I lost my mother and friend within the span of a year. What makes it worse is that they died almost exactly a year apart. My friend died a day before my mother’s one-year remembrance. I was on my way home from the club so I could go get prepared to travel to Osogbo, where my parents stay, for the ceremony, but life had other plans. Alongside three other friends, I was involved in a ghastly motor accident. Our car tumbled to the other side of the road which caused the four of us to lose consciousness as a result of shock.
When I regained consciousness, I heard people wailing, screaming at the top of their voices. Even though I was still in shock and was bewildered most of the time, I had a slight idea of what was going on. A crowd gathered around while I was laid on the ground beside my friend who happens to be an artist. A voice in my head perpetually said that one of my friends was dead. I fought the voice and managed to convince myself that it wasn’t my friend but someone else who died. Someone random. Collateral damage, I told myself. We were eventually rushed to the hospital, where we were immediately admitted and attended to by a slew of nurses. I continued to ask about my last friend, Doyin, having seen the other two.
Death takes. It never gives. Maybe it does. To be born into the world is to live with the knowledge that you would someday cease to exist. When I lost my half-sister, with whom I do not really share any connection, it didn’t really affect me as it did those who knew her better, like my mother. My mother cried throughout our journey to the village where my sister was buried. She censured herself for my sister’s loss. She couldn’t stop talking about how my sister died as a result of neglect. I wanted to tell her that she shouldn’t burden herself with such thoughts.
After the burial, it was evident that a part of my mother had gone with my sister. She took a break from work for some weeks. A break from life. But she never quite came back from my sister’s death. It plunged my mother into depression. She spent a lot of time brooding, losing herself in a sea of thoughts. Death takes, but it doesn’t only take lives. It takes a part of the deceased’s loved ones. Nobody ever comes back from the loss of a loved one. Nobody ever knows how to go on living life without the pain. I know this because I have experienced the loss of a loved one firsthand and I know now that you never get over it.
My mother and I didn’t have the best relationship. We were like Tom and Jerry. If you’re familiar with the cartoon — I don’t see why you shouldn’t be — then you understand the nature of the relationship between the cat and the mouse. You know they share an unbreakable bond, you know they simply cannot resist interacting with one another. But they were ultimately best friends. Best enemies. My mother wanted the best for me, which made her very passionate whenever she spoke to me. On the other hand, I am stubborn about my interests, which contrasted with what my mother deemed respectable. We had a lot of misunderstandings, and then my parents moved to another state.
It was already tough having to visit my parents in another city. Visiting them in another state was close to impossible. So, my mother and I argued a lot more. She complained about my career choice, about my agnostic traits, my lackadaisical attitude towards family, my introversion. She told me repeatedly that I was wasting my life. She wanted me to get a 9–5 job. I was too obstinate to see that she did all of these because she loved me. Because she cared for me. Even though she didn’t know how best to communicate her fears to me. No mother hates their child, even when she does things that might give such an impression. They simply want their children to be successful. I wish I could go back in time to talk to her one more time, arm myself with patience, and listen more instead of talking back. When my father called at midnight to tell me my mother had given up the ghost, I was numb till I got to Osogbo. I was numb until I watched heaps of sand cover my mother’s corpse. Then I started feeling what my mother felt when my sister died. I felt responsible for her death. That it was because of how I lived my life that led to my mother’s hypertensive issues. That if only I had been a model child, my mother wouldn’t have battled high blood pressure. That she wouldn’t have died in a hospital where all the doctors were clueless and careless with human lives.
When I found out that my friend had truly died, I felt my soul shudder. I had been asking the nurses incessantly about the whereabouts of my last friend. Where’s Doyin? I described him the best way I could, but I remember one of the nurses telling me that maybe he was taken somewhere else. I knew the implication of what she meant. Somewhere else like where? The tears wouldn’t stop coming. My body vibrated all over and I wanted to collapse into nothing. Into smoke. Into limbo. I wanted to hit my head on the wall, rip my clothes, cut myself a million times. But I never found a way to express the gush of emotions that flooded me. The only outlet for me was crying. I cried until my eyes ached. Until my ducts couldn’t produce any more tears.
I had met death many times. And each time it took from me. Something irreplaceable. That night when Doyin’s death was confirmed, I couldn’t sleep. I couldn’t stop peeking around the room, sustained by the conviction that Doyin would appear to me. That he would laugh and the room would throb with his pure energy. When I drifted into sleep, Doyin still didn’t come to me. Instead, I felt his presence all around me. It was like he was there and he was not. And then it became clear to me that I was practically a ticking time bomb. My mother’s death had assembled the bomb. Doyin’s death had set it off. There was an explosion, and the hospital sheets were soaked. And each time a friend or sibling came to me, I tried to put up a mask. I tried to be strong. Then when I was granted solitude, I wept until my eyes fell out of their sockets. I wept because I was behind the wheel when the accident happened. I felt that same guilt when my mother died, only this time the pain was sharper. And that guilt has stuck with me.
Death takes. My mother existed. Then she didn’t exist. That was what I thought but I was wrong. The reason why no one ever gets over a loved one is simply that the person who you witnessed how their lifeless body was lowered into the ground continues to exist in your world on each waking day. You feel them, you smell them. You hear them reprimand you when you do something you know they might not support. You listen to your favorite song and you realize that you both shared that feeling for that song. That they loved to look good, and that was a culture you both had in common. That no one would ever love you in that unique way that they loved you. The little things they used to do become so significant and invaluable: Their facial expressions, their manner of speaking, the way that they called your name whenever they wanted to tell you something sensitive. You find yourself longing for a second of those little things but never have they been so out of reach. You become a two-year-old trying to reach for the top shelf.
Nothing makes you appreciate life like death. It is a paradox. I can count how many times I’ve cried on one hand in all my time on earth and every single time, it was because of death. All of my mother’s worries suddenly vanished when she died. All of her aspirations for herself, for her children. Death takes completely. I started to come to the realization that anybody who is breathing at this moment, this very moment that I’m writing these words. The very moment that you are reading this piece, that’s all you have. That’s all we have. That gift of life. Every other thing is secondary. Every moment is priceless. Every moment cannot be relived, maybe only through art. Doyin wanted to be a digital artist. All of that now is in the past. He would never get to be that or anything else he imagined for himself.
Death takes. But death gives. Death gave me a chance. To be reborn. My mother’s death opened my eyes to a new reality. I learned gratitude. When Doyin died, I fell apart. I was angry, sad, frustrated, despondent. Then after a series of powerful conversations with my father, my friends, I viewed the world through different lenses. Life and death are inseparable. They are two sides of a coin. To be given the gift of life is to be given the promise of death. One simply cannot be without the other. But death gives you something to hold on to. That no matter how tough it gets, everything does come to an end.
These days, I wake up with a thankful mind. I miss my mother. I miss Doyin. I would do anything to see any of them once again. I would do anything to go back in time to spend more time with my sister and get to know her better. But I have also resolved to live in the moment. To truly enjoy the rustle of leaves when the wind brushes them. To read a book and get lost in it, to become one with the protagonist and feel all of his emotions. To listen to music and dive deep into an ocean of melodies, storytelling, soaking in every note. To not fight the sadness because it is simply a reaction to life occurrences. To allow the torch of love shine through you.