TEARS FOR A SISTER
TEARS FOR A SISTER….
By Gbenga X-adebija
Dateline: 18th June 2001.
I arrived home from work that fateful Monday to meet my mother frantic with anxiety. My sister, Meg had suddenly slipped into an unresponsive state and her condition was serious.
I rushed past my mother into the room where my sister lay on the bed.
“Sis Meg !!! Sis Meg!!!!”
She did not stir.
Was she asleep ? What’s going on ??
Frantically, I scooped her up in my arms and held her close.
She was barely breathing but she tried to open her eyes to see me.
“Sis Meg !!! Sis Meg!!!!”
I was in a state of panic.
As I held her in my arms desperately praying and begging her not to go, I saw her face change and just like that, my wonderful, incomparable sister was taken up to Heaven.
I suddenly became aware of my mother wailing and screaming loudly behind me. Despite my numbing grief I realized that there was no way I could allow my Mum know the tragedy which had just befallen us. Although my Mum was a strong woman, she was also a mother. Which mother could maintain a stoic calm at the sight of her dead child ? It was also one tragedy too many… first her first born son and then husband and now her daughter ?
I carefully laid my sister back on the bed and blocked my mum who was trying to see what was happening and reach my sister on the bed.
I gently but firmly steered my mother away towards the door .
“She is fine, but we need to get her to a hospital “ I told Mum.
My Mum’s eyes anxiously searched my face for assurance. Tears were still pouring down her face.
“ Are you sure ? Gbenga, are you telling me the truth ? ”
I actually managed a smile
“Of course she is fine. She is probably dehydrated and needs to be put on drips”
I maintained a tight grip on my mother’s arm to prevent her repeated attempts to return to my sister’s bedside and led her to a seat outside. Then I stepped away to place a phone call to Fr. Ukah, the Parish Priest of St. Kizito’s Iju. In low tones, I confided in him what had happened and that I was sending my Mum to the Parish to stay the night pending when I could inform my siblings. Fortunately, most unusually, my driver had driven me home instead of the normal pattern of me allowing him to close from the office. However, when I told my Mum I was sending her to the Parish of St. Kizito, her fears that something really bad had happened came surging back.
“Why? I am going with her to the hospital “ she cried.
Again, I smiled comfortingly.
“Ah, there is no need. I will go with her first, then you can come later to the hospital” I promised.
I bundled my mum who was still crying and insisting she wanted to be with her daughter into the car and gave my bemused driver instructions.
“Take Mama to the Church and come back for me”
I waited until the car drove away and then called the office to send an ambulance to take my sister to the mortuary. I blanked out the sympathies and pitying glances from the clinic workers who accompanied the ambulance. I knew if I acknowledged the tragedy in any way, I probably would break down and be totally useless when there was still a lot to be done.
My tight leash on my emotions was severely tested when we got to the mortuary. By this time night had fallen (literally and figuratively) and everything seemed surreal.
Sis Meg dead ? Unbelievable !!!
The attendants were quite flippant and didn’t seem to appreciate the magnitude of the tragedy. They found space for the body and carried out the standard procedures while I waited outside, totally numb and in abject misery.
One of them strode out after some time and approached me speaking in Yoruba.
“Everything is fine we have finished with the corpse” he said, handing me a card.
“Use that to collect the body when you are ready for the burial “
I nodded silently and as I turned to go, he entreated me.
“Won’t you give us any money ? Find something for us to do merriment o”
As I stared back at him, whatever he saw in my eyes, made him hurriedly back up a few steps.
He held up his arms in a gesture of surrender/apology. ( Further along the story, my elder brother Clement had a similar but more violent response to this same situation).
Time to start making calls….
Because of the closeness among the siblings, this had to be handled delicately. I decided to break the news indirectly via proxies.
First, I called my sister’s husband, Sam Obayemi and told him. His response was instantaneous.
“ Yeeeeeeee!!! Mogbe!!! Bawo ni mo ti fe so fun Lucy bayi ? “
( How do I tell Lucy ?)
He kept repeating over and over that he would not be able to deliver the bad news knowing how close the two sisters were.
“Enu wo ni fo fe fi so fun Lucy ? Ah, I cant oooo”
He sounded so devastated that I actually began to sorry for him despite my own misery.
Finally, I suggested he should just drive down to my house in the morning with his wife by which time I would have worked out what to do.
I thought about calling Clement’s wife but finally decided not to. Clement would have gone absolutely berserk !!! He adored our sister and he was the one who actually renamed her “Sis Meg” instead of “Maggie” as we previously called her. Only Lucy never called her Meg. ( The reasons will remain a family secret). After grappling for a few minutes about Clement, I gave up and moved on to my younger brother, a Catholic priest, Fr. Nicholas Adebija. I called our Uncle, Bishop Ajomo and told him my sister had died.
