Sunday, 4 July 2021

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s ‘Notes on Grief’ Processes the Death of a Loved One

 

Photo credit: The Reading List

“We don’t know how we will grieve until we grieve.”

 

People exhibit great grief at the death of their loved ones. Grief plunges one into darkness, clogging the thoughts with sadness, worry, and uncertainties. It is a reminder of the shortness of this world and the limited time we have to spend with our loved ones.

 

Life is characterised by happiness, sadness, worry, laughter, tears, and a host of others. And what makes it somewhat bearable are the moments we spend with our loved ones. We get to express our feeling without being judged or ridiculed and are aware that we are not alone…that there are people always willing to stand by us. So, life comes crashing when the unthinkable happens- when we lose our loved ones.

 

We feel like the world is crashing right in front of us. We find our breathing ragged. We struggle to gasp for air. We cry until our eyes get swollen and red.

 

Life is filled with enough sorrows, and the worst that could happen to someone is losing a loved one.


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In Chimamanda Adichie’s latest release, Notes on Grief, she processes the unexpected death of her beloved father, James Nwoye Adichie. In her slim memoir, Adichie gives account of the wonderful life her father, the first professor of Statistics in Nigeria, lived.

 

Any reader would relate to the sadness that engulfed her heart. She explains how she felt after receiving the dreadful news…how heart-wrenching the news was, and how it came at a moment she least expected.

 

Notes on Grief will leave you in tears and make you reflect on the brevity of human life. It is a reminder to spend memorable moments with the ones we love and ensure that every single moment counts.

 

Some notable quotes from Chimamanda’s Notes on Grief include:

“Grief is a cruel kind of education. You learn how ungentle mourning can be, how full of anger. You learn how glib condolences can feel. You learn how much grief is about language, the failure of language and the grasping for language.”

 

 “For weeks, my stomach is in turmoil, tense and tight with foreboding, the ever present certainty that somebody else will die, that more will be lost.”

 

 “How do people walk around functioning in the world after losing a beloved father?”

 

“…10 June 2020 was the worst day of my life. There is such things as the worst day of a life, and please, dear universe, I do not want anything ever to top it.”

 

 “What does not feel like the deliberate prodding of wounds is a simple ‘I’m sorry’, because in its banality it presumes nothing.”

 

 “There was something in his nature that was capacious, a spirit that could stretch; he absorbed bad news; he negotiated, compromised, made decisions, laid down rules, geld relatives together.”

 

“My siblings and I were raised with a strong sense of who we were as Igbo, and if it was pride, then it was a pride so organic, so inevitable, that it felt no need to call itself pride.”

 

“A friend sends me a line from my novel: ‘Grief was the celebration of love, those who could feel real grief were lucky to have loved.’ How odd to find it so exquisitely painful to read my own words.”

 

“Does love bring, even if unconsciously, the delusional arrogance of expecting never to be touched by grief?”

 

“Happiness becomes a weakness because it leaves you defenceless in the face of grief.”

 

“Death could just come hurtling at you on any day and at any time…”

 

“Why does the image of two red butterflies on a T-shirt make me cry?”

 

“We don’t know how we will grieve until we grieve.”

 

 “It does not matter whether I want to be changed, because I am changed.”

 

“I am writing about my father in the past tense, and I cannot believe I am writing about my father in the past tense.”


 ALSO READ: Review of 'Love from A to Z'


The thing about grief is that we never can tell how it would feel until we experience it. It is agonising and gut-wrenching, and depressing. We are still alive, but it seems like our world has come to an end. We think of how to survive without seeing that bright eyes and charming smile again. We are scared that we would slowly forget the face of the person we’ve loved deeply.

 

Our hands twitch when we start to use ‘was’ instead of ‘is.’

 

We try to wrap our heads around the fact that this person is gone forever. It is not a two-week journey with the expectation of seeing the person again…or a five-year visit to another continent with the promise of returning. This person has left us in this world, and the pain is excruciating.

 

Notes on Grief’ also highlights the achievements of Chimamanda Adichie’s father and how much of a great father he was to his children and a remarkable man to his community.

 

The age of the demise doesn’t translate to the level of hurt. Forty, seventy, ninety years. It doesn’t matter. Once a loved one dies, our world crashes.

 

If you haven’t read Notes on Grief, I’d advise that you get a copy. However, be warned that it is an emotional read.

