As a kid death came early to me. My maternal great-grandmother died when I was seven. I have very little memory of being with her but stories abound of how mischievous I was as a kid and how I used to hide her rosary and prayer-books and watch gleefully as she searched for them. They also tell me she called me “the little witch.” Anyway, what remains of my memory of her is that she was so pious people felt touching her could make them well.
Next came my maternal grandfather when I was eleven. Then a couple of maternal great-uncles with whom I had interacted on a limited basis.
Death was real for me at fifteen when I lost one of my mates in boarding school. One minute she was there, breathing and talking, and the next she was having an asthma attack. She didn’t return from the hospital. Several of her friends were bused to her home-city, four hours away, to attend her funeral. She has been a budding poet, and a poem she wrote was recited at her funeral. It inspired me and I kept the program booklet from the funeral for several years. Memories are fuzzy now but I know I will always remember Willa and attribute some of my love for poetry to her. Between high school and the end of college, I lost some great-aunts I had been close to, but since I was in the U.S. I didn’t have that first-hand experience.
The day I turned in my first Master’s thesis, my father died. I was 26. Mom had called me on my way to my car to drive the 80 miles back to Columbus where she had planned a small celebration for me. I left my keys in the car and ran to the office of my spiritual director who luckily for me was in the office building behind the parking lot. She was locking her door as I arrived at her fourth floor office panting and needing my inhaler. She opened the door and motioned me in. I cried. She let me. She grabbed a handful of tissues and gently laid them on my lap. I hiccupped as is my tradition after deep sobbing. When it was safe to do so, she hugged me and told me to take some deep breaths. I spilled what I knew of the story. He was dead. I didn’t have a father anymore. No one to walk me down the aisle! That last one seemed to matter the most. More tears. More deep breaths then Sr. Joann encouraged me to make the drive home to be with family. It would be better than being in my apartment all alone. So I drove to mom’s and by the time I arrived I was sober. The party in my honor had turned into a mourning gathering. People held me and whispered words of encouragement. I kept it together for my family. That’s what woman in my family were taught to do. I barely cried when mom told me that he had died on the 13 of June but had been found a while later. I had all but cut ties with my father after trying to reconcile with him two years prior, yet there I was trying not to fall apart.
We made plans to go home for the funeral. As the eldest of my mom’s children I had duties to perform. Dad was kept in the mortuary for two months while the family made plans and waited for his various children to arrive from overseas. The funeral weekend is now a blur save for the fact that I inherited four extra siblings. My father was a player by all accounts. The wives were surprised by each other’s presence but were quite civil all things considered. After five weeks of being immersed in funeral duties I returned to the U.S. to piece my post-grad life together. That return marked the second longest depression I have had in my life. I emerged six months later and tried to move on. I knew I didn’t want anyone else to die. So between 26 and 36, no one close to me died. I steered clear of Ghana, thinking that if I wasn’t there I wouldn’t be affected. Of course, the minute I returned to spending time there, people began dying. I lost my surrogate father in December of 2011 while I was teaching at the high school in Tema. His stomach cancer battle had been short but excruciating for him and us who were helpless in the face of such anguish. I was unable to attend the funeral because I was scheduled to fly back to the U.S. the day after he died. This was just as well. I didn’t think I could handle dead bodies.
Fast forward to 2012-2013. I spent nine months in Ghana and a total of 10 people my family knew died. The memories of some are more stronger than others, but the fact remains that in the span of a year, I’ve experienced more death than in all my 36 years of living. One particular death occupies the depths of my soul and the grieving process is taking a lot longer than the six months it did with dad. One shocks me every time I remember the reality of her absence. Another reminds me to check on my other friend who lost her mother.
Long story short, 2013 left a proverbial bad taste in my mouth. I don’t necessarily fear death, but I really care less for it and its place in my life. What has happened in the year though is the realization that I am still standing and have greeted 2014. After collapsing to the floor on February 19, 2013, I didn’t think I’d be standing here eleven months later. It has made me realize the kind of strength I have despite the moments of great grief that consumes me, and despite the loneliness I sometimes feel. I am alive to greet the New Year, albeit without my passionate lover who was by my side on Busua beach this very day a year ago. But alive nevertheless.
I am alive and I am willing 2014 to bring better news. Less lows and more highs. New loves and no regrets. I am thankful to Yemaya for allowing me to get up when I fell time and time again. What is important this New Year morning is not what has been taken from me in 2013 but rather who I have become as a result. The moments I have stood tall and proud. Produced great work and had intense discussions. The moments I have crumbled and asked for help. What is important today is that despite all my wishes not to be alive I’ve been given another shot to dream again. To love and hurt again and to renew my zeal for producing some genuine, brilliant work.
Today I want to take the best of what I had and combine it with the resilience that remains and allow it to fuel my life. I turn 37 in a month. What will I do with this brand new year I have been “dashed” as we say in Ghana? What will I be saying in a year from now?
I choose to take the moments of deep passionate love right alongside the seemingly bottomless grief and step confidently into 2014 knowing that if I did it then, I can do it again!
Happy New Year Y’all!