My first close encounter with death that took the wind off my sails was that of my younger sister, Torera. She died in 1995 at the age of 18+ from a little known autoimmune disease called Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE).
I remember the feelings that coursed through me when I heard of her death, saw her body and attended her funeral. I remember how I felt guilty for living , laughing , loving , eating. Something funny would happen and I would start to laugh and then remember Torera was Dead and ask myself Tara how can you even laugh or be happy ?
The second was the death of my first child, a baby boy who died after living for three days, a case of medical negligence.
I understand, in part, the agony of a mother who has lost and buried a child and I am forever aware that a part of me lies in the cemetery off Rukuba Road in Jos Plateau State.
The third was my father, I saw him a few hours before he succumbed to death. He had expressed his fears of living past that year but I brushed them away saying he was being melodramatic assuring him he would survive all that ailed him.
Then Mr Aisi. My husband.
Most people who have lost loved ones find it difficult and indeed heart wrenching to see that life continues both for them and others. That feeling that life should stop for everyone because it has blinked ( it never stops even for the bereaved) is real.
I remember looking at people on the streets on my way to the cemetery after the many funeral services and marveling at how some were happy and blissful whilst my life had crashed. That’s life, every second holds death and life simultaneously.
Survivor guilt…..It ails the parent who is old and ready to go who loses a child in the prime of life.
The spouse who feels the husband/wife had more to offer than them; the sibling who knows how much their parents depended on that child; the aged who is tired of living; the friend who admired the talent and gifts the other possessed. The person who was in the same accident that took some and left him alive even if deeply scarred.
It makes us act in different ways that may easily be misunderstood because we have not examined the reasons behind our actions and do not understand why we feel and act the way we do. It could show up in living life recklessly, wishing that death comes quickly because we feel so unworthy of living , shrinking from all forms of happiness and joy, totally abandoning our former life and becoming a shadow of ourselves, paying penance by being subservient in our relationships etc
It’s a bit easier when our loved ones have suffered greatly and everyone (both the afflicted and us) are praying for death to come quickly. It’s more painful when we were not on good terms with the loved one- a fight, nasty words spoken , even a wish or thought that the person would go away and let you be, the lone survivor in a freak accident.
I believe that I have found a good panacea for guilt and IT IS NO REGRETS. It doesn’t stop the grief but it lessens the pain of surviving them a tiny little bit.
We need to learn to love and live like there is no tomorrow. To live in the now in our relationships, to express our feelings, show appreciation, do the things that will make that person we love know that we love them.
Time is a commodity we cannot own no matter our illusions. One of the many things that fulfills me is the fact that I gave all I could to my sister, my son, my father and Mr Aisi. I gave time, money, spent myself in all the ways I could at all the times I could.
For Mr Aisi, in particular, I celebrated him on a whim for one whole week on Facebook not knowing that in a way I was saying goodbye. I absolutely have no regrets and that’s why I can laugh , smile and joke the way I do.
So I don’t grieve for what was or has been but what could have been , the future after paying school fees, the many cruises and holidays we would have taken, his dance steps on the children’s wedding days, the grandchildren we would have loved to bounce on our lap and spoil shamelessly, his being appointed as the minister of education. Dreams!!!!!
I also feel that the way we value and love ourselves too can help us fight this powerful demon called “survivor’s guilt” for it digs its talons deep within us especially if we feel we were nobodies, didn’t have much value and didn’t bring much to the table in our relationships.
When my sister died I felt for my mum’s sake, that was it possible to take her place I would have volunteered as she was my mum’s favorite and at that time, I thought only Mr Aisi would miss me the most. But with the years I have realized my dying in place of her would not have helped matters as much as I thought. You see, we all bring different gifts, joys, happiness to the world and we should in no way undervalue ourselves or put ourselves down and think we should have died in someone else’s stead because we think they were better , more loved, more worthy or useful than us. There are reasons why you are alive and the person is dead and some of them could be because it just wasn’t your time and you still have something to give to our world.
There are loads of things we never can understand this side of heaven. So, instead of feeling guilty for being alive, let’s practice being grateful. Show gratitude for being part of that person’s life, for having their love and friendship, for contributing to their comfort and happiness, for birthing them, for surviving the accident and giving hope to others. Let’s live life with the knowledge that we have done all we can, loved passionately, given of ourselves to the best of our ability and not anyone’s standards.
It is hard to let go of the memories, the life that our loved ones lived, the daily reminders of their absence but the truth is that if they really were our loved ones and loved us as we did, they will want us to let go of our regrets, move ahead, live life, enjoy it to the full, speak their names and tell of their achievements and life.
So to those who are afraid to stop grieving, thinking they are betraying their loved one by being happy.
There is a time to grieve and a time to be happy.