Life and Everything in Between (Episode Twelve)

 



The living room wafted of fried beef and onion. Greetings and talks rented the air as we welcomed our long-awaited guests- Khalid’s parents.

 

Khalid’s parents sat on the green sofa while Khalid, dressed in a red t-shirt and black pair of chinos, occupied the wooden chair opposite Rasheedah. They exchanged glances and communicated with signs while both parents discussed.  

 

Khalid’s father was dressed in a white-laced kaftan and red cap. He was a tall and rotund man with dark skin. Khalid’s mother wore a sparkling blue-coloured iro and buba and gold scarf. She had fair skin, the colour of papaya. Her lips were thin, and it looked almost inexistent, save for when she smiled. Khalid’s skin colour was a blend of the two; chocolate. With the way they were dressed, it looked like they were returning from a ceremony…but they weren’t.

 

The trays placed in front of them contained samosas, mint sweets, and fried beef. As I dropped two bottles of water on the table and was returning to the kitchen, I overheard them talking about how they enjoyed their short trip to England.

 

I returned to the living room and added an extra tray of fried beef on the table in front of them as I cleaned my sweaty palm with the tip of my veil.

 

They muttered thank you, and I smiled in return. I was heading to the room when Dad called my name. “Rafiah, you should be here. You’re the eldest child and should partake in decision making,” he stated, and I grinned and took a seat beside the TV.

 

I glanced at Rasheedah and noticed that she and Khalid were communicating through texts. I couldn’t help but stare at them with a look of jealousy. I might not admire the setbacks of their relationships, but they were definitely in love with each other.

 

I imagined Munir taking the place of Khalid, but I winced instead. I hadn’t been able to imagine myself and Munir as a couple.

 

Khalid’s father’s croaky face drifted me back to reality. He was talking about the main suspect being a strong opponent who was contending with him for the senatorial position. Therefore, he believed the person must have a hand in the threat.

 

“He is trying to scare me from contesting by threatening people close to me, like the wife-to-be of my only son,” he said, and Khalid’s mother nodded in agreement.

 

“We have reported the case to the police and, believe me, necessary actions have been taken,” Khalid’s mother added.

 

“I have also reported the matter to the Executive Governor. He is solidly behind us. He has assigned security agents to monitor the actions of Honourable Olowolayemo. I promise you that we have his full support,” Khalid’s father chipped. “I’m sorry for causing you great panic. I cannot imagine how you all must have felt. We deeply apologise for the inconvenience and are assuring you that everything has been settled. You will never receive any letter of threat again.”

 

Eh, we brought some presents from England,” Khalid’s mother grinned as she handed a large package to Mom. “Please, help us manage it.”

“Ah, manage ke? This is too much,” Mom said as she collected the package with a grin.

 

Khalid’s mother adjusted her buba and stared at us with bright eyes. “When are we resuming the wedding plans?”

 

“Immediately!” Mom said with excitement. “I’ve missed planning my daughter’s wedding. It keeps me busy and delighted,” she was saying as she turned towards Rasheedah. “Bring my phone so that I can call the caterer. I hope someone else hasn’t been hired her for the next two weeks. By the way, the price of tomatoes has increased oo….” She whined.

 

The wedding plans resumed that very second. Mom had told Khalid’s mother about the attitude of the wedding florist and how skilled the caterer was.

 

I glanced at Dad and noticed that he was not excited about the news. Instead, a look of worry was evident on his face and I knew that he wasn’t convinced everything was fine.

***

Two weeks had passed, and our lives had returned to normal. There were no more letters of threat, and we had almost forgotten that there a night where we all sat in the living room with quivering lips and wobbly legs.

 

Things had returned to the way they used to be, and I hoped it continued that way. Rasheedah would be getting married in a week, and work had been fun. Munir still spent lunch with Asmau and me. Moments spent with Munir were always fun. We would talk about politics and entertainment as we devour plates of jollof rice.

 

I was at the office, staring at the screen and pretending to understand the text that appeared. I squinted my eyes and yawned loudly. I couldn’t keep my eyes steady. I opened my bag and brought out a pack of bubble gum to save myself from falling asleep.

 

Mrs. Bola appeared that very minute, her high-heeled shoes making clacking sounds as she sashayed into the office. “We have a meeting at the board room, now!” she said with a wide smile.

