Farewells are usually painful and emotional and it does not matter whether those farewells are for good or for bad. When that farewell involves the first woman in my life, the only person I have known for the past 55 years+ who helped me define and interpret this world, and when that farewell is final, the pain and emotional trauma become quite extraordinary and very difficult even for gifted grammatical craftsmen to depict. The farewell in question was the committal to mother earth of my mother, Lady Celina Muo, on 22/2/13. It was an expected farewell because as the Igbos would say, every piece of iron will sooner or later end up at the ironsmith’s workshop. This particular farewell was also more than expected because my mother had been ‘dying and resurrecting’ for the past three years and in effect, gave us notice. It got to a stage when I dreaded every phone call from the land of the rising sun. Yet, my feeling and reaction went beyond shock and awe when my elder brother sent that SMS on 7/12/12 that simply read: it is finished. Yes, it indeed finished for her on that day, though it finally finished on 22/2/13 when she was buried. I tried to comfort myself with these thoughts. She was once like us; we shall soon be like her! After all, life is a fatal disease; no one ever gets out of it alive. At times, a long illness between life and death makes death a comfort both to those who die and to those who remain – Jean de le Bruyere.
Mama was a devoted and hardcore Catholic, and the silent support behind the throne, managing the home front as our late father, WO Ezeamaluchi Muo, went about doing his ‘village headmaster’ job. She also managed the domestic economy of a rather large family of ten children with, at times, up to four live-in relations. She was also an accomplished entrepreneur; a forerunner in all sorts of businesses that have today become the vogue: rentals [before 1980], supermarket [as long as we can remember] fast food [chinchin, chop-one, etc], produce [oil, kola-nuts] since 1990, and fashion designing since the 1960s. She was an entrepreneur that changed with the times, probably in tune with the advice of Anthony Robbins that if you do what you have always done, you will get what you have always gotten.
Mama was a fighter for the common cause; she spoke truth to power and we had cause to caution her occasionally for fishing in troubled waters. She feared nobody and would say it as it was. Mama was a woman libber, and as Achebe would say in Arrow of God, she is not the kind of woman you put in your bag. In all that, she was probably influenced by the words of Thomas Paine thus: ‘He who must make his own liberty secure must guard even his enemy from oppression. For, if he violates this duty, he establishes a precedent that will reach him.’ She never kept silent about things that mattered to the people around her because, according to Martin Luther Jnr, ‘Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.’
As a human being, Mama had her share of illness. But these took a turn for the worse in the past three years. We did everything to keep her alive: prayers, consultation with several doctors and visit to various hospitals. She also did everything to stay alive. She was strong-willed in the face of merciless attack by ill-health. Now she has gone to the only place where she can be at rest, where things are easy because, according to Henry W. Beecher, ‘I know of only one easy place in it [this world] and that is in the grave.’
The funeral ceremony was laced with spiritual and philosophical nourishment which we humans as usual ignored. Fr. Ekemmri who preached at the requiem mass of 12/2/13 admonished us to prepare for death; Fr. Esiegbue who celebrated masses as part of the Knights of St. Mulumba’s ‘Office of the Dead’ asked us to spare some thoughts for the hereafter; Fr. Dunu who preached at the vigil mass declared that all we do in life is just show [vanity, shakara, treating things that were not as if they were]; Fr. ABC Chiegboka who delivered the sermon at the funeral mass dwelt on the gluttony that characterised funeral ceremonies and advised us to eat less so that we could live more; while the choir sang various hymns reminding us that we were on transit in this world, that we do not know when it would happen, that we should behold the corpse and see what we would soon become, and that we would soon abandon money and material possessions and that only the goods we did would last, etc. Yet throughout the funeral and even before the burial, people carried on without any thought about death or hereafter; there was so much show, with each group trying to outdo the other and people ate and drank as if those items were going out of fashion.
My mother gave me encouragement which Sidney Madwed described as the finest gift you can give anyone because if everyone received the encouragement they needed to grow, the genius in everyone would blossom and the world would produce abundance beyond the wildest dreams. She shared my joys and pains and she was so concerned about any life challenges that we had that I kept several issues from her.
The lesson from this as well as other deaths is that our days are numbered. One of the primary goals in our lives should be to prepare for our last day. The legacy we leave is not just in our possessions but in the quality of our lives. What preparations should we be making now? The greatest waste in our lives which cannot be recycled or reclaimed is our waste of the time that God has given us each day [Billy Graham]. Mother Theresa also gave us a beautiful treatise about life: ‘Life is an opportunity; benefit from it. Life is a beauty; admire it. Life is a dream; realise it. Life is a challenge; meet it. Life is a duty; complete it. Life is a game; play it. Life is a promise; fulfil it. Life is a sorrow; overcome it. Life is a song; sing it. Life is a struggle; accept it. Life is a tragedy; control it. Life is an adventure; dare it. Life is luck; make it. Life is life; fight for it!’
We all will die. The goal s not to live forever; the goal is to create something that will [Chuck Palahniuk]. My mother’s relationships, good works et al as well as the human stock she has left behind [9 surviving children, one stepson, 31 grandchildren, 3 great grandchildren, 3 surviving siblings] have outlived her. What are we doing to be alive after our death? After all, we shall soon be like her!