I’ve not been in my best creative mood lately due to the passing away of a beloved one in the family. I don’t think there is a creative way to mourning. Well, there are creative ways to coming to terms with the reality that strikes one, but I’ve had many encounters with death to know that the dead don’t truly go away. Every death holds my hand and leads me backwards to the beginning, to the earliest of my experience. But, I’m always trying to walk away, to live only in the now. While growing up decades ago, I served as an altar boy at several burials and each brought me close to the dead and the dying ones. I think we are all dead people or dying people, in some form. Each time we lose a loved one or encounter death, a part of us dies. Inevitably, each dying moment of life decays from our grasp and becomes history.
It’s two weeks since Elizabeth, my elder sister, left us physically, and her departure brings back memories, of the various deaths I’ve grown up to know. Her death was just three days away from five years memorial of Gloria, my young niece who lived with me and died out of careless medical doctor’s handling while I was thousands of miles away. Eli’s portrait has hung on my phone since her departure, as a memento of the love we shared, with a radiant smile that mocks death.
I gaze upon her face, intently, but all I could see is her smile, and memories. Memories we shared, growing up. There are so many cherished memories I have of her, but one stands out. Hers was the only childbirth I have ever witnessed. I was a child then, under ten, when she had her first child, attended to by a midwife at home. I was straddled to our mum’s apron string when she went into labour and everyone was so busy trying to attend to her. I saw her hung on the thin thread between life and death in that exerting trice, with her muscles contracting as she pushed to bring forth life; then, the pool of blood flowed. I never forgot and since then, I knew I had witnessed enough child birth. One was truly enough and I wasn’t going to be a midwife.
As I look upon her memories, a tear traces its feeder path from the reservoir of my eyes through the cheeks, branching off into tributaries downwards. Her smile is imprinted upon my heart as I keep vigil upon memories of her. Eli was a teacher with a passion and we had discussed plans of establishing an educational institution together sometime in the future, to assuage her teaching appetite and my knowledge-searching mind while experimenting an educational model. We had disagreement about where we would establish the institution, but it was something close to our hearts. She was my senior, but would readily concede to me on so many fronts, though our ideas often overlapped, after some fine-tuning. Our last discussion was on her son who just got admission into a private university in the country to study Mass Communication, on mentoring options for the young man. We had plans for the year end and even for February, 2013. She was a sister close to my heart.
With Eli, you could never relapse into the past. She was the Now person, with so much excitement about it, and glowing gaze upon tomorrows. Her disposition reminded me what St. Therese wrote over a century ago, “If I did not simply live from one moment to another, it would be impossible for me to be patient, but I look only at the present, I forget the past, and I take good care not to forestall the future.” She was patient, diligent and full of life. Her love for simplicity and humility was exemplary and I loved her more for that. It feels so strange to refer to her in the past tense, as though she were a word, not the beautiful soul I know. Yet, I know, she is.
Since her departure, so many deaths have plagued our world. Many children have been killed in Connecticut, bringing the issue of gun-control in the United States to the fore. Since her death, a naval helicopter has crashed in Nigeria, killing six people. Since her death, a friend has lost his first child to stillbirth after waiting for eight years of married life. Since her death, many children have been born into a world ridden with guns, disease and debilitating human conditions. Since her death, we have found a reason to live the miracle of a new day. Since her death, we have shed tears we could not control and controlled ones we could not fathom. Since her death, we had wished a thousand times that she was alive. Since her death many have carried on as though their lives could not end today. Since her death many people have amassed so much wealth as though they would never die.
Her death is a reminder, like every other should be. We live not for yesterday or for tomorrow. We live for the now, for the only true day we live is the day we die. The day before doesn’t matter, neither does the day after. The day we die is the only definitive day of our life. It is today that we can do the good we can, express the love we can, pour out our soul into the moment as much as we can and connect with our purpose as much as we can. As I am drawn into this dance with death, I cannot extricate this consciousness from my mind. A friend heard about Eli’s departure and complained that I should’ve told her, if she were truly my friend. It was a comic relief for me as I wondered what was so newsworthy about death to broadcast as though it were a sympathy-seeking incident. I’d more readily talk about my daily struggles in preparation for mine than someone else’s.
I remember having to visit many funeral homes while growing up and watching the different mourning patterns, with a somewhat sociological eye. I often thought then that people cry over their loved ones for various reasons. Some cry because they would genuinely miss the person for the bond of relationship they shared; some mourn because of the material warranty they would lose; some cry because they are mindful of the cost of burial they are likely to incur; some mourn because they missed a chance to build a better relationship with the person. I don’t think the reasons have changed much. I try not to mourn for Eli in any obvious way, but my spirit grieves deeply over her departure and I know however reflective I may be over her death today, I’ll mourn her more appropriately in years to come. Our beloved ones don’t leave us alone; they live in us every day and a part of them grows in us. What we owe their memory is to live each day as though we are prepared to meet them. If we truly love them we would be prepared each day and live as though it were our last, not with nihilistic fear, but with conviction that each day is a sub-project that must be completed effectively for another to be built upon.