My neighbour died. He had been ill for some time but his passing was still a shock. He was in his 70s but was very lively and chatty and could always be seen first thing in the morning walking to the corner shop to buy his daily newspaper. His wife, who was a tiny woman, seemed to shrink more into herself as she nursed her ailing husband. The whole street waited in hushed, respectful silence as we knew what was to come when the NHS nurses who came to their house daily to care for the sick man stopped coming.
As is with many older- generation English people, the couple were also intensely private, even though they were friendly with everyone on the street, especially the children. It was no surprise that no one on the street was invited to the funeral which we were told was for family only. We all paid our respects by watching through our windows as the hearse pulled off and he left our street for the last time, while his surprisingly large number of relatives followed close behind.
End of an era?
Anyone reading this will have suffered the loss of a loved one. In my case, more than one. What hurt most was coming to terms with the fact that I would never see them again in this life. Through tears, I made sure I recalled their faces every day and night because I was afraid I would forget what they looked like but after so many years, I am relieved to find that my memories are still as clear as yesterday and that my loved ones live on in my heart.
My neighbour’s passing made me ponder on many things. Firstly, we will all pass on at some point in this life. I know there is scientific research into cryogenics –which is the process of preserving a dead body with liquid nitrogen and freezing it with the hope that scientists will one day work out how to warm the bodies up and bring them back to life. I hold the view that there is a cycle of life and no human body is designed to live in forever. The fact that we age as we grow older clearly indicates that there will come a point when the body has had enough.
What happens when we die? Like me, many people believe in heaven. Many other religions believe in the afterlife, re-incarnation etc. Some people believe that once our spirits leave our body the spirits get to roam the earth. Some advocates of the ghosts on earth theory can be found amongst script writers of Nigerian home videos and horror films. Some people who practice witchcraft also believe that our spirits never leave the earth. To each his own. I would rather believe in heaven and take the chance of being wrong, than not to believe and later finding out that it actually exists and end up being consigned to hell or to roam the earth frightening people.
How are we remembered when we pass on?
One of the most comforting things that I learned after the passing of my loved ones is that the wonderful things they did in their lives can never be destroyed or changed by anyone or anything. The hearts they touched, the people they helped, the advice they gave, the joys they shared, the sacrifices they made, the breakthroughs they encouraged, the risks they took to support other people, the battles they fought and the inspiration they gave live on and will continue to do so.
I bet we all have some dreams that haven’t been fulfilled. Many of these dreams are waiting to be actualized because we don’t have money; or we believe that some grand event must occur before we can start doing/living our lives the way we would like. That is dangerous because no one knows how long we are going to be here for. We all pray to live to ripe old age like Queen Elizabeth, but we don’t live her life so who knows?
As I write this I recognize that I am giving myself advice as well as hoping that someone is going to read this and shake off any limitation, sadness, lethargy, insecurity, anger, depression, low self-esteem or regret and start to live life more fully. We won’t be here forever, but by love, I want to enjoy my time on this earth. I want to be relevant to the people around me, not just my family. By the way, most self- respecting families mourn the passing of their members, so wailing relatives at a funeral doesn’t signify a life well- spent. People cry for different reasons: It may have been discovered that the deceased died in penury and would-be beneficiaries are distraught. Sometimes the aggrieved widow cries loudly (and in anger) after discovering the existence of four illegitimate children. But I digress. All that drama is a story for another day.
I want to touch lives in my own little way. If all I am able to do at a point in time amounts to little, then I am content. A little today and a little tomorrow, a little next week and a little next month, all of these will one day create the footprints of a life well-spent. I may never have the opportunity to do anything grand or impressive like become a humanitarian or rich enough to be a philanthropist but I am me, I am here and I can do what I can in my daily routine to make the lives of those around me better.
Mark Twain, the 19th century American writer who wrote the book Tom Sawyer, had a few choice words about life and death. ‘The fear of death follows from the fear of life. A man who lives fully is prepared to die at any time’. He also wrote: ‘Let us endeavour so to live so that when we come to die even the undertaker will be sorry’.
Don’t die old, die empty. That’s the goal of life. Go to the cemetery and disappoint the graveyard.
Abi Adeboyejo lives in Birmingham, UK, with her two children and her fabulous man, who by the way, prefers that his wife writes down her thoughts than listen to her musings on everything.