Tag Archives: death

Grief: the unwelcome but necessary Christmas ‘guest’

I have not been looking forward to Christmas. Not because I am bah humbug but because it is and has been painful thus far. This will be the first Christmas without my dad, the third without great uncle and the fifth without Brian, my godfather. No matter which way I look at it, it is going to be miserable.

Over the last two months delayed grief has hit me like a bitch. She has drawn out emotions in me I never knew existed. The extremities of anger and sorrow swinging like a pendulum has been physically, mentally and emotionally exhausting; interrupted by sustained moments of calm ‘acceptance’.

This may come as a surprise to some because I hide my grief ‘well’. And it’s true; most times I am actually ‘fine’ – I smile, I laugh, l live, I love – most times… But when I come home and allow myself proper space to decompress, not filling up my time with work, socialising and other meaningless activities to keep myself preoccupied, grief greets me in unexpected ways.

The only thing I can compare it to are literal waves of emotion engulfing your entire being threatening to take you under; you just don’t know which emotion it is going to be. I have even briefly entertained suicidal thoughts – the sorrow can be that overwhelming-but I would never have the courage to do it; I am far too cowardly.

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This is one of the many phases of grief which has to happen. It cannot be bypassed; you just have to go through it, one painfully agonising step at a time.

The countdown to Christmas has felt like a blur, days merging into each other. I hear the noise, excitement and buzz around Christmas but I just cannot partake in it. Something literally feels dead inside.

Flashbacks from last Christmas come thick and fast, despite my best efforts to suppress it. Facebook unknowingly complicit in torturing me with memories from ‘This time last year’ as if I need reminding. But that’s where I am going wrong; the emotions, the memories should not be suppressed but expressed. The healthy thing to do is to talk them through and be real. I have since parked the pride and opened my mouth with those I want to share the journey with and it feels like a positive step.

My personal faith in God during this season of grief has for the most part, been an anchor;  at other times, a noose. There are instances where I believe in Him with all my heart, His presence an undeniable comfort in the dark and unknown places. Yet there are moments when the anger comes and it gets ugly… Multiple profanities piercing the air, emotions raging, asking why a loving God would take away my three father figures one by one, back to back, just like that?

Unsurprisingly, He doesn’t answer because He doesn’t need to. And even if God did, the answer could never be satisfactory in my eyes. For a long time I thought peace would come if I knew ‘why’ , but it has literally ended up being one of the most frustrating and futile things I could have pursued. Since I have forfeited the right ( the need) to know ‘why’ it has given me unexpected, much needed peace. (I really recommend reading this article by Pastor Jo Naughton, which helped me come to this conclusion).

Grief has made me lack energy, lash out at loved ones, cry like a baby, swear like a trooper, be a crap friend who let’s everyone down at the last minute, a sloppy worker… It has undone me.

Equally it has also brought out some hidden gems like increased compassion and empathy for others and being an excellent worker on occasion (workaholics eat your heart out).

At times, I have felt guilty for grieving not just because of the obvious negative side effects but because it seems so selfish, so self indulgent. Why can’t it be over already? There are so many problems and sorrows in the world and you want to cry about losing a loved one? How many people lose loved ones every day in more tragic and trying situations?

But the thing with grief is that it is not rational, it’s not logical and it is perfectly fine not to be OK and to take all the time you need to adjust to life post death. Grieving doesn’t have a timetable, it just takes it own natural course.

A good friend of mine, actually several good friends who have lost multiple family members, have given me great advice to hold on to during times of overwhelming sorrow and that is to be grateful. Grateful for the lives of loved ones passed, your life, your health, your friends, family- there are endless things worthy of thanksgiving.

Truth be told, this is not always easy to apply, but I am trying and so far, it’s been alright.

 

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Remembering Dad series: Mr Cheesy Feet

My Facebook feed is flooded with references to feet. No I am not a secret member of the ‘I love feet’ fetish society, but I am a Christian and this day is one of Biblical significance – commemorating the Last Supper and the ceremonial washing of the Disciples’ feet by Jesus.

Feet mean a lot to me; they remind me of my dad. And strangely enough I have his exact same feet (except a feminine version- never thought I would be so grateful for that) serving as a comforting and funny ‘memento’.

