Loss comes to us all sooner or later, in one form or another. I have lost lots of things in my short life – friends, clothes, toys, boyfriends, even a very dear phone. But at this point, the only loss that really affected me is the death of my grandmother.
I was only 7 when my grandmother came to live in the city with us six months after my grandfather died (and after performing all the necessary traditional rites required of a widow, of course). Before that, I only saw her during Easter and Christmas periods. Now, she would live the last nine years of her life in the next room.
Although I was in boarding school for the last six years of her life, we were fairly close. As close as our culture would allow. She was a very humble woman, yet strong, as independent as any I’ve known. She loved to tell us stories most of which, started with “before the war…”. The war she talked about was the Nigerian Civil War of ’66 to ’70 She lost five of her nine children during that war.
Her death was the beginning of my years of responsibility–of thinking of someone other than myself. I have never really thought about the effects her passing had on me like this, but it comes clearly to me now.
One hot night when it was too hot to stay inside, my grandmother came out to join us on the balcony. She laid her head on my lap while I fanned her with a raffia fan. There she passed away without any word.
When my parents were taking her body to the hospital, my mother called me aside and gave me the first assignment of my adult life, an assignment that’ll never end. “Take care of your younger ones”, she said, “Can you do that for me?” I just looked up at her with tears in my eyes and nodded.
I was barely sixteen then and I’ve just been put in charge of 5 kids, in the middle of the night. Before that night, I’d only taken care of them by cleaning up after them. I had never been left alone with them. I don’t know how I did it but I wiped my tears and took care of them. Comforted them, wiped away their tears, answered their questions, told them stories, and eventually lulled them to sleep. On my grandmother’s bed. All five of them. While I kept watch till my parents returned five hours later.
Looking back on it, that was probably the only selfless thing I have ever done. I just did what needed to be done.
The other part of it is that the day after her funeral, seven weeks later, was the day I had to report to the University where I was admitted to accept my admission and start my registration process. Sometimes I feel like I left her behind to begin my life.
It’s strange how her last act, her passing, served to provide me with a dose of adulthood, right when I’d need it most. Even though I had been in boarding school since I was ten, going to the University at 16 wasn’t easy. I survived it because I was made stronger by her passing. I don’t think I would have made it without her.
I love you grandmother, and I miss you still.
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