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April 20, 2024

We have to keep celebrating life …. even amidst death, by Muyiwa Adetiba

We have to keep celebrating life …. even amidst death, by Muyiwa Adetiba

Muyiwa Adetiba

“Some of us live and some of us die

Someday God is going to tell us why

Open your heart and grow with what life sends

We’ll meet again at the festival of friends” – Bruce Cockburn

Some twenty years ago, one of my favourite persons embarked on a journey out of the country with the understanding that I would meet up with him a couple of months later. His destination was the US and his aim was to be with a friend who was receiving treatment for cancer. Like many people traveling to the US, he decided to break the journey with a stopover in UK for a couple of days.

He didn’t make theUS leg of his journey. Meanwhile, his friend who was at the brink of death twenty odd years ago, is still alive today as a cancer survivor. It is one of the absurdities of life that a bed-ridden person outlives their sprightly spouse in a case of a care giver dying before the care receiver – I have seen many. Just as it is very difficult to explain why a 90year-old is doing the marathon when a 9year old is in bed ravaged by cancer: or why a 70year old is given the opportunity to start a new life when a 7year old is making a last wish on a death bed.

Last week, a close friend saw us at a function and came over to commiserate with my wife on the death of her niece. This friend and classmate had himself lost two of his children including an only daughter who was the apple of his eyes. We asked after his wife and were told that she had just lost her sister in a freak accident involving a careless ‘KekeMarwa’ driver while on her way to the airport.

One is left to wonder how much pain a person can bear before they go numb: or how many deaths a person can bury before life loses its meaning completely. It is of little comfort that nobody living has the answer to premature deaths beyond conjectures as the answer to who lives and who diesis forever blowing in the wind to adapt the famous Bob Dylan song.The Yoruba answer to this bewildering question is that we live and die according to what we have chosen before the commencement of life. This answer seems too simplistic to the bereaved or indeed anybody seeking answers to the issue of life and death.

I have had, especially of recent, to take solace in the lines of a beautiful song written by Bruce Cockburn. The third and fourth stanzas are particularly soothing and I have used them to steady myself whenever unexplainable deaths occur in order not to lose my sanity and my faith. I have quoted the third stanza to start this article in the hope that the lines will also serve to steady and preserve the faith and sanity of many others who are coping with untimely deaths. Accepting the reality and finality of death is perhaps the most difficult part of the loss of a loved one. It also provides the most cathartic release. The first two lines in the quote should help in this regard while the last two lines urge us not only to accept whatever life sends but to grow with it believing that we will meet our loved ones again in another realm. Life probably becomes easier to bear when we come to terms with the fact that many things are beyond human comprehension. And that we should make the days count for as long as we are in the land of the living. 

Last month, in the middle of my personal grief – my wife’s niece, my sister’s husband, and a classmate – I got an invitation to celebrate the life of a matriarch at a hundred. Lisabi Mills, of which MrsViolet Ladipo was the Chairman after the death of her husband, is one of the oldest food processing companies in Nigeria. I had met and got acquainted with two of her children from way back. Unfortunately, I couldn’t attend any of the events but I took time to watch the TV version. It was really a celebration of life. She was sprightly as she swayed to the music played in her honour. She was also lucid as she answered the few questions asked her. There is no point asking her the secret to a long life because there is really no abiding secret but she made being old desirable. But then only she would know her story and the pain she would have had to bear. One thing is however certain; nobody lives that old without burying a few close ones – two of her children and God knows how many siblings, have predeceased her.So if there is any secret to old age, it is how to live with the scars that death brings. It is accepting and ‘growing with what life sends’.

I don’t travel much, least of all for social engagement, but it was both a duty and a pleasure to travel to Iperu in Ogun State on Easter Saturday to attend the 90th birthday celebration ofMrsOmobosolaOnaeko, mother to close family friends. It is a testament to our relationship that I went with my family, including my two daughters who had come for Easter – reallyfor my birthday if I must be honest.As important and momentous as the events were, what really blew me away was that my friend’s three children living abroad, all came with their spouses for the events – one came from the US on Good Friday and left on Easter Sunday enduring over thirty hours of travel time in the process.

This also blew the celebrant away as the elated woman spent time praying for each of her grandchildren, grateful that her entire family from home and abroad, gathered around her table one more time in her lifetime. This,including the celebration of a hundred year-old MrsLadipo- are what I call the true celebration of life as opposed to what the newspaper obituaries claim it is – for me, talks of a ‘befitting burial’ or a lavish celebration of life after death, are ego trips.

 This also made me appreciate my daughters who came from two different continents to celebrate my birthday more. It as well brings to mind, the pledge of a friend’s only son based in Canada to come every year to celebrate his father’s birthday with him.These celebratory and intimate moments are some of what life is really all about.