As children, my sister and I would often wash and massage dad’s stinky feet after a hard day’s work (he worked 2-3 jobs). We did this in the hope that he would ‘show us the money’ as he normally ‘paid’ us. My sister and I were no more than 8 & 12 years old. We would take off dad’s socks and massage his notoriously cheesy feet with any concoction we could get our hands on- cocoa butter, Vicks, Baby lotion you name, we used it. We would happily crack his toes, one of which had been broken years before in a football match and had the scar to show for it. He loved the pampering (who wouldn’t?) and we loved listening to his banter.

Blue cheese: Dad's feet had a similar fragrance! (Just kidding )

Blue cheese: Dad’s feet had a similar fragrance! (Joking! )

More often than not, the session would end with my sister getting paid £1.00 and I, 50p despite doing the same, if not more work. “How come she gets paid more than me even though we have done the same amount of work? That’s child slave labour!” Knowing full well it was because of the age difference, my dad, renowned for his mischievous nature and witty sense of humour would respond “It’s the minimum wage but at least you don’t get taxed!”

Fast forward 20 odd years later and there I am kneeling down by the bedside, massaging my father’s feet but this time he is bed bound. Sickness is ravaging his body and sapping what little strength is left, but the cheeky charm and twinkle in the eye still remains. Each time I visited him in the last 18 months of his life, it always included giving him a foot massage with drops of peppermint oil, accompanied by the sounds of smooth Jazz, Soul or Gospel music to soothe him and provide temporary respite from the suffering.

I will never forget the last time I massaged his feet. Dad was in hospital and was placed opposite a grumpy old man who had mental health problems. The man, in his anger, had upset dad the day before through his ill conceived words. Clearly annoyed because of the level of coughing and constant beeping emanating from dad’s bedside the other patient said ‘why don’t you just die’. This was wrong and not the words of a pleasant human being- especially when directed at a man only days away from death (thankfully the situation was promptly dealt with by the staff and the man’s cater /minder.)

But Dad not one to take things lying down, determined to make the man jealous and annoy him further, asked me to massage his feet whilst my sister massaged his scalp. “I want you to massage my feet so he can see. I want him to see. Bloody Idiot- you see, he will never get this kind of love and attention, miserable man-you see no one visits him.” I didn’t want to partake in this petulant point scoring but dad was not in the mood for my ‘mature and measured’ response- he meant business! My sister and I couldn’t help but laugh at him, seated on his hospital bed like a King on the throne, being attended to by his ‘servants’ all whilst transmitting the dirtiest looks known to mankind in the other man’s direction.

Dad's face: This captures my dad's behaviour that day!

Dad’s facial expression:  This captures my dad’s demeanour perfectly that day.

I miss sitting at dad’s feet and my godfather Brian’s swollen, porcelain feet whom I also had the privilege of massaging in the days before his death. They were oddly enough ‘happier” times.

Yet despite the natural sadness which comes with losing loved ones, I am assured and pleased that they have now entered His rest -literally putting their feet up in Heaven, having run the race well.

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Gentleman- In memory of dad

In the early hours of Tuesday 20th January 2015 we said goodnight to Popcicle aka dad.  It is one of the hardest things I have ever had to do but feel strangely at peace knowing he is no longer in pain and thankful to God for blessing my siblings and I with a man like him for a father.

Even in death he looked beautiful laying there- his stunning eyes closed for the final time, skin flawless, lips slightly pursued open as if his mouth was the final point from which his spirit could depart.

My dad was a very wise man, multi-talented, strong, hardworking, highly creative, passionate, rebellious, funny, kind and frighteningly intelligent- in the words of my aunt he was the ‘crown jewel’ In the family. And as clichéd as it sounds he did have the X factor and knew how to light up a room just by his sheer presence.

My dad loved people, loved life and lived for his family.  He was so funny and bubbly without even trying- even the nurse called him a true showman. In another life he would easily have been a Nollywood actor, creative director and film director (all rolled in one) because he was that  comical and theatrical. In fact some of my fondest memories in the past few months have involved watching Nollywood movies with dad. He couldn’t stop his running commentary whether its to do with the scenery, the plot (or lack of) or the shocking use of music; “this film is pay as you go- they are making up the scripts as they go along” he would say irritated.

