The ancient Greeks were great weavers of memorable tales. Among these is the tragic story about one love struck chap called Orpheus and his girl called Eurydice. Orpheus and Eurydice get married, but later that night, Eurydice is bitten by a snake and dies. Overcome with grief, Orpheus travels to the underworld to bring her back to life. He fords through the treacherous River Styx that separates the earth and underworld. He has to fight some grotesque creatures to get to the love of his life. Finally, he convinces Hades, the god of the underworld, to let Eurydice go. Tough as a ghetto boy, this Orpheus fellow was. But that’s the far the story goes.
The news of my mom’s death some four years ago today, turned me into a black Orpheus. She became my Eurydice. The distance and time between my home and where she passed on was the river Styx that I had to cross. I was under the impression that she was not gone but in a coma that a doctor could sort out. All my life, I have never drove that fast, hoping that I will save her life. Oh no, she couldn’t be gone-she hadn’t reached that viable die-able age when hands get gnarled and the brain gets cold with Alzheimers.She was a hip digital mum-always texting me some punchy Bible verse every Sunday .No, She wasn’t gone. DENIAL
Then in one blinding flash, it dawned on me mom was dead. That she had danced in the wind and melted into the universe, becoming one with the stars. My world came crushing; my tears glands went supernova. I wanted to hold on to something and crush it.Like Samson of yore, I wanted to bring down the temple of life and go down with everybody-and thus join her. ANGER.
Life, why have you treated me like you once caught me sleeping with your pretty wife? I asked Providence. What do you want in exchange for her life? God, do you care as they say in the good book? What can I do for you to bring her back to life? BARGAINING.
From that moment on, grief and his twin brother misery embraced me like two jealous Oga wives, each fighting for a piece of me.You see, there are my-heart-is-broken sorrows that we all overcome when we move on to another lover. Or my-wallet-is-empty sorrows that we all go through around midmonth but end when the paycheck clears. But this was my-mom-is dead sorrows that gnaw at your soul like gnats. Like a sore tooth that is not content to throb in isolation but spreads its pain to the whole head, this sorrow engulfed my whole body. I wore sadness like a dirty sack cloth, my shoulders forever falling like teardrops. DEPRESSION.
I come from a community that’s known for thrift. Every coin is to be saved. Every drop of water is to be conserved-including tears. A man crying in a funeral is an abomination. He is an insult to all the gallant braves from the tribe like Kimathi, Jomo and Kaggia and others who liberated our country from colonialism. With the blood of such greats coursing through ones veins, no man is not permitted to cry. Not even for his mother.
Thus the burial day found me standing there stoically, holding back an El Nino of tears in my head. I could feel my head go whoosh like three quarter full calabash any time I turned it.Taban lo Liyong,the eccentric Sudanese writer, once wrote that ‘culture is ‘rutan’.Culture is a tyrant.
Forget culture, a man should be allowed to mourn his mom. Why? One’s mom is one’s needs answered. A man is at home with his friends when life is good but when the vultures of sorrow start hovering ominously over his head, he seeks refuge in his mother’s bosom. Life is like water. Water has a perfect memory, always rushing to the sea where it came from. Likewise, we are always longing to go back to our moms. Knowing that any time we go to her house, she has to take us in.
It is curious how sometimes the memory of death lives on for so much longer than the memory of the life that it purloined. The memory becomes permanent, like a government job. Long after the burial, the funeral proceedings played in my head for a long time. ‘Ash to ash, dust to dust’, the wind whispered. Anytime I looked at the grave I knew that therein, in the words of English poet Rupert Brooke, there is ‘a richer dust concealed’. Then I stopped shedding tears that she was gone, and started smiling because she had lived. I let her rest, not because I loved her less, but because I cherished her memories more. ACCEPTANCE.
In my undergrad Sociology classes I had learnt of this pretty famous theory that says there are five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. But this never prepared me to handle mom’s death. It never occurred to me that the five stages don’t have to follow each other in that order. Some stages you don’t even get over. Like acceptance. For years, you are like a bird trying to fly with a broken wing. Something is forever lost in you.
Life is full of contradictions. We all want to live to ripe old age, but we detest gnarled hands and grey hair. We all want to go to heaven, but we don’t want to die. Can we cross the river without the bridge? Shakespeare reminds us that every day we rot and rot as we approach our graves. Mr. Death lurks in our shadows, waiting for that destined moment to claim our limbs and free the soul from the pestilence of the body. So we live in his constant dread, every waking day. But is death the end? As Sri Chinmoy tells us, Death is not the end. Death is the road. Life is the traveller. The soul is the guide. When the traveller is tired and exhausted, the guide instructs the traveller to take either a short or a long rest, and then again the traveller’s journey begins.
We spend a whole life preparing for this fleeting life. Forgetting that we will be dead for an eternity. We need to learn to humor Death. We need to have a swanky image of him-not some hooded gothic scepter with a scythe in hand. Some nerdy graphic designer kid needs to come up with a sexy symbol of death-a friendly chap in skinny jeans, a killer mohawk and an Ipad.Mr.Death needs to have a swanky iPhone 6 that he uses to call guys and tell them in a foreign heavenly accent-get ready buddy, you are next!
This Mr. Death fellow should be on Whatsapp.Every Monday, he should add all people who are going to die that week into a group called ‘Club Eternity’. Then add them as friends on Facebook. On Throw Back Thursdays he should share photos of guys who left us last year. Then on Mondays he should share photos of some heavenly weekend parties. Yes, Mr.Death should also be in Twitter-with hash tags that trend forever. Death should also be in Instagram, with millions of selfies, the most liked one being the one with the First Lady of the World, Eve Adams. Of course dudes particularly like this photo coz Eve is in her birthday suit, and Mr. Death is having a deadly time because of that!
We need to be brave enough to welcome Death when he comes knocking:
Me: Hey! Come right in D-boy. I was expecting you!
Mr. Death (in a guttural voice) Thank you.
(We do high a five)
Me: Buda, what’s your favorite drink again?
Mr. Death: Hells Flame.
Me: Hio sina,but I have a quarter of Blue Moon.
Mr. Death: Its fine with me. Serve it cold-its hot out there. You know….
Me: Here, to eternity (clicks glasses). Eeer,Mr Death, will you listen to some music?
Mr. Death: Oh yes.
Me: Would you like ‘My Way’ by Frank Sinatra? Or Beethoven’s ‘Moonlit Sonata” I am sure you also like ‘You can’t hurry death’ by The Supremes.
Mr. Death: You are such a spoil host…hic!
Me: Sire, you are getting tipsy now. . Let’s do that last selfie.Chap! Don’t forget to share it on your wall and tag all my friends.
(Takes selfie, with Mr. Death doing the peace symbol)
Me: Now, let me dance into the splendid sun then melt into eternity where I belong. Ciao!
Mr.Death: Go well.
This life will finally kill us. We need to learn to accept death not as an opposite of life, but as a continuation of it.To that ends, I want to feel alive while I am. I will feel the earth with my bare feet. I will let the wind play with my hair and the zephyrs from the mountains caress my temples. One day, death shall surely die, and I shall wake up eternally. Then, like God’s prima donna that I am, my soul shall sashay into the cosmos!
My Mom will be there, leading the Heavenly Mothers Union choir in the crystal stairs. She will be belting her heart out to the beat of golden karing’aring’a and silvern kayamba.
Then a voice will go out, clear and firm:
‘Son, come rest in my bosom forever; for you have been a good boy.’’
That voice will be Lord’s, and moms.
In loving memory of my mother,Mary Njambi Mwangi (1954-12/3/2015)