 

Mrs. Bola was dressed in a black pencil shirt and grey shirt. She wore black stiletto heels, and as she graced the office, her strawberry-flavoured perfume wafted through the air.

 

“It will be a brief meeting. Five minutes tops,” Mrs. Bola stated as she walked out of the room.

 

I grabbed my jotter and pen and headed to the board room with Asmau beside me. When we got to the board room, almost everyone was seated. A seat to the far left of the room was unoccupied, and another in between Joe and Chuks. So Asmau and I split and I took the one at the far right.

 

As I took my seat, I looked up and noticed Munir smiling at me. He winked, and I smiled shyly, opening my jotter and placing a biro in between. I will be lying if I say there weren’t butterflies in my stomach.

 

I read the last content I scribbled on my jotter and wondered what the meeting was for. Then, I felt a nudge and whipped my head up. It was Esther handing a note over to me. I knew it would be from Asmau. I opened it to read its content.

 

Who knows what warrants this meeting on a hot Wednesday afternoon. But, it had better be worth it. Before Mrs. Bola made the announcement, I was planning to go to the kitchen and have a brief nap.

 

I chuckled, and I tore a part of my jotter and wrote a note.

 

Like thirty minutes could have passed on a regular time…but meetings? We’d still be at five minutes.

 

I folded the note and gave it to Esther, who rolled her eyes and passed it over. Asmau grinned at me after reading and gave a thumb up.

 

Mrs. Bola finally appeared, and I adjusted myself on the seat.

 

“I’m sorry about the impromptu meeting,” Mrs. Bola waved a hand. “I promise to keep it short so that everyone will resume their duties. So, our very own couple, Tolu and Najeebah, are getting married this Sunday!” she squealed in excitement, and colleagues banged their hands on the table to celebrate with them.

 

Sadness engulfed my face as I surreptitiously glanced at Najeebah, whose eyes flickered with happiness. Suddenly, my mouth turned bitter, and I wished I had faked eating an infected meal and spending hours in the toilet. I wished that I hadn’t accepted Tolu’s proposal. I could have been neutral like Asmau, Munir, Esther, Chuks…and everyone whose hands did not shiver when they see their ex every morning.

 

Mrs. Bola talked about everyone contributing two thousand naira each to buy a lovely gift and celebrating our colleagues’ big day by making sure that we grace the event. The board room burst into merriment, and I tried hard to fight the hot tears that were struggling to flow through my cheeks.

 

“How will you spend your honeymoon?” Joe said, and people cackled in response.

 

“Janet, I keep telling you to say yes to me so that we’ll make another beautiful couple,” Adekunle chides Janet and people laughed.

 

I forced a smile and watched as people wished them a successful wedding. Finally, Mrs. Bola dismissed the meeting, and we all returned to our desks.

 

As I prepared to resume my boring task, Mrs. Bola’s PA walked towards my desk. “Mrs. Bola sends for you,” she said.

 

Asmau smiled at me and drew a love sign as I walked out of the office.

 

About two minutes later, I was in Mrs. Bola’s richly-furnished office, and she had gestured that I take a seat. Mrs. Bola’s office is the definition of ‘exquisiteness.’ The walls were painted orange and white and contained pictures of Mrs. Bola, her husband, and her five-year-old daughter.

 

I’d seen her daughter once during the last end-of-year party, bawling her eyes out and requesting more chocolates. As I watched Mrs. Bola type furiously on her keyboard, I wondered how she managed to run Fulaan and spend time with her family.

 

“I’m so sorry, Rafiah. I just need to send this mail,” she said as I watched her rounded spectacles reflect the light emitting from her computer.

 

Finally, she raised her head and smiled at me. “How are you doing?”

 

I was taken aback by her question. I stared at her with confused eyes. “Err…I’m fine.”

 

“Are you sure, Rafiah?”

 

Mrs. Bola had a unique way of pronouncing my name, with the ‘r’ sounding a bit weird. Asmau and I would giggle about it… but right now, I was confused. Would I be losing my job?

 

“I’m fine. Is there a problem, ma?”

 

“Well,” she started and took off her glasses. “I understand it must be mortifying to see that your ex is getting married.”

 

“Oh,” I said.