My dad: officially one of the coolest people on the planet

My dad: officially one of the coolest people to have graced planet Earth

Dad could turn his hands to anything and had many different jobs in his lifetime-a soldier, a child model (he once won a competition to be the Cocoa Butter kid, winning a year’s supply as part of the prize), a fashion designer, interior designer, painter/decorator, handyman, self- taught electrician and plumber, trainee chef, gardener, carpenter- there was very little he couldn’t do. A little known secret, (though not anymore), is that my dad had on more than one occasion, rescued several people from a house fire just because he could (talk about modern day superhero!!!).

He was generous to a fault- as a child I remember dad buying ice cream for children on our council estate at the same time he would buy ice cream for us, his children. He couldn’t help himself- as long as he had change in his pocket he would always want to bless others no matter how small.  Even in death his generosity knew no bounds; though he wasn’t gifted with a new set of lungs, he decided he wanted to be an organ donor- giving life to others even though he had every right to bitterly hold his organs hostage.

Dad always had a twinkle in his eye and was renowned for being mischievous with a quick mouth and a knack for one liners. Only a few days before he died he was engaging in banter with the nurse.

”Mr Olu are you allergic to anything?” she would ask before giving him his injection.  “No just people” he would say swiftly followed by a school boy smirk. He was a text book extrovert finding the company of people life giving and loved nothing more than to express himself verbally; in his own words, “if I can’t speak I might as well die.”

Dad was a seasoned traveller with perpetual itchy feet and subsequently lived/visited many parts of Europe (Spain, France, Netherlands), the Americas (USA for a few years whilst travelling often to the Caribbean) and Africa (Nigeria and Ghana). He was a true global citizen proud of his Nigerian, Sierra Leonean and Brazilian heritage. He was a cultural chameleon fluent in Yoruba, Creole, English and Patois.  Dad was equally at home speaking in his native tongue (Yoruba) and switching it up at a moment’s notice (to Patois for example) depending on the company which he often did much to my horror!

Anyone who knew dad knew he was a masterful story teller and adventurer-some of the things he experienced in life would blow your mind-mixing with millionaires, members of the royal family, celebrities but then also finding himself in dire circumstances;  he lived nothing short of a FULL life and had the wisdom to go along with it. Dad loved to share his wisdom with anyone who would listen and most of the time it was superb even if you weren’t in the mood to hear it! I now realize in hindsight that this was one of the many gifts God had placed within him.

As we gathered round his bedside that morning, we reminisced on the good times laughing and playing songs that reminded us of him. Each song had its own story, some of which I would love to share with you.

  • Gentleman-Fela: This was Dad’s favourite and has coincidentally become my favourite track. Dad use to tell the story of this song being synonymous of being young, free and single before he started having children. He and his friends would regularly go to the Shrine- Fela’s night club and this would be one of their jams! Cue Black John Travolta- starched 70’s flares, large lapel shirts, gold chain with a small pendant and a huge Afro. They would step to this song as soon as the bass dropped- just the thought of it makes me smile.
  • Bob Marley’s Exodus album- summer evenings, Guinness drinking, incense mingled with other ‘earthy’ fragrances, dad’s friends over, the sitting room temporarily transformed into the ‘boys den’- debating sounded like they were having a fight- good times.
  • Johnny Nash- the whole best of album but especially Cupid beautiful childhood memories – either over Sunday dinner or driving back in the car from grandma’s or some aunty’s house.
  • Any song by Jim Reeves – The soundtrack of Sundays as a child and Christmas throughout my entire life. If Jim Reeves is not playing then it is not Christmas according to dad.

I am going to miss him beyond words but ever grateful to him and my many friends who prayed for us along this painful journey. I think about his legacy to my siblings and I and know that we are blessed and highly favoured to have had him as a father and role model.  And throughout these past few years, as dad battled with Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis-a little known serious lung disease, God had His hand on us right from the very beginning and even in the end He was with us. My dad refused to die defying odds, determined to live & in fact lived much longer than even he expected! The last 4 years have been tough losing 3 father figures but I find solace in knowing that my dad is in good company- resting in the eternal presence of the Almighty Father.

For more information on becoming an organ donor visit: www.organdonation.nhs.uk

To consider donating to the British Lung Foundation visit http://www.blf.org.uk

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