I Remember My Aunt in Death Because of All the Good She Did

Photo by Jennifer Griffin on Unsplash

I remember my cousin’s voice on the phone as he said ‘ I am sure you have heard by now’

I replied, ‘Heard what?’ still groggy. It was a Saturday morning, I intended to sleep for a few hours longer. This was a bothersome call, to put it ever-so-lightly.

‘ Is your mother there?’

‘No, she is at her house’ by now I caught the sadness in his tone. Something bad has happened, but it didn't think it, that it was his mother, my beloved aunt.

‘My mother is gone, she died this morning’

‘Gone where?’ I screamed and started crying.

‘ Try to call your mother and tell her, I can’t reach her’ I know he was avoiding being the bearer of this sad news. The two women share a strong sisterhood and close friendship. My mum recalls her generosity when they were younger with a lot of fondness.

He later told me it was my screams that jolted him and activated his tears.

I couldn’t call my mother, of course, so I called my elder sister and we both burst into tears. She also later told me my tears and screams were culpable for her tears. I have come to terms with the fact that I am a bucket of water according to an old friend. I cry a lot, the finality of death still affects my ability to worry too much about this life. When people die I cry so much, the forces those around me to cry too. But this is not about me, it is about a very dear aunt.

Piecing It All Together

My husband comes dashing into the room. He had heard my piercing scream. ‘What is it?’ he asks and I continue to cry…

They found her dead in her living room that morning. I couldn’t stop crying. My husband, who has only met her a couple of time, did his best to console me. All I could think about as we left the house that morning was my mother, her best friend is gone. My mother had lost her mother, my grandmother, after a heart attack. She fell in the bathroom and never survived it. I have worried about my mother then too, because of her powerful bond with her mother. As children, my sisters and I didnt approve of their relationshipas children, it meant that my mother had a new friend, one that has known her since birth. Every time she came to Lagos, my mother and she would spend all day and night catching up. My mother was close to her and had ‘inherited’ the propensity to give birth to girls from her. So when she passed in 1999, I remember even as a teenager, fearing for my mother.

My aunt was a dutiful daughter, sister, wife. She lived her life, to please her loved ones. When my mother kept on having female children, everyone got worried. This female child business embarrassed my father, it was a dent in his masculinity, but my mother was also complicit because according to our people she brought in her ‘mother’s leg’.

The Intervention

This was also disturbing, I remember a letter my grandmother had sent when the fifth girl was born. It is still one of the saddest things I have read to date.

In the letter written in 1988, she had written my mother to comfort her on giving birth to yet another girl. And encourage her to be patient with my father’s impatience.

Another girl was becoming unbearably sad news. She said she may not come for the Omugwo, but sent a name for the baby. She was apologetic, perhaps taking the blame for cursing her precious child, my mother, with this female children’s tragedy.

In her defence. I do not blame my grandmother; she dictated her thoughts to the closest person, geographically, who could write. This person, perceptibly, shared other family members sentiment on the issue and perhaps exaggerated. I am of course presuming. But i suspect it was indeed her exact thoughts…in 1988, having 5 female children was the devil trying to punish your family, most people never recover from it.

But by 1990 my mother would give birth to a 6th girl. And the Umunna came and named her Adaeze. this showed they were tired of choosing girl names. Adaeze is a name reserved for first daughters. Or they were genuinely trying to console my parents. My mother almost died birthing my sister, I expected a name more sympathetic, a name that acknowledged my mother’s travails. I was a curious seven-year-old and watched as they teased my father, half in jest and a little scornful, the kindest of them, looked at us with pity.

Then they usually added, to take the sting away from their stares ‘ they are such pretty girls, they will marry rich men’.

In 1993 my mother gave birth to another girl, the 7th. By this time I was old enough to know my father will have to do something about my mothers ‘incompetence’. Advice to marry a second wife was rife. Most nights my father would come home, angry at everyone, raging at God. He didn’t want to marry another wife. But you know the popular saying ‘look what you want to make me do’. I had gone to sleep at the hospital with my mum that day, June 11, 1993, and my father came to see the baby. And as he looked at the baby sleeping in the crib, I watched my mother’s face. She looked like she was about to apologise. To say sorry to him, but she didn’t, and he left, not saying anything bad.

But we knew she was running out of time.

I would not provide proper context if I didn’t tell this story for the beginning, I did not digress.

One morning, in 1996, my aunt surprised us. She arrived from Lafia, where she lived with a ‘protective’ husband. In 1996, there were no mobile phones. Finding your way around a city you are not family with is difficult.

She told us how the bus that brought her kept breaking down and the journey to Lagos was 3 days long. She had brought with her the Chinese Calendar chart. The chat matched the age of the mother and predicted the sex of the child. She said she heard of the chart through the Catholic church and had to travel to Zaria to get a copy. She then proceeded to Lagos to hand it to my mum.

She left that same night, making the long trip back to the north. My mother tried for the 8th time and the golden male child was born.

I don’t believe the chart helped; I think it was fate, God, that made it happen. The boy to be born, my mother to conquer, my fathers ‘shame’ lifted.

All these things do not matter to me, but it did to my parents. In Igboland, the male child still reigns supreme. A terrible custom or way of life, very harmful thinking and damaging the self-esteem of women.

Going Home

I dedicate this piece to my aunt. For consistently telling my mum that she was the lucky one, that her girls are priceless, that even though she travelled from afar to hand a possible solution to our ‘humiliation’ it doesnt diminish the value of ‘a girl child’

All the eulogies that kept pouring in.

Everyone had the same thing to say; that she gave her body to be burnt, and she still had love to give.

‘ Nwaolili lived her life to make others happy. She always did the right thing. She was always responsible. The quintessential ‘Ada Igbo’.

As I looked at her body in the coffin. Her brows furrowed in a frown, I wondered if she died worried as usual about another’s pain and suffering. Is it was all worth it? If all the people she worried about think of her as perfect.

But she doesn’t need everyone, my sister, my mother and myself appreciate and love her so much.

Through the loss of my dad, you stood by us. Trough your life, you thought us selflessness.

She would give you anything if you asked for it or she got to know that you needed it. Anything. Even if she had to borrow it or beg for it.

All these things do not matter to me, but it did to my parents and their friends and our neighbours. In Igboland, the male child still reigns supreme. A terrible custom or way of life, very harmful thinking and damaging the self-esteem of women.

I dedicate this piece to my aunt. For consistently telling my mum that she was the lucky one, that her girls are priceless, that even though she travelled from afar to hand a possible solution to our ‘humiliation’ it doesn't diminish the value of a girl child.

All the eulogies that kept pouring in.

Everyone had the same thing to say; that even when she literally gave her body to be burnt, and she still had love to give.

‘ Nwaolili lived her life to make others happy’.

‘She always did the right thing.’

‘She was always responsible. The quintessential ‘Ada Igbo’.

As I looked at her body in the coffin. Her brows furrowed in a frown, I wondered if she died worried as usual about another’s pain and suffering. Is it was all worth it? If all the people she worried about think of her as perfect.

As I took my wearied body back to Lagos the next day, I couldn't stop thinking, how 66 years seamed too short, how we don't have enough time, how death can be so random and unexpected.

But she doesn’t need everyone, my sister, my mother and myself appreciate and love her so much.

Through the loss of my dad, you stood by us. Trough your life, you thought us selflessness.

She would give you anything if you asked for it or she got to know that you needed it. Anything. Even if she had to borrow it or beg for it.

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