PREYING ON THE DEAD – CULTURE & THE ODYSSEY OF MY DAD’S FUNERAL II

The Power of a Hug

The sudden passage of a loved one leaves no room for or time for sober reflections. One the inevitable happens, your brain works overdrive, your thoughts are uncoordinated and no matter how strong you are, you are at your weakest. I would have to break the news to my siblings who may not have been reached, knowing it was sometimes faster to reach people from ‘abroad’ than to do it in country. I broke the news to my co-volunteers the new family I discovered since January when I signed on at BFM Ottawa, volunteering first one day a week and later extending it to six days a week.

Hugs are not part of my culture and I never imagined that they packed so much punch. Within minutes of the news going round, I received so many hugs and it made such a huge emotional difference while I made the calls. This was not me. I never envisaged displaying such emotion or such feeling of emptiness and loneliness – not after my Mom’s passage eleven years earlier or my Uncle, Revd Jacob Asaju who passed while I was on study leave in England. Suddenly, a seemingly emotionally fortified me realized I couldn’t stay on at work in spite of thinking this news wouldn’t stop me carrying on whenever it broke.

After calls to my siblings and a slew of relatives far and near, I called my wife to break the news. I knew she would be devastated. Dad preferred not to hear from me for weeks, but not to hear from Ayoka temi nikan soso for a couple of days was just too much abandonment to him, especially since she returned home after her tour of duty leaving us behind. The bond between daughter-in-law and father-in-law is beyond understanding. I am never a son-in-law in Olukolo’s Compound in Edunabon any more than my wife is in the Asimoko household or the larger clan. Why an ingrate like me is so blessed baffles me.

I remembered I would have to break the news to my daughter who was preparing for an examination before someone from the extended family reached her. From the time she was born, Dad had always had a soft spot for the young lad who would shout ‘Grandpa, kai’ whenever he tried to call her by usual pet names or sing to her. She would tease him by going for his meat at dinner. After I made the call to Dolapo, it dawned on me that I couldn’t remain at work. If Dad’s exit was so emotionally draining all of a sudden, I could imagine what it would do to her, so I spoke to my manager, removed my badge and brazed myself for that incredibly long drive back home.

In times like this, I was torn between two emotions – missing my wife and being glad she was home. While I needed the emotional stability here, I also needed a part of me overseeing arrangements whatever they turned out to be, and Bola fits that bill more than anyone in my life. In the meantime, I would have to protect my daughter from having an emotional breakdown. It was bound to be hard on her, only three weeks earlier; she had spoken at length with Dad, promising at his request, to see him in December. I had cautioned her against making promises she could not fulfill and she promptly changed tactic, saying she was certain to see him when she graduates in two years. Now, all she would ever have are sweet memories of herself and her young brother sitting on his laps.

Dolapo & Dad

Dad & Dolapo, one of my favourite pictures of the two.

The drive home was a miracle, but I made it, not remembering how except that I managed to avoid an accident as I cried myself through. As soon as she heard my footsteps, it became a harvest of wailing. My son, Abimbola consoled us both with calm stoicism. Over the coming days, he would be my pillar of support as I cried at every moment.

Family At Home, Family Abroad

I have two family members in Ottawa. I never live in a town or city without having extended family members. Who else fits that bill better than my cousin, Professor Pius Adesanmi, and my good friend, Walter Hammond. Walter implored me to take things easy, promising to show up later that evening. Pius had no such luxury; he drove down immediately offering that support that only the unspoilt Yagba understands.

Much younger, Adesanmi is an elder on matters of bereavement and the politics of it, having buried his own father years earlier. In-between words of encouragement, he babysat and spoon-fed me on what to expect – from friends, acquaintances, and the community. He warned me to braze up for an imminent clash between my faith, my philosophy of life and the cultural demands of our people. Clairvoyantly, he was spot on – on all! Thank you Pius. He would later augment that daily constant care with the first cash transfer to help my helpless state. Walter fulfilled his promise, showing up with Abu, our mutual friend, bales of plantain that they made Dolapo roast and two roasted chicken. We sat down over beer reminiscing the good and bad times. Their presence helped me cope all through the coming days.

…to be continued.

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