Death has struck again.
I lost my grandmother yesterday to the cold slimy hands of death. She was somewhere in her late 70s. I am only just realizing that. She seemed much younger, at least to me. The last time I checked up on her age, she was 50 years old and we were still small kids. She lived with us for a few months, when we moved to Calabar, in the Niger Delta region of Southern Nigeria.Then, she had seemed so old. It was mind blowing to us- little as we were then, that someone was a whooping 50 years old. We would make our eyes big and round like saucers, suck in a huge breath and stretch our little hands all the way out as she would tell us how old she was. It was so dramatic, it never seemed to get stale. She would tell us, at least once a day. It was so fascinating to her, I’m sure she got a kick out of it.
So, in my mind, somehow as I grew up, she was always the 50 year old grandma. It never occurred to me, as I finished elementary school and went on to secondary (middle and high) school and then on to university, that as I was growing up, she was aging too. I would finish medical school, get licensed and start practicing, but I still thought of her as perhaps, only a few years older than 50. When she started complaining about her knees- the pain, stiffness, and difficulty walking, that made her need to use a cane, it seemed so strange to me. I never thought about old age. It didn’t seem like she was aging. It just felt wrong. She was still the same animated and mischievous woman that so fascinated us as kids.
It is difficult to summarize a person’s life in one post, no matter how long. Not that this is intended as a summary of her life or anything like that. But if there’s one thing I’ll remember about my grandmother, it will be her wonderful sense of humour. She had so many funny anecdotes, mannerisms, jokes and aphorisms.
It’s weird to say had, honestly.
She was skilled in the art of praise-singing as well as roasting- she’d praise and cajole you, till your head would swell full with pride, but she could equally deflate that swollen cranium flat with one or two simple phrases. It was literally impossible to watch her go about her life without a smile on your face. When we were kids, mischievous as we were- 3 boys, then our little sister was still a tiny fleshbag that ate and slept all day, we’d always play pranks on her- pinch her awake in the middle of a nap, swipe her things, scare her, impersonate tiny insects on her body and watch her slap the imaginary bugs away. Then she’d gleefully chase us around the house, something we enjoyed to no end. I’m sure it would have taken no effort to just ignore us, but she would indulge us and give us an epic reaction each time. She was basically the highlight of our day, the reason we looked forward to coming back from school.
She didn’t subscribe to living life on anyone else’s terms. She did what she wanted, when she wanted, how she wanted. We were told it was a side effect of growing up as an only child for a really long time. She eventually got a baby brother and then other siblings, well into her adolescence. She had many nicknames for herself and often spoke of herself in the 3rd person.
Not surprisingly, she had an Ogbo– a reincarnate, in one of my younger brothers. Aside from sharing a spitting resemblance, he shares her twangy wit and sense of humour. He’s equally tall and gangly like she was.
… again it’s weird to say was. Well, for the most part, my people believe that reincarnation happens after one is dead, but at least she was lucky enough to see her incarnate and watch him grow and live for 20 years or thereabouts.
It’s difficult to imagine not having anyone to create a funny scene whenever I come back to the village. No wisecracks, no funny one-liners, no enthusiastic adulations. Even as I type this, my face is full of smiles, as I remember them.
When my father called me yesterday to tell me, I immediately thought of my granddad. She literally died in his arms. It’s sad and beautiful at the same time. He tells us that he had seen her and liked her very much, but she was still quite young, so he had to wait a good number of years for her to grow up before he could marry her. She always teased him about how much he was attached to her. And boy, were they attached?
Most times, it seemed they were squabbling- my grandma’s sharp mouth could draw a reaction from a ghost. It was always a funny spectacle for us to watch and we’d goad them on as they’d exchange barbs, but when the dust settled, they were always so close. It’s little wonder that she spent her very last seconds in his arms.
I fear for him, I am sure he will not take her death well. None of us is, but he is the worst hit. I hope we don’t lose him soon. Then I’d have lost two really phenomenal people. I feel lucky to have lived this long in their company. Many of my friends have long lost their grandparents early in their childhoods. Some of them never even met their grandfolks. I have been privileged to see and hear details of their long lives, experiences that have shaped their perspectives and lessons from such a beautifully variegated history. Now one half of that awesomeness is no more.
I realize I am probably just rambling at this point, but the nerves are still raw perhaps. I haven’t even found the words to commiserate with my dad with. I lost a grandmother, but he just lost his mother. For every beautiful memory I have, he probably has a hundred. I can only hope he’s OK.
But life, as it always does, has to go on.
See, the sun even rose this morning!