Monday, May 25, 2020 2:00 am
By Hope O’Rukevbe Eghagha
The loss of a sibling is a natural occurrence. Just like giving birth. But as we know sibling loss is usually a painful experience. It is a minus in the family, a minus in relationships. An eternal departure of a blood brother or sister, a person with whom you shared a womb, ate from the same pot and plates, lived in the same house and shared hopes for the future. It does not matter that eventually you all go your different ways, by marriage, physical relocation and business or career interests. There may even be a falling apart. Some siblings have stayed years without speaking to one another because of a family conflict. Sometimes over very petty issues. Like a quarrel between two wives in the family. Invariably extended to the kids and cousins and nieces and nephews. People take sides. There is suspicion. Witchcraft or juju allegations. ‘Household enemies’ as popularised by the Pentecostals. Confirmed by Jesus Christ when he said – ‘a man’s foes shall they be of his own household! Jealousy over success. It is worse when there is only one ‘big tree’ in a family! It was MKO Abiola who said that ‘if you are the only rich (read successful) man in your family you are a poor man!
Some reasons for falling apart are shocking. Disagreement over family inheritance. Money. Betrayal. Greed. Sibling rivalry. Yet, when death takes one of the siblings away, even the black sheep of the family, there is a sense of loss. You know what it is like to have a black sheep? I hear there is one in all families. But when death comes the emotions are different. Yes, the embarrassment is gone forever. No more strange calls or police matters over a stray sheep. True. But blood is very thick. So, you wish differently. Wish there was no black sheep, wish they did not die, wish everyone had remained together as they played as kids in the early days. Wish! A mere wish. It hardly stays that way; hardly. It is the way of the world.
There are early just as we have middle-age and old-age deaths in families. Some grew up not knowing a sibling. Died before they were born. Or when they were too young to know. The pain is felt by the parents and those old enough to know. My focus today is on losing a sibling as we all move towards middle or old age, that is, after parents are long gone. The pain of death, the feeling of loss is not diminished by age. How do you casually accept a forever separation especially if the sibling was very close? In big families, that is, families in which mama produced ten or nine or eight children, ‘pairing’ of some sort takes place as the years go by.
Some are carried away by their spouses. Some embrace strange ways that they cannot get along with others. Yet, when death comes, it is not in the character of the African to say, ‘serves you right’. There are some families of only four surviving children that live in perpetual war too, despite successful careers!
While I mourned the death of my immediate elder sister – Mrs. Mercy Oghenemarien Affun- who died in her sleep at sixty-five plus, I was compelled to ruminate on the pain of death of a sibling. And the death of pain in the afterlife. A peaceful woman. A beautiful lady. Reserved. Quiet. Always smiling. An excellent singer qualified to sing on the national choir. A devoted teacher. A mother of four surviving kids. She lost one of her twin children. Lost her husband about eight years ago. As my immediate elder sister, I loved her, we were very close. Looked alike too.
Of nine kids for my dad, four of us looked alike. Complexion inherited from granddad. So, when she slipped into death in her sleep, we all slipped into shocking sorrow. The suddenness of it all. Painful. Yet, we are grateful that she did not suffer prolonged illness in the hospital’ life may not have been excellent. But she lived to retire from teaching and had children. Whatever challenges she had (and they were numerous) she bore with uncommon equanimity. Resilience. Was it her soft nature that gave her such inner strength? She never disturbed anybody. In herself was herself. Her identity. Her life, her love, her destiny. And so, we bid a final farewell to a sibling who is present but absent in spirit.
Of course, after death, we ask ourselves questions. Did we sufficiently care for one another, for her? Did we call as often as we ought to? Could death have been prevented? Did the lockdown contribute to her death? At the bottom of this is the feeling that a blood sister is gone forever. Never to be seen again. Now a memory. A silhouette of sorts. Yet we know that once death comes, there is absolutely nothing we can do to stop it. That is the pain. The agony. Death is a forever thing. The death of one is a call to a renewal of brotherhood. Sisterhood. Blood connection.
Decreed by Providence. Not to be negotiated. To be nurtured always. In health and in sickness. Like the traditional notion of marriage.
Death of a sibling is as old as man on earth. Yet, each death comes with its own surprises. Its lessons. Its warnings. It strikes a bell, a loud one. The bell of vulnerability. Siblings do not take their exit in the order they came into the world. There is no reversal of the order, yes. It has no logic. Haphazard. Yet when one goes, a quiet question, a question we do not want to ask, we do not want to answer, comes to the mind: who will be the next to go? Over that we have no control. So, as enjoined by the Christian faith, we cling to God. We rest our hope in Him. We pray for longevity, the grace to live beyond the years our parents enjoyed. What the end will be we are no prophets to know. But faith makes us believe that everything works well for those who love God. Although Sister Mercy Affun shall sing no more, we shall see her again at the resurrection. The resurrection, articulated by Jesus Christ, is the major anchor of the Christian faith. And on that we rest as we commit the dead to the grave!
-Professor Eghagha, who writes from the University of Lagos, can be reached on 08023220393