 

“I totally understand, Rafiah. You do not have to pretend. What’s worse is that Tolu ended it on his own accord. You would have wanted you two to be together. Look, I’ve been there before. Before getting married to my husband, I had once been in a relationship with a colleague at my previous place of employment. He was a top official in the company, so it made everything complicated. People started spreading rumours that I was sleeping my way to the top. I would work hard to get promoted, but people would attach my success to my love life. When the relationship finally ended, my fellow colleagues openly mocked me. I would cry profusely before resuming work every morning. I tried my possible best to concentrate at work. It was tough, but I scaled through all of it. Starting a romantic relationship with a fellow colleague is a risk; sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn’t,” Mrs. Bola held my hands and looked me deep in the eyes. “I wish you the very best, Rafiah.”

 

“Thank you very much, Mrs. Bola,” I said with wet eyes.

 

“You’re welcome,” she smiled at me as I walked out of her office.

 

As I was returning to the office, I continued to gasp in surprise; knowing full well that I’d just discovered Mrs. Bola’s soft side.

 

So, with the strict rules and scowling looks, Mrs. Bola could be nice! But I changed my mind as I got to the entrance of the office. I took out my phone and sent ‘Let’s meet in the kitchen!’ to Asmau.

 

I pretended to take water from the dispenser as I waited for Asmau. She arrived seconds later and hurried to where I was standing. “What’s up?”

 

I told her all that transpired in Mrs. Bola’s office, and she widened her eyes in surprise and shock. Asmau remarked that she had no idea Mrs. Bola could be kind and considerate.

 

We took a seat, and I log into Instagram and checked Tolu’s profile. How could I had missed out on the post he made this morning…about being eager to tie the knots with the love of his life?

 

“Rafiah,” Asmau took my phone. “It’s time to let go of this obsession with Tolu and Najeebah’s relationship. It’s time to move on,” she said in whispers.

 

“Okay,” I replied.

 

“Will you attend the wedding?” she asked.

 

“I don’t know yet,” I shrugged.

 

“I won’t be attending. I have a doctor’s appointment on Sunday. So it’s okay if you decide not to…” she was saying when my phone chimed.

 

I grabbed my phone from her to read the message.

 

Will you be attending the wedding?

-          Munir.

 

I don’t know yet. Will you?

-          Rafiah

 

If you decide to attend, let me know. I’d like to be your date. I think it would be great if someone keeps you company. You don’t mind that I accompany you to the wedding, do you?

-          Munir

 

I smiled and replied:

No, I don’t mind at all.


Don't miss out on the previous episodes:


Episode One


Episode Two


Episodes Three & Four


Episode Five


Episodes Six & Seven


Episode Eight


Episode Nine


Episode Ten


Friday, 2 July 2021

Really, how are you?

 


Last year, a friend, who was far away from home, had asked about my welfare.

It was during one of our intermittent chats on WhatsApp, where we tried to catch up on the latest events in each other’s lives.

“I’m fine!” I had replied, adding an exclamation mark to emphasize how happy I was.

I was indeed happy…and content. I had a paying job, a fast-growing blog, a great and caring family, a perfect state of health…I mean, what else could a content person ask for?

“How are you?” I had asked the same question.

“WellI’m in between. Not happy. Not sad,” the message had popped up on my phone.

I recall chuckling after reading the message. What had I expected from a friend whom I’d tagged as being ‘weird’?

“That’s impossible. You have to be happy or sad,” I had argued.

“I’ve told you exactly how I feel. Not happy and not sad,” he wrote with affirmation.

Well, a couple of other topics sprung up and we ended the conversation about an hour later. Several conversations would come up weeks later and my friend would state the same thing.

Not happy. Not sad. Just there…in between.

Fast forward to 2020 when several unexpected events occurred. Plans were disrupted and dreams were dashed. Just like everyone, I had no flick of an idea 2020 would turn out this way.

Then, I remembered my friend’s statement and realized that 2020 sums up that weird feeling. Not happy. Not sad. You are just…uncertain. You don’t know the next event that would strike and the extent it would go. I think it’s a combination of several feelings- not happy, not sad, sad, happy, uncertain.

Sometimes, you’re happy. You’re over-excited your stomach flips and your heart beats faster than normal. You are so excited you smile broadly until your cheeks hurt. Other times, you feel so desolate your forehead creases into three folds. You sit alone and wonder how to solve the mysteries in your life. Tears trickle down your face and you wish these hot tears could wipe away the feeling of anguish that clogs your throat.