Bishop Ajomo remained calm as he listened to me. However, his tone changed when I suggested that he should not tell Fr. Adebija what happened and should just tell him to come down to Lagos for a family meeting.
“Do you realise he is a Catholic priest ? “ he gently rebuked me.
“Yes, I know, but … “ I began to explain.
Bishop Ajomo cut me off mid-sentence.
“Don’t worry about him. I will tell him what happened and he will be there with the family”.
Before going to meet my mum at the Church, I made one more stop.
General Abisoye was alarmed to see me. It was past midnight and he was in bed when my phone calls and banging on his gate roused him from sleep.
“What is it Gbenga? Why are you here?”
That was when I dissolved in a flood of tears.
“My sister Maggie died a few hours ago” I wept.
The General’s face went pale from shock.
“What happened? “
I pulled myself together and narrated the incident. The General consoled me as best as he could and told me he would be around for the family meeting.
Then it was time for a face to face with my Mum .
I dried my tears and washed my face before I walked into the house.
My mum was flat on the floor praying. She clutched a rosary and was reading the Bible. She looked anxiously at me.
“How is she? What is the situation ?”
I collapsed wearily into a seat near her.
“ She is now in hospital” ( True) but not responding fully to any treatment (True) but God is in control (true)
Mum stared searchingly at me and I stared back without blinking.
I could see she was desperately looking for clues but I had my game face on. I knew I had to put on an act and calm her fears.
“Is there any food to eat ? I am hungry o”
Food was provided which tasted like ashes in my mouth . However, with my mum watching, I pretended to eat with gusto. I switched on the TV and cheered at a football match.
My mum watched my every move and gesture.
After about two hours of Mum subjecting me to the most intense scrutiny, she seemed somewhat relieved and went back to her prayers. I closed my eyes and pretended to sleep but was inwardly in despair.
Sis Meg dead !!!!! My wonderful and angelic sister ????
I didn’t sleep a wink but I knew my Mum was watching and might start asking more questions about my sister so I snored a few times to convince her I was really asleep.
Later that morning, I drove home to await the various delegations . First to arrive was my other sister Lucy.
As expected, it was not a pleasant experience.
With her husband following her behind looking dejected, Lucy stormed into the house and confronted me.
“where is Maggie ???? Where is my sister???
I just stared back silently. There were no words to say.
When she got no response, Lucy ran up the staircase to Sis Meg’s room shouting loudly at the top of her voice.
“Maggie !!! Maggie !!!
I glanced over at her husband and he shook his head.
“Ani mi o le so fun se” he whispered.
( I can’t bring myself to tell her )
Lucy came back downstairs looking disheveled and maniacal. Her face was of someone who was might do something crazy and I silently thanked God that her husband could not muster the courage to tell her.
General Abisoye also arrived and with another Uncle, the late Mr. Augustine Adebayo, we drove down in a convoy to the Church.
The memory of my mum’s face when she saw us trooping into the house of the priest forever haunts me till today. The Priest then pronounced the fateful words, “Mama, take heart, your daughter has gone up to heaven”.
Well, you can imagine what happened next…..
The tears, the pain, the grief are things I would not wish even on my worst enemy.
I can’t remember how my brother Clement was informed of the sad news but when he arrived in Lagos, we went to the mortuary together on the day of the funeral to get Sis Meg’s body.
As we were about to leave, another mortuary attendant flippantly asked for a tip.
“Are you mad ??? You must be crazy!!!” Clement roared in anger.
He was livid with rage.
“You think this is funny ? That’s my sister you know!!!
I had to step in to calm him down because he possibly would have flattened the silly guy.
The only person who was seemingly unruffled by the tragedy was Fr. Adebija. He arrived in time to conduct all the funeral activities, showing the same preternatural level of equanimity he displayed 7 years later when our mother died in 2008. He did not shed a tear and displayed no emotions. I drew strength from his calmness and his faith in the Lord.
All these years, I have been haunted by regrets and “what ifs”.
What if I had not gone to work that fateful day ?
What if I had arrived home earlier ?
What if we had flown her abroad for medical treatment ?
Didn’t we pray enough ?
What else could we have done ?
Although my sister died in 2001, the entire episode remains extremely agonizing. Since her death 17 years ago, I have tried to forget her because of the pain her memory brings. I have since been told that was the wrong methodology especially because having a beloved sibling die in one’s arms and not been able to grieve normally could be very traumatic.
I have been advised to write down everything that happened as part of the healing process but the tears keep coming and gushing in torrents….
You live forever in our hearts. Rest in peace in heaven, our beloved Sis Meg.
From the upcoming book : LET’S TALK ABOUT X by Gbenga X-adebija
GBENGA X-ADEBIJA IS A GUEST WRITER FOR KEMIBIJASBLOG