By May Olusola
Time is fleeting and tomorrow is not guaranteed so what we do today for a loved one may be the only thing that matters. I used to put off what could be done today until the unexpected happened and shattered my system of taking things for granted. The realization of my expensive mistake has prompted my decision to write this article to divert people from stumbling on the same lesson I learnt in a painful way.
The moment of my departure to Atlanta, Georgia was at hand. Instead of basking in the sun of jubilation, my seventy-two year old paternal grandmother was wallowing in her rain of tears. I never saw her cry so much.
Unable to imagine the reason for her present state of sorrow, I put my hands around her frail neck, my ears by her lips waiting for an explanation. In the midst of choking sobs, she confidently revealed to me that it was the last time I would see her alive. “God forbid mama, I will be back” was my response. She cried the more, shook her head with regret and announced, “You will never see me again.” I stood there in disbelief! My father bailed me out of the momentary confusion by reminding me elderly people behave like babies when they get old. He assured me she was just being emotional and with more words of encouragement, I left my grandmother to catch my flight to Atlanta, Georgia. This scene of my weeping grandmother, my observing father and my confused self has haunted me till this day. Had I known, I could have made that day a very memorable one.
Three months after I arrived in the United States, I got a long distance call from my mother. She informed me that on the way for an eye surgery in another state, my paternal grandmother had died in a plane crash. I was devastated and spooked that her prophecy of doom had manifested. It hurt to know that my grandmother did not receive anything from my sojourn in America before she died. I called to console my dad, her first and favorite son. He took the news like a typical man by concealing his emotions in his breaking heart.
Out of sight was definitely not out of mind for my dad and me though we were continents apart. We fattened the accounts of the telephone companies with our frequent international calls. My father kept me informed of our family affairs and I always listened with so much eagerness. How can I forget the times I telephoned and heard him instruct someone with so much pride “bring me that chair to sit on, my oldest daughter is on the phone.”
During my next four years in America, my father visited Toronto, Canada on three occasions. They were always brief visits with a promise to find the right opportunity to spend quality time with me in Atlanta, Georgia. I did not mind because my mother and siblings visited often. His third visit towards the end of my fourth year was an interesting one. From the day he arrived Canada, we started our telephone conversations and I also started buying gifts to send him. I always bought my father a bottle of cologne but this time I wanted to buy him a variety of gifts. I started with some shirts and a bottle of cologne and decided to get a bigger box, buy more things and send my darling father a box of goodies. One day, he called to inform me that his doctor diagnosed a problem with his heart; he needed to cut his trip short and head back home. Although I was taken aback by the bad news, my father convinced me that it was nothing serious. The next day I mailed the box first class to Canada. He was scheduled to leave five days later. I was sure the box would get there in two days as promised. Unfortunately, he left for Nigeria without the products of my labor in America. I was so disappointed! There and then, I decided to buy a big suitcase and fill it up with goodies for my dad.
My fifth year in America was a year that changed my perception of time a great deal. It was 1995 and my father was scheduled to turn sixty years of age on the 6th of November. His anxiety for his birthday party was unimaginable. From the beginning of the year, he started making plans for a very big 60th birthday party. He had called relatives all over the world and personally invited them for his special occasion.
As October, drew near, my father’s zeal for his birthday party was uncontrollable. My younger brother who is his first son was bombarded the most with calls from my dad about his special day. Although, they were in different states they saw regularly and maintained a close relationship. My dad wanted my brother to chair the occasion and asked my brother if he can take a week off his job to come. By this time, we were all getting fed up of our dad bothering us with his upcoming birthday plans. The last straw that broke my brother’s patience happened during another reminder call from my dad. This time they got into a minor argument and my father said, “If you like, do not come for my party, even if I die you do not need to attend.” My brother was upset but understood my dad was just being anxious about his big day.
Two weeks to the d-day, my dad woke up in the morning and went out with his best friend. They went visiting close friends. Later that afternoon, he came back home and took a nap. At seven in the evening when he had not emerged from this unusual nap, curiosity reigned in the minds of those in the house and they decided to check on him. It was too late; he had slept on to eternity. My father, my friend, had died!
Unknown to my brother, he called to make up with my dad and gladly inform him of his plans to come four days before time to help him prepare for his birthday. His call came a day too late. To this day, my brother wishes they never had that argument.
More than ten years later, I have gradually crawled out of the shock that caged me when I heard the news of my father’s death. I can still remember my blood seriously bubbling in a pool of denial. I was devastated; so devastated that as I write my eyes are still full of tears. It was not the case of him leaving Canada and coming back again. He left earth and I was never going to see him alive again. He left without any thing special from me. If I had known, I could have sent whatever I had on hand instead of foolishly putting stuff into the special suitcase he never got. The suitcase eventually got home after he had passed on to where there is no need for luggage of material possessions.
His funeral date was set for his birthday. He had made more than adequate preparation way before time. I bought his burial suit which ended up being the special gift he had repeatedly instructed me to buy for him. It was sad to know that the only suit my father ever got from me was the one he was buried in. Most of our relatives he called to attend his birthday party came for his funeral. It was an occasion that no one likes to remember because of the pain of regret that entered our individual hearts on receiving news of his death. Years later, his personal physician informed my sister that my dad had a very bad heart condition and knew he had a few months to live but decided to keep it to himself. What a man!
On that day I was leaving for America, if I had known that was the last time I would see my grandmother and father alive, only God knows if I would have made the trip. I have learned to give people (young and old) their flowers no matter how small when they are alive. It is always too late when they pass on to the great beyond. May the soul of my father Dr. A. A. Oyairo continue to rest in perfect peace, Amen!
May Olusola is the Publisher of MannaEXPRESS.
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