Yesterday I lost my mother. She died unexpectedly but quite peacefully in her sleep.
‘How many parents do you have left?’ Jed asked me.
None, I told him. Not any more. But I have so many aunties and uncles and big cousins and older siblings who sheltered me and showered me with love. I have a father-in-law, a mother-in-law and a mother outlaw, all of whom I love dearly. I even have an almost stepmother (my father’s first wife). We still haven’t met in person but we feel a strong connection.
And my parents didn’t just have Obi and Nkiru and me, and also Nnenna (sister cousin) and also Nwando (baby sister). They had many many people who called them Mum and Dad, all of whom are devastated right now. My mum is the oldest of 22, practically a parent to the youngest ones. I want to offer words of comfort to each and every one of her siblings, but what can I say? What is there to say?
People ask how I am and I tell them I’m ok. I’m not ok. One minute I feel strong, next I feel broken. It’s normal, isn’t it? I just have to surf the emotions as they come. If only I knew how to surf. I would have this grief thing nailed.
When my father died, 11 years ago, it was like I had lost my shelter. Like somebody had torn the roof of the world clean off. Now my mother has gone, it’s like somebody stole the world itself. Like there’s no more ground to walk on, maybe that’s why it feels so surreal. Maybe gravity is the love of all our mothers tethering us to the earth and to each other. Without it, we would be scattered out in space, unable to make sense of anything.
Nothing makes sense. I should be old enough to know better. To have realised that, at 75, my mother wasn’t going to hang around forever. The thing is, you know they’re getting older, but you don’t expect them to actually go. Like what do you mean, you’re moving on? To where, exactly?
And I know how lucky we are. My cousin reminded me that there are kids who lose their mothers at five years old or younger. Very true and my heart breaks for them.
What’s also true is that right now, without my mother, I feel about five years old or younger. Because I really really want my mummy right now and nothing else can make it better.
Nkiru told me yesterday, what’s weird is that with all these people calling and sending messages, we know something big is happening in the family and her first thought is, ‘has anyone told Mum?’ She was our touchstone, the person everybody turned to for advice, the one we need right now to tell us what to do.
So what should we do Mum? I know you’d tell us to take heart and stay strong and comfort each other. You’d say that this is exactly what you’d always prayed for, you never wanted a long, slow, protracted illness, nothing like what Daddy went through. And you got your wish. Yesterday morning you looked like you were sleeping and you had a smile on your face. As another cousin said you were a class act, right until the very end. Truly a class act.
I think of when we were very little, still living at the house we called 17, and you and Dad would throw these parties. And the kids would creep down and peep through the curtain that separated us from the living room, and watch the grown-ups dancing. Just so glamorous.
I imagine you with Daddy now, and maybe you’re dancing together again. Or simply sitting with each other, holding hands. It’s a comforting thought.
Only here, on the other side of the curtain, the loss is unspeakable.