By Francis Ewherido
My mother, Mrs. Paulina Powder Ewherido, was 84 years last Tuesday. In a country where the average life expectancy for women is 53 years, that is remarkable. And for people, who know the health history of this proverbial cat with nine lives, 84 years is monumental. I always forget her birthdays until it has past, but this year, I deliberately kept it in mind so that I will call and “look for her trouble.” On Sept. 5, I called, but I could barely tease her.
Rather I continued consoling her. Two days before her birthday, death gave her a devastating birthday gift: Her “baby” sister passed on. Predictably, when I called her on September 4, she was inconsolable, she was wailing and that was very hard for me to take. I remembered how she wailed 29 years ago when my father passed on. The comparatively recent death of two of my brothers 19 months apart is still very fresh. Recently, when I travelled home, I prayed for her never to see this kind of pain again before she goes to her grave. But here we are again.
My aunt, Mrs. Catherine Ochuko Oyibo, was ill for some time, but we took it for granted that she will pull through. God blessed Ekrur’ophori (mama’s maternal quarters in Ewhu-Urhobo, Delta State) women with longevity. They live into their 80s, 90s and centenary. At 74, Aunt Ochuko was a baby, mama’s baby. When their father, Ojiyovwire Onotamedo, died in 1946, she was just three years.
Mama’s education got truncated in Standard four by his death, but not Aunt Ochuko’s. Mama supported their mother, Eyovwunu, to ensure Aunt Ochuko went to school. She jointly raised her and she lived with mama at a time while in school, so I perfectly understand mama’s emotions; she was not just her younger sister, she was her baby and it reflected in their closeness.
In Urhoboland and other kolanut-celebrating ethnicities, there is no time you offer kolanuts that the receiver will not pray for long life for you. But as I watch mama live with these pains in the later part of her life, I cannot help but reflect on the plight of old people. Old age is good, none of us wants to die young, but every now and then, life hands aged people the scrappy end of the stick. Many old people get predeceased by their children and younger relatives.
Then a cruel society looks at them with suspicion; every old woman is a witch and those unfortunate to lose their children are suspected of killing them via witchcraft. Nobody, especially younger people, dies naturally in our clime, witches and wizards must be responsible. A relative once blamed the death of her octogenarian mother on witches!
This mental block has become a hindrance to many young people. Every challenge or stumbling block in their lives, which they should ordinarily surmount and become better, is blamed on witchcraft. Many otherwise gifted people have given up on life or ruined their lives with this paradigm; this mental blockade has become a monstrous dream stealer and dream killer
Also, old people are confronted with health challenges. They range from the physical to the mental. They include prostate enlargements, diabetes, arthritis and weak organs: heart, liver, Kidney, lungs and sex. An friend once told me how his 84-year-old father wanted him to get him Viagra to enable him resume “taking care” of his young wife. The old man only relented after my friend warned him that the Viagra will hasten his journey to his creator. While I can tolerate age-induced physical challenges; the mental health challenges are tough meat. They make life totally meaningless.
A video surfaced recently showing a caregiver repeatedly hitting a nonagenarian. He could neither defend himself nor report what happened to anybody. He was as helpless as a newborn baby. Thank God for the surveillance camera; the heartless caregiver would have gotten away with his heinous deed. Even though Jesus used John 21:18 to depict how Peter was going to die, it also illustrates the plight of the aged.
Many old people also did not make financial provisions for old age. Those whose children are unable to adequately cater for them financially suffer grievously. The Nigerian society has no place for the weak, it is survival of the fittest and any weak or disadvantaged person, not protected by family, gets trampled on. In Nigeria, old people are numbers, not specific individuals. This should be a big lesson for us who are still active.
Do not ever think old age is far away; it is around the corner. No matter how young you think you are, start making your preparations from today, no matter how little. Little drops of water will somehow give you at least a financial stream, if not a financial ocean. At all, at all na im bad pass. Money cannot solve many of the problems old age thrusts on people, but do not allow the absence of money to quicken your deterioration and eventual death.
Recently, I travelled home with my three youngest children. I just wanted them to spend time with their grandparents (mama and my parents-in-law). For me it is very important they know their antecedents. Then somebody drew my attention to something I never thought of. He told me that I am making arrangements for my own old age by teaching them how to care for aged parents. That was profound, because these acts, which are currently seemingly meaningless to the children, shape their thought process and actions in the future.