First of all, I have to put it out there that this is not a woe-is-me story. Neither am I trying to elicit pity from readers. Not at all. This is a story I’ve been meaning to share for quite some time. About how something life-altering happened to my siblings and I, and how we grew and learned from it.
Growing up, I hated the name “orphan” (and I still do). Not for any big reason, but just that it evoked some sort of helplessness and pity for the person. Which is rather funny because I became one when I was 10 years old. Death came knocking, and took not only one, but both of my parents. Let’s just say that the year 1997 will forever be a terrible memory for my siblings and I.
Fortunately for us, my mum’s siblings stepped up to the plate and took charge of us, all 5 of us. This is something I’m eternally grateful for, cos without them, I don’t know how our lives would have turned out. Taking charge of us however, meant splitting us up. And I do not blame them at all. 5 children is too much for one person to take care of.
Nevertheless, it was heartbreaking, to say the least. It felt like another rug had been pulled out from under our feet. Death was again denying us the comfort and familiarity of each other.
Before the death of my parents, we were a close-knit family. With 2 girls, 3 boys and countless of cousins, my house was a home. We weren’t rich, not by any means, but we were super comfortable.
Nobody had to ever worry about where the next meal would come from. And I was my Papa’s favourite ( I know my siblings will disagree). We played and played like there was no tomorrow, and that is why I feel children are not playing as much as they should. In addition to playing, we studied hard as well.
My dad had a harmonica and an accordion which he used quite generously. He also had a camera. So when he’s not playing his musical instruments to our delight, he was taking pictures of us. He also made sure that there were videos of all our birthday parties and graduations from school.
Unfortunately, we lost them all. All the pictures and videos when we (my siblings and I) were relocated. Till today, one of my deepest regret is that I do not have those pictures and videos.
So, you can imagine what the first few years without my parents and siblings were like. It was hard, very hard. I don’t think I ever really adjusted well.
An example of this is how I lied all through secondary school (high school) that my parents were in the village, and that I was staying with my aunt because they (my parents) couldn’t afford to send me to school (this is so terrible!). I was ashamed of the fact that I was an orphan. In fact, after I mentioned in my post on how I failed my Senior WAEC that my parents were late, a couple of my secondary school friends were really shocked. They couldn’t understand why I kept such a secret and told those lies. I know, I’m ashamed as well.
Anyway, we (my siblings and I) got through the loss in our own individual way. But you never really forget. Sometimes, I reminisce and begin to miss them so fiercely even after 20 years.
I remember when my husband and I were on our way to work and he played a song by Oliver De Coque, one of the foremost highlife musicians in Nigeria. It took me back to when my dad would play his songs much to our irritation. And I started smiling and singing along. It was such a poignant moment.
Another memory I forever cherish is my recitation skill. In my post on my first Liebster Award, I shared a random memory of how I got N50 when I recited Africa, My Africa by David Diop at a birthday party, and how my mum danced to where I was seated and collected the money.
What I didn’t share was that I was teased mercilessly by my siblings prior to that day. My name changed to Africa, My Africa. They even turned it to a song with drums and all. Lol! It is such a good memory.
With all the stories (I could go on and on) and memories, it suddenly occurred to me that, maybe, just maybe, the death of my parents was a blessing in disguise. Who knows, I may not be where I am today or achieved what I have achieved today if they were still alive.
So, I’d like to share a few lessons that the death of my parents taught me. Some good, others not so much. But in all things, we give thanks.
This may sound so cliché, but it is the truth. Do not take your loved ones for granted because you never know your last moment with them. I don’t recall ever telling my parents that I loved them, which is understandable because expressions like that are not really common in most African homes.
In hindsight, I wish I did. Whenever I remember them (which is often), I pick up the phone and call my loved ones. Sometimes, when my husband is sleeping (this may sound weird), I smell him. Not really smell, like, I inhale his scent. I don’t know, it’s as if I’m committing his scent to memory. So strange.
Anyway, so please reach out to your loved ones. Call, text, send a card, anything. Where there is discord, try and mend fences. Trust me, it is very important.
After the death of my parents, I had to work twice as hard. Not only in my academics, but generally. I think the knowledge that someone else was taking care of me out of the generosity of their heart made me work harder to prove that they weren’t making a mistake.
I had this fear that one day, they would say that, as a result of my failings, they were not going to take care of me anymore. So I tried to please them. It wasn’t an easy task. And I don’t think I quite succeeded because I was threatened with my worst fear so many times.
This is not to say that people with living parents do not work hard. My point, based on my experience, is that orphans tend to work harder just to prove that they are as good as the people with parents. You can agree or disagree with me (please leave a comment below).
In other words, life goes on. This applies to everyone not just to people who have lost their parents. If you have deadlines to meet, appointments to keep, and all other important stuff to do, they still need to be done. People may sympathise with you, sometimes for a few days (or minutes) but your responsibility remains your responsibility.
I remember a few years ago when we lost our HR, in my office. She died after a prolonged illness. It was a very sad period at that time. We, including the partners, mourned her loss.
However, I don’t think it was a up to week after she passed that a new HR was employed. Of course, some of the employees were shocked that she was quickly replaced, but isn’t that life? Life moves on. So, don’t for a minute think that the world will stop revolving due to the unfortunate events that happened to you.
What I mean by this is, try to provide a better future for your kids, so that when you are not around, they are able to live comfortably. This is why a lot of people work so hard to provide a better life for their kids, better than what they had growing up.
There are so many ways to do that; investments, life insurance, trust funds etc. My parents didn’t have any of that. The little pension my mum received as a secondary school teacher was taken by my late uncle (story for another day). They didn’t even have a will!
I was talking to one of my close friends and I told her that my greatest fear was dying before my kids had settled in life, “Keji, I don’t want anybody to bring up my children for me. I want my husband and I to see them grow and become self-sufficient.”
This is the prayer of every parent. Mine was however coming from experience. The worst thing you can do for your children is to leave them unprotected especially financially. I know nobody can predict the future. However, all we can do is to try to do better than our parents, and give our children a more secure future.