Death is inevitable….
As children of God, we have an assurance that we are going to a better place. We all try to fight it, especially when it is our loved ones. My hope is that when the time does come to say goodbye to those we love, it is when they are ‘as a shock of corn cometh in its season’ Job 5:26.
I like to kid that God woke me up to write this story. I am really not kidding, I didn’t get any sleep until it was done. I think it is one of the best things I have written in decent times…Enjoy.
There were many final moments before death for Ireti. I made sure of that.
I kept looking for excuses to bring her back. I kept looking for reasons why she didn’t have to go. I kept standing in her path, blocking her way. In my selfishness, I held on. So that instead of one final moment like most people have, Ireti got to live and die, to live and die, and to do it all over again.
‘Don’t go.’ I said the first time. Her tired eyes were shutting. Her nostrils were at rest, drawing in only the tiniest breaths.
‘You don’t need me anymore Ibukun,’ She whispered.
‘I will always need you Ireti.’ I screamed back at her defiantly and then screamed even louder for the nurses, the doctors and their life saving knowledge.
They brought her back to me and she lived two more days; radiating sunshine within the hospital walls so that even though it rained ceaselessly outside, none of us noticed.
‘I love you, Ireti.’ I said on the second day after I had watched her shine and make her doctors laugh. It was late and just us both in the room and I knew death lingered, waiting for the right moment.
This time, I was ready and my weapon of choice was words.
Words I had never before said.
Words that brought tears to her eyes.
Words that I thought would be enough to keep her with me.
She reached for my hands and kissed them.
‘And I love you more Ibukun,’ She breathed into my cold hands.
Strange that she was the one dying and I was the one whose hands had stopped living.
I love you, I had said, dwelling in the moment, speaking of the present, when what I should have said was,
‘I will always love you. Come rain, come sunshine, come death, come life….forever.’
That was her second chance at death but my words stood in her way. She gave me three more days after those two days but when the nurse whispered ‘bills’ into my ears, Ireti nodded a ‘yes’ to death again.
‘You are wasting money…’ Her eyes scolded me and then started to close a goodbye.
This time it was prayers.
‘Jesus!’ I called. ‘Giver of life! Creator! You said we shall not die but live…’
I said all the right things, quoted the right Bible verses, got on my knees like my mother had taught me to, and snatched Ireti away from the arms of death again. I denied death its moment in the sun for the third time.
‘Ibukun.’ She whispered to me after I paid the bills for the week.
‘Maami,’ I answered.
‘How much longer, my beautiful girl?’ She asked me.
‘However long it takes. Till you can come home with me. Till I am ready to let you go.’
‘But I am ready to go now,’ My mother said. There was a tube in her nose now and I couldn’t bear to look at her; to have my selfishness, my powerlessness stare me in the face.
‘How can you even say that? How can you want to go when I need you? When your grandchildren need you?’
Her laugh came out as a grunt.
‘What grandchildren?’ She asked.’Tomisin; that we just escorted to her husband’s house and is on that thing you people call honeymoon or honeysun? Adewunmi; who makes me sit in the sun while he plays basket and ball or what do you call that thing he does? Ayoade; who thinks Grandma is a plaything and should be hoisted high every time he sees her to show off his strength? Adeola; whose eyes cloud over whenever I walk into the room because she is certain my old body is only good for couriering germs that are harmful to her baby? Or Majekodunmi; whose eight year old twins stare at me like an old witch even though I gave them their first baths and put them to sleep on my bent back on many nights? Are those the grandchildren or great-grandchildren that need me, Ibukun?’
I laughed at my mother’s description of my children and grandchildren and then I wept. That was exactly why she couldn’t leave me. Not with those children I had birthed and nurtured who now treated me as an inconvenience. Not because they didn’t love me but because even the best hair dye couldn’t hide the graying of my soul and because they wanted nothing to do with reminders of their mother’s mortality. Just like I wanted nothing to do with reminders of Ireti’s mortality.
I laid down beside my mother’s skinny frame and wept into breasts that had nourished me. I was the coward here, the one afraid of dying. She held me as much as the intravenous drip would let her.
‘What will I do when you leave me, Ireti?’ I asked in a small voice.
‘Hope will never leave you Ibukun. Go to sleep now. When you wake up in the morning, everything will be alright,’ My mother said.
‘I can’t watch you die, Ireti.’
‘Then close your eyes. It has only come for me, not you. Let me be the one to watch for it. Let me be the one with the eyes open. Let me be the one it doesn’t catch unawares. Fall asleep my child; when you open your eyes, everything will be alright.’
I obeyed and let her soft voice, lifted in prayers for me, lull me to sleep. When I woke up, the moment before death had passed and everything was alright, just as she had promised.
I called my husband. The phone rang a while. It was two hours before midnight in Nigeria and he was probably settling in for the night.
‘She is gone, Adeolu. My Ireti is gone.’ I breathed calmly into the phone when his groggy voice finally reached my ears.
‘Hope will never leave you Ibukun,’ He answered. ‘I am on my way to bring you home.’
I put down the phone and looked out the window at a land that was neither mine nor Ireti’s. We were a long way from home, in the best hospital I could afford, surrounded by the best things of life and yet Ireti had chosen death two weeks before her 82nd birthday. My mother had cheated me of a chance to throw her another of my lavish birthday parties.
It had stopped raining and from heaven, Hope winked at me sunnily. I winked back even though there was a hole where my heart used to be. I was an only child and the only person who remained of my childhood memories was now gone.
‘O di gba’ I whispered.
‘Hope will never leave you.’ she replied and I knew it was true.
Song of the day: Phil Collins – You Will be in my Heart