Tag Archives: Memories

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: The Love letter

Today I had a blue day although I tried profusely to be positive and as thankful as possible, it didn’t work; The frustrations of work, pain of loss and the general weariness of life left me feeling utterly overwhelmed and blue. Truth be told my family and I are in the process of planning my dad’s funeral and though I have ‘professionalised’ my way through organising it i.e. treating all the planning as though it’s my day job, it is impossible for me to remain unaffected; the prelude to the final goodbye hurts.

I began to reflect on how much I  missed him even uttering the words ‘I love you and miss you’ on repeat whilst approaching his flat after work. And as if on cue, God sent a message to reassure me – a shop front called ‘Precious Memories’ glared back at me as if to say- ‘treasure those- that’s what matters’.

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It was my turn to visit his home to ensure that it hadn’t been broken into and make it look ‘lived in’- deterring any potential thieves. The flat was in a state of disorder; my mum and sister had begun the painful process of dismantling his worldly goods and bagging them up to be received by their new owners. I have opted not to be part of this and thankfully they haven’t asked me to be. I hate mess even if it is towards a positive end  but more significantly, I just can’t face going through his possessions and the finality of it all.

I began searching through his belongings and was particularly drawn to a beautiful leather briefcase which contained some of dad’s old paper work. What was inside truly was hidden treasure: historically important documents like an old Nigerian passport;ID from when he lived in America and the order of services for my beloved paternal Great Grandmother and Great grandfather were all in one place!

I also spotted a few beautifully weathered leather wallets and passport document holders –classic, quality items, some dating over 20 years. My dad loved quality over quantity and had a strategy for acquiring expensive, timeless goods at a fraction of the price. He would regularly visit the shop until he saw the desired item on sale; and even then he would wait until it was significantly reduced before buying it but not being so thrifty that he missed out on the opportunity all together!

Amongst the ruins I noticed a wallet stuffed with paper and being naturally curious, forensically inspected all its contents including dated receipts. What happened next truly was God at work. I took out an old piece of infantile looking paper covered in polka dots which I recognised from almost 20 years ago.  Inside was a love letter I had written to my dad.  I could have been no more than 12 at the time and 18 odd years later it remained. The message simply put was:

‘Dad I love you and you have a special place in my heart’.

Other treasures found included a little leather diary featuring a potted history of key Nigerian states / kingdoms accompanied with wonderful paintings of important historical figures. I couldn’t help but laugh remembering the times when my dad tried, on more than one occasion, to teach me about Nigerian history as a child; suffice to say it didn’t work as his ‘unique’ impassioned way of teaching (shouting out of frustration and passion) sometimes had the reverse effect even for the most eager student! Here is some of the artwork from the diary below:

The day brought such comfort and was a timely reminder that precious memories are the things which matter most and will be one of the keys to keeping my family and I on this painful journey of loss. But on a lighter note, I also learnt about the importance of investing in quality items- things that will stand the test of time that I can pass down onto my children; New Look just won’t cut it!

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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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