosphere in the house was somewhat heavy, with a gloomy cloud falling on my dad and everyone yearning earnestly for Emeka to be well. It was like we all shared the pain with him.
So, listening to him speak of the looming doom of the crisis was, to put it mildly, troubling. It was one of those kinds of facts that you just wished away, or at the very least; you hoped that the impending doom never budded to full bloom. Often, it did.
Emeka was deep. He was of an even keel demeanour.
To us, he was a thinker beyond his time, and we all read with admiration as we drew inspiration from his collections of nuggets – his books of wisdom. He had many volumes of it; each was about eighty pages in a volume.
There were thousands of nuggets. He was an ardent observer of life, politics, the creative arts – movies and music and God. In many ways, he was the reason for many of my current pursuits.
The next day, on Wednesday morning - the 13th, Emeka was in more pain than the night before. When I saw him that morning and looked into his pale parakeet yellowish-green eyes, I was certain he had seen much better days, and it was painful to watch.
What was worse was the excruciating pain he was experiencing. One could only glean into the reality of the experience from the occasional shrieking and the deafening silence in pain.
We carried him out in the car. It was about 1 pm that afternoon, and we rushed to the clinic. To cut the long story short, that was the last time I set eyes on my brother. Although, I still see him often. In moments and memories that have been frozen for eternity.
That afternoon, my heart was crushed as my mum scampered around the clinic’s street in search of blood for transfusion. Then, like a madwoman on the road, she said to me, ‘God still raises the dead, keep praying’.
I was shattered. Yet, we prayed or, more accurately, muttered, but he had set flight to a better place, and it was a one-way trip.
The thought of him being in a better place, reminiscing of his walks with God, and his eventual peace after somewhat of a hard life in and out of pain were all a source of some justification for this.
Regardless, they were not quite enough recompense for the loss that was felt. I also suffer from sickle cell disease, and to some extent, I could relate to his pain, but it never entirely made sense to me that a young man of awe-striking promises could go so soon, in the prime of his 20s.
People deal with grief differently. For some, the sense of loss is immediate and weighty. For others, the denial of the loss was a way of coping. I was in denial. I didn’t shed a tear for three days. That evening I was in a drama rehearsal for the Christmas play and then in church for the evening service as usual.
People couldn’t tell something had happened barely four to six hours earlier.
I remember wrestling with God through the night, not making sense of my conversation but knowing I needed to speak. And then, suddenly, it struck three days later.
I was in the room we were in together on his last night, and I couldn’t explain the gushing out of floods from my eyes, my heart eventually crumpled, and my pain was finally rounding up the final trimester for its birth. In my heart was a pain so unfathomable, and I was impatient with the world around me as it made no sense.
With time, the experience became more distant and the sad memories hazier, but the special moments of laughter, dreaming together, anticipating the success of business ideas ventured, experiencing the arts and so on are frozen memories. They are most of what is left.
Fast forward nearly 20 years later, the 30th of March 2020 was yet another heart-wrenching text message. The days before was a rallying of Chidinma’s friends to pray as she had recently taken ill. We prayed as we would and, as usual, hopeful for glad tidings.
It did not come. When the sad news came, I was devastated. And like when I had a somewhat similar experience 20 years back, I was also plunged into some denial, only this time, I was more attuned with reality. I consciously sought not to be selfish with my grief but to think more about the immediate family whose sense of loss dwarfed mine. Nonetheless, I was deeply hurt.
As soon as the news came, my thoughts were captured in oblivion.
For a long while, I experienced what it meant to be blank and without the luxury of reason. Then, in the weeks that followed, my thoughts eased and were engulfed in many memories, sporadically going through my mind in rapid succession.
We car-shared to and from work for months, and in those priceless moments in the car, many memories were formed and are today parts of my frozen memories. There were many ‘near-quitting’ moments for me, and because of her and those moments in the car, I continued. I am much better today because of some of those car decisions. Being silly with her was natural.
I remember my friend, Dapo and I campaigning with placards to be bridesmaids at her wedding. Yes, bridesmaids and not groomsmen. On the wedding day, we donned traditional Scottish kilt tartans to be in-step with skirts or gowns of the other bridesmaids.
Being embarrassed with her wasn’t even a consideration because she made it so comfortable to be guileless and childlike. We started some ventures together but never quite got through them.
Nevertheless, her optimism was unwavering right to the final chats with her before she left these realms to crack up the angels above with her bubbling demeanour.
She was gorgeous and true. An epitome of “beauty - in and out”. With Chidinma, laughter was painless, love was pure, and loyalty was personified. I am often tempted to think that she was particularly special to me.
However, my thoughts are quickly interrupted by the truth that her uniqueness, authenticity and sheer joy touched so many lives, and in so many ways, she was as peculiarly special to so many.
We had known a short time, but with experiences that would last a lifetime. But for these memories, all I could have been left with was the grim thoughts of loss that held my mind hostage in the few weeks that followed the breaking of the sad news, that miserable Monday morning.
With hindsight, thinking of grief and loss, I conclude that my coping superpowers are the frozen memories and the chance to live them again as often as I wish. So, my final thoughts are these - while life tarries, make memories with those you love, and freeze them in time.
Written by Uche Iloka
To Be Continued Next Wednesday...
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