Other times, you’re not happy. You’re not sad. You’re just uncertain. You don’t know the next hurdle you’re going to face. You can’t say if you’d be able to make lemonade with the next lemon life throws at you.

***

Let’s assume we meet at a wedding ceremony. Music fills the air and the atmosphere whiffs of a combination of jollof rice and fried beef. I glance at you and notice your scrunched-up face. You’re just as anxious as I am. You’re feeling claustrophobic and you can’t wait to grab your bag and jostle your way through the teeming hallway.

Our eyes meet and share a similar concern. You stand up and saunter towards where I am sitting. You grin at me and I smile in return.

“How are you?” I ask as you stare tiredly at the couple with nervous and tired faces.

“I’m fine,” you respond and gulp down your cold cup of fruity wine.

“Really, how are you?” I ask this time and you lower your eyes in thought.

You take a minute to process all you’ve been feeling…maybe to give a second thought as to why to share your story with a total stranger. Then, you clear your throat and start to talk.

You’ll talk about how you lost your job…how some of your friends had lost their loved ones…how you had shed tears when chaos broke out in your state of residence.

You’ll express your feelings as your eyes brim with tears. I’ll pat your hand and fill your ears with comforting words. I’ll tell you that it is normal to feel any of these. But you shouldn’t let them overcome you. I’ll ask you to write down all you’ve achieved this year and marvel at what you’ve been able to achieve, despite everything.

I’ll tell you to make every moment last. To laugh hard, cry loudly, drink a bowl of ice cream…I’ll tell you to do the things that make you happy. Because that’s what matters.

***


I’ll end this by asking you a question. I know the popular question ‘How are you?’ has an automated answer ‘I’m fine.’

But I’ll still ask: Really, how are you?

Ramadan During the Lockdown

 


When I was informed that we might be fasting despite the lockdown, several thoughts flashed through my mind.

How can we gain access to foodstuff? How will we perform Taraweeh at the masjid? What of Ramadan lectures? Are you saying they’ll be none? You mean I can’t attend religious programmes due to the coronavirus pandemic?

Weeks ran into days and finally, the day arrived and Ramadan commenced. Fasting this year is turning greater than I had imagined.

Here are my thoughts about Ramadan during the lockdown:

- We do not need fancy foods and trays of fruits to enjoy iftar. This Ramadan has taught me to be conscious of food consumption and spending.

- The happiness that seeps inside of you when you have iftar with your family is indescribable.

- I’ve learnt that the things we value so much in this world are not worth it.

- We spend more time fulfilling worldly goals than working towards attaining success in the hereafter. When last did we sit and reflect over the meanings in the Qur’an? When last did we learn from the stories of the Prophet (SAW)’s companions?

- This year’s Ramadan has taught me how to be very organized. Waking up early for tahajjud and sahur can be achieved with proper planning. Completing a Qur’an and creating time to read religious books can also be achieved.

What have you learnt from this year’s Ramadan?

NB- This post was originally written in May (last Ramadan).

Reflecting on Positive Experiences

 


Zuwayrah recently experienced a remarkable incident. The news made her so excited that she sprang up from the chair and squealed in delight. Taking hold of her scarf, she tied it around her head and bowed down in appreciation. Tears of joy filled her eyes as she read the mail over and over again.

Zuwayrah had experienced similar events over the past few weeks. News that would make her motivated to keep working towards attaining fulfillment.

Well…

That’s a side of the story. You should also know that there were periods she cried…not tears of joy…but tears of disappointment and sadness. However, this period taught her that the quotes we read virtually every day are what should reflect in our lives. To focus on the positives. To dwell on the blessings in our lives. To find ways to always remain happy because we, alone, determine our happiness. To love ourselves and choose ourselves before striving to please others.


The pandemic struck when we least expected. It made us have no control over anything…and what can we do other than anticipate when it will all end?

I know this period will be challenging for a lot of us. Some of us might have lost a loved one to coronavirus, lost jobs, lost opportunities…lost the freedom to go out, and revive our spirits…and so on.

This period might be tough but what matters is focusing on the present. Write down what you’ve achieved since the beginning of the pandemic. You’ll be surprised that you may never find such an opportunity to complete several pending tasks. Even if you haven’t achieved much, remember that you’re alive and breathing. That’s what matters.