How do you cope with the death of two blood relations within a short period?
I lost two uncles. The maternal one in his 60s, died Dec 2012. The paternal one, in his 80s, died last month. Were they too young or old to die? That’s not the issue. The suddenness of each death, the short time between them, and the resources it will take to bury and mourn them is a big bang in my home country Nigeria.
Burying the dead is no joke here. Beyond the religious ceremonies, the traditional and cultural demands of burial are enormous. And they make life difficult for the living in these hard times. The December death of my mother’s youngest brother, who was preparing to take his family home for the Christmas celebrations, threw me off balance.
The phone call came from my cousin one fateful December morning. “Uncle Paully is on admission in the hospital.”
“Uncle Paully,” I repeated. “What’s the problem?”
“Partial stroke,” she told me, “and he cannot talk.”
“What?” I screamed over the phone. “Why can’t he talk? That’s strange,” I queried.
But there was no one to answer the query. We made contact with my uncle’s wife who gave us updates. He never pulled through as he died ten days later. He was closest to me of our four maternal uncles. Only one is surviving now. Oh! Death, where is your sting? Someone is alive today, gone tomorrow. What is life all about?
I remember Uncle Paully for so many things. I tried to capture a few of them, and the bonding of the family in this tribute to him.
Fare thee well, Uncle Paully
Uncle Paully, you left us suddenly. We, the seven children of your eldest sister, cannot believe you are no more. We mourn your loss. Your departure was too sudden, which makes it very painful for us. And it came barely some months after you called Eric to tell him how you were made a Knight of the Catholic Church. Shortly after that, you called again to say you may not be able to attend the traditional wedding of Maureen’s daughter.
When we got the news that you fell ill, we immediately sent word to Dona in South Africa, and Maureen in New Jersey. They called your wife to express comfort and find out what happened to you. Some of the rest of us in Nigeria also called her. Surprise and anxiety was the prevailing mood of all of us because we never heard you fall ill. We kept praying for you to recover and go back home to your family. We also maintained contact with your dear wife to monitor your progress in hospital. We were confident you would recover. How mistaken we were.
When you passed on, Eric and Uchenna were in Lagos; Dona just returned from South Africa; Maureen in USA; Rita (Baby) in Abagana; Geraldine in Onitsha; and Clifford in Enugu. Eric informed the rest of us. Dona who returned to the country two days earlier, called Eric to express shock. Maureen heard from another source and immediately called from USA to confirm. She was also shocked, more so, having spoken with your wife some days earlier when you were in hospital.
The seven of us had known you closely over the years as we grew up. As the youngest brother of our mum, in fact the last born in her family, we bonded with your all through our years of education. Now that we are all adults working and raising families in different locations, we were all far from you in Jos where you based. But the telephone was there to maintain contact.
As we grew over the years, we thought you were the son of your eldest brother. That was why we kept calling him, Papa Paully. Even when we knew Jeremiah is your father, we continued calling him Papa Paully. PP had stuck because you were very visible in our affairs. Whenever you passed our ancestral home in the village, you always entered. When we see you coming, we would chant: “Paully abia, Paully abia,” meaning Uncle Paully has come. When our mum passed on December 2003, you helped to mobilize her relations to give her befitting burial rites.
Our last physical contact with you was at Sister’s burial in 2011 when some of us shared some good moments with you. We never knew it would be our last meeting. You were a gentleman who had a good working career. You accomplished and retired honourably. With your wife, you raised a loving family of five children whom you trained up to university level. You did well, played your part well in life and departed peacefully. But you left us too early.
We your nephews and nieces pray your wife and children will uphold the legacies you left behind and the good Lord will comfort them, keep them, and prosper the works of their hands. Fare thee well Uncle Paully, till we all meet again in heaven.
Eric, on behalf of your eldest sister’s seven children.
Eric Okeke is a storyteller, editor, business writer, motivational speaker and author of the best selling book: I Want a Husband. He is one of Nigeria’s most experienced financial journalists. He has published several articles in local and foreign publications and in websites such as http://www.ezinearticles.com, www.ezinearticles.com and www.writingcareer.com. He is currently running Infomedia Company, a media consulting and information marketing company. Visit his blog at http://sallywantsahusband.blogspot.com
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