I thought I knew what loss was when I wrote “Laughter & Champagne.” But this is worse.
His room still smells of him. I never noticed till he was gone. But his room has a distinct smell. It is the scent of Icy-Hot, the smell of folic acid, a hint of Dettol Cool and Vaseline Aloe-Vera. This is what his room smells like.
This is how to console a bereaved person.
Visit…and sit in silence, saying nothing. Or saying a lot, distracting them.
Bring food in Ziplocs and plastic bowls. So that we do not have to cook.
Do the dishes that keep mounting up because “guests” persist in eating the food other people have brought to console the family.
This is how not to console a bereaved person.
Hold them too tightly when they cry.
We don’t cry because we want hugs. We cry so that the sadness does not implode in our chests. We cry because we miss our love, because we can’t imagine the rest of our lives without hearing their voice, or seeing their smile, or feeling their hug. And this is perfectly acceptable, right, to cry about these things? So why do you stifle me, do my tears make you uncomfortable? Or do you just feel a need to be useful?
He was my twin. It was barely a year between us. And yet, we felt like halves of the same coin.
It’s different when a parent dies. You know your parents will die, someday. You know you don’t have them forever.
It’s so different when your brother dies. The one whose first word wasn’t “Mama”, but an infant’s pronunciation of your name, “Meh-meh.” The one whose cries you interpreted to your astonished parents, “He’s crying because he wants water…because he wants to sleep.” The one you went to school with, shared secrets with. The one who persuaded you to stick your head between the bars of the burglary-proof gates, and then abandoned you when Daddy came with a smacking. The one who teased Janet’s dog with you, and then ran faster when the dog broke loose, leaving you to suffer the attack and subsequent bites. The one you had extra lessons with at the dining table in the small house off Allen Avenue. The one you cried with when your mother died, because your two younger sisters were too small to realize. The one you walked with to Chamuke’s house. The one. The one. The one.
The one you expected to be by your side growing old.
It feels like I’ve been amputated.
So incomplete. And again, my entire life is divided into Before and After.
I still see you, my brother. I still see your smile, I still hear your laugh.
My brother, I know it’s best for you to be gone but God, I miss you. I miss you and there are no words to describe the missing.
You won’t be at my wedding?
I once tweeted that there is nothing more calming than the sleep sounds of the people I love. I had no idea how true those words were. When I prowl our house at night, I wait to hear the sounds of his snoring. And I don’t. How is it possible that everything is so empty?
The clichés rush my mind. I think it’s a dream, a horrible mistake, that by some stroke of divine intervention, he shows up with a, “There was a mistake.” And I would hug him, kiss him, smile, laugh, wear some make-up and my best clothes and we would have a party.
He was just 25, my God.
Osemhen. I have some bad news. Okhafo is dead.
It was all my nightmares come true.
I can actually survive for days on nothing but a Sprite per day. It’s not so much that I forget to eat as that food seems inconsequential. It doesn’t matter. Or it does. Maybe it matters too much. Food has betrayed me. I said it last year on this blog; there is nothing as comforting as cooking for the people you love. I love cooking. I used to love cooking. Now, it has lost its pleasure. Cooking for who? My brother, my biggest fan, the one who was always willing to be my guinea pig is dead. And all the meals I used to make for him, all the special dietary needs I tried to cater to, all of it doesn’t matter. My best efforts didn’t work. My brother is dead.
And so I stroll past the orange seller in his wheel-barrow. Before, I would buy a dozen to juice for my brother. Now, I never want to see another orange in my life.
It is a tenuous connection to this world. I feel guilty about the conflicting emotions.
If there was no one else who loved me in this world, I would wish to join my brother. But my father…and my sisters who still need me to be strong for them…and K, darling K whose eyes are haunted by my grief. I’m here, we’re here, Life is here.
And never has the future looked so bleak. What is a future that is missing its past?
Okhafo is custodian of our childhood memories. Okhafo is trips to the beach, watching Alladin over and over and over, the Ikeja Bomb Blast and going to school together in the afternoon, the medical doctor who knocked us down in Maryland because he took his eyes off the road for a second.
I want to hold my brother’s hand again, and squeeze it tight. I want to exchange a secret smile and watch his cheeks dimple in that way that everyone loved (and some envied). I want to laugh together at something profoundly silly. I want to hear him stutter. I want to buy him another shawarma. I want to take Daddy’s car and drive to Ice-cream Factory after church and get ice-cream-wasted. I want to discuss another Ted Dekker novel. What am I to do with all your t-shirts that still smell of you? What am I to do with your laptop, your phone?
It’s been two weeks and my acne has returned; I can’t be bothered to treat my face. And I don’t care. And I’ve lost so much weight my wedding dress no longer fits. And I don’t care. How could I have taken for granted the simple blessing of having 3 siblings, our bond and unity unbroken?
And this is me protesting, my God.
And this is me accepting, my God.
When I am spent from crying, and my heart smashed to smithereens and my mind blown to the point that my head aches. This is me accepting, my God.
Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” And Martha answered, “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.”
Oh, brother. Do you know, do you know that now you are legend?
For Okhafo Daniel Richard Oghenekevwe Akhibi (September 13, 1989 – November 12, 2014)