By Denrele Animasaun
We all die. The goal isn’t to live forever, the goal is to create something that will – Chuck Palahniuk. In the last year, my family have suffered a great loss of very close family members.
We are not the first to suffer such loss and we definitely would be the last.
Death happens. Just as birth it is ironic, isn’t, without stating the obvious, it is part of life and living. Death is a part that no one wants to address; it seems to carry a dread and some finality and simply as most of us feel that by discussing the subject matter, it is believed that one is tempting fate.
This is no jinx, it is a sure thing, we live, we die. It is not morbid to talk about death. We have to embrace it as we embrace life.
Agreed, it deserves some reverence, just as the emergence of new life. We should be thankful and reflective either way. In islam, we know that from Allah, we come and to him, we shall return. We hope and pray that in life we earn our place in the hereafter. Our deeds while alive count towards this.
My dear father, for as long as I can remember, always reminded us of the futility of the mortal coil, its transiency and the permanence of the hereafter.
So he drummed in us the importance to do good, be productive and live for the grace of Allah.
For those who have suffered similar losses, my heartfelt condolences.
The loss of a loved one cuts deeply, it sears one’s spirit to the core, it rips out the place of affection for the living and replaces it with the vacuum and yearning for the departed.
It numbs your senses and yet, reawakens the reality that: we too are but bone and flesh and it is futile to think of us as more than mere mortals.
Bereavement makes you feel lonely even in the midst of a crowd, the loss is the love of the person , who once was alive and is no more.
My profuse apology but I am not writing for pleasure, this is from a place of sheer pain.
I am numb, very numb and trying to make sense of this mortal coil, our reason for being, our existence.
Every time, I feel that, I am beginning to think I have found the reason for life and living, my new found wisdom shifts the goalposts and I realise that I have just peeled off another layer of simply more puzzles and conundrum. I do no not know, I thought I did.
I should know but I do not. I spend my working life caring for people and their emotions and I know how to comfort people who suffer loss. Really, I think I do. But when the loss is personal, you are as clueless as the next person: vulnerable and at a loss.
The fact is, without such loss, we live in a bubble of bliss and sometimes, ignorance and at times, arrogance.
I really do not know. I do not know really why we live in such blissful arrogance but what I know for sure, we are born to live, make a life, be a part of a continuum and we die and be a part of the collective of departed ancestors.
It is what it is and what it has been, what it always was for time in memorial.
It is a rude awakening and a huge responsibility to live and live well, so when one’s turn is up, it is the responsibility of others to continue to live and contribute their lives to humanity like those before us have. Grieving makes one a philosopher . You start to think deeply as you go through the stages of grief, trying to make some sense of it all; there will be good days, not so bad day and really terrible days. Just go with the flow.
What I know for sure, that I have been taught by the incredible people who we have lost recently that, they believe in the Allah, they made their mark and left a legacy; they contributed to the great collective. For those that are gone, they have simply passed on for this world to the next. They are unaware that we grief for them and if they know, they are unable to wipe away our tears.
I lost three uncles within a month. My father’s older brother, uncle Rafiu Animasaun, my father’s junior brother, Uncle Alani Animasaun and my mother’s first cousin who is her younger brother, Uncle Biola Ajimobi.
My father’s older brother had been unwell and frail but , I know that he felt even more lonely after my father passed last year. He would call and make sure my mother was all right, my mother would call to make sure, he was all right. We knew he was frail but no one dared say what they felt or dreaded. Nonetheless, his passing was felt by the family. My uncle, it seemed, was ready and all he asked was to be buried close to his little brother.
My uncle Rafiu, was a slim, tall and willowy man, very stylish man and softly spoken. On return from the UK, he gave us his record collection, this was the time of LPs, and I fell in love with the tunes of the Bee gees and pop music. Music has been my portal to my emotions and I will go there from time to time.
We gathered round my mother and my father’s remaining sibling to offer comfort and fortify them with prayers.
When my father’s younger brother was hospitalised in Sweden, we prayed and prayed for his recovery. We held on to hope that he would pull through but he too, passed. Telling my mother was becoming a feat of deceit and subterfuge.
My mother was quiet and withdrawn, again we, gathered and prayed for his soul and comfort his family.
My uncle Alani was a charismatic soul, he could charm the sock off the ladies. He was a gentle soul and was so adventurous and got up to all sorts. Having a family helped my uncle to settle down, he also got me into music too; rock and the love for Elton John.
My mother’s cousin, my uncle Biola is going to be somehow very difficult for my mother. We do not how how to tell her. How much can one person take? But what else can we do?
Both uncle Biola and uncle Alani lived with us in Lagos as young men in their early twenties ( they are the same age) my uncle Biola was truly special. The bond between my mother and him, was so tight. He referred to my mum as his heart. My mother was an only child and she saw in him as a little brother of her own.
I last saw my uncle at his London home. He told me he had come to rest, he said that the push and pull was relentless that he never had the time to really rest. And while I was with him his mobile never stopped ringing.
I have always loved him, he was my uncle and I never saw him as old even when he reminded me that he was going to be 70.
I held on to his hand after he warmly welcomed me though we had not seen face to face for 18 years.
His hands were just like my mother’s mother: his aunt. They were slim, and long. I held on long to his hands if he was uncomfortable he did not let on. He was taking calls on his mobile with his other hand. I reminded him how he got me into Stevie wonder especially the album, Song to the keys of Life. He cackled at my sentimentality, I told him mum held on to the baby clothes he bought for new born and how she kept them until she had a baby, years letter.
He was a generous host, he offered me drinks and drinks. All I wanted to do was gaze at him.
He said he was saddened by my father’s death but that he was impressed by my father’s wishes to be buried in a simple grave ,with no fanfare. He spoke how he chose the executor of his will, yes, my uncle was so matter of fact! He did not see it as morbid, even after his wife chided him for breaching the subject, he told me. That’s my uncle for you.
He spoke about how he realised that Nigerians do not provide sustained legacy past one generation. He felt that most are always in wealth creation for a short run and they do not think of the future.
When I was leaving , we promised to see more often. We said this was our reset button. As I tried to make a quiet game away, my uncle called me back to give me ‘cab fare’ (trust me this was no cab fare).
He waved me and my daughter good bye and I felt that we had truly pressed the reset button. My uncle indeed has left a gaping hole in our hearts. Ibadan has truly lost a son, Oyo state, lost a thoroughly enigmatic statesman and the country, a true patriotic Nigerian. He has left a lasting legacy and I am so proud of him.
My thoughts are with my uncles, respective loved ones. I pray that Allah gives them the fortitude to bear the loss.
Inar Lilarhi, wa-inar ilaiheem raji-una.
May Allah SWT forgive them and grant them Al Jannah Firdaus.
From 1939, my father’s book.
‘I needed not bother: the post was not only efficient but safe. My letter of appointment came. But before then I had come across a Muslim newspaper – The Truth. It was published by the Ahmadiyya Movement, at 45, Idumagbo Avenue on the Island. In my last year at school I had written one or two reviews for the Daily Express and oh boy, was I excited!
I saw my name in print – Kola Animasaun. I saw a future for myself. So, I went to the offices of The Truth and asked to see the editor. Unceremoniously, I came face to face with Maulvi Naseem Saivi, a Pakistani. A few questions, he thought he could make a reporter of me. He did not disguise his reason for wanting me: that became obvious when he changed my first by-line from my usual signature – Kola Musulumi Animasaun – to Muslim Animasaun. He wanted the Nigerian community to know Muslims also could write.”