It will be disingenuous to begin this piece without accepting an indubitable fact - Death is indeed a natural part of life.
Aside from being born, the only other certainty in life is the reality that you will one day...die.
Having said that, it is also a fact human beings will eternally struggle with the concept of that final breath leaving the body. It is an inherent trait of the Homosapien to search frantically for the ability to control everything around us. So our discomfort is palpable when something continuously outwits us.
This ensuing frustration is what leads most of us to attach what we see as cogent reasons to inexplicable (and explicable) expirations. We attach such negativity to death, forgetting that in reality, it is nothing but the continuum of the circle of life. No one escapes it.
As I write this, it has been seven days since the tragic plane crash in Lagos, Nigeria. That crash, of a small chartered plane, turned out to be responsible for a catastrophe of massive proportions. Not only did it claim the majority of the lives on-board, it also managed to wipe out two generations and visit jarring grief on aged parents, siblings, spouses and children alike.
I lost a friend in that flight. He would have been 43 years old yesterday. He was a vibrant, witty and cerebral individual. Whenever I went back home to Nigeria, I always hoped I would run into him….not because I yearned to socialise or hobnob with him, but more for the fact that he was a gifted raconteur. And boy, did he have stories to tell for days.
Deji Falae was the person responsible for my favourite political story of all time. I loved the story so much, I have since regurgitated it close to a hundred times, but somehow never nailing it in that brilliant way Deji always did. I wish I had been closer to him; perhaps I could have done a better job with that story.
Here was a young man who managed to live what I would consider a relatively simple life, when in truth; he could have done the exact opposite. Nigeria is a place where people will brazenly live off the name of their distant influential relatives and do quite well in the process, so when you come across someone who people have to keep asking to confirm if indeed, they were the child of a popular politician, you slowly come to realise you are indeed in the company of a truly humble soul.
Enter the dark-cloaked, scythe-wielding embodiment of death: the one we all know, but are rarely prepared for. The routine, creepily the same….as it came for one of us, hourglass in hand, waiting for the last particle of sand to drop. The result was swift, brutal and invariably has left us with numbing grief.
The Grim Reaper, unlike the person it has taken from us, is not our friend or ally. Its only duty is to leave us in no doubt of its fatal mission. It lacks compassion and in true form, during the period between that plane crash and today, it has taken more loved ones from people we all know. It leaves us sufficiently weary.
This is what must have led the late English playwright, Robert Bolt, to conclude:
“Even at our birth, death does but stand aside a little. And every day he looks towards us and muses somewhat to himself whether that day or the next he will draw nigh.”
The Grim Reaper drew uncomfortably nigh that Wednesday morning and the task was clear…it wants us to be caught unawares and stew in sorrow. It wants to stand aside and watch us perpetually shed hot, unplanned tears. Our pain is its joy and our anguish, its ecstasy. This is the crowning piece in its grand intimidating design.
But on this occasion, we should not let it get its way. Even in these impossibly sad times, we should take a collective deep breath and learn to celebrate Deji’s life. As we offer our deep condolences to his parents, siblings, his wife, Ese and their children, we should remember the good times and sustain them with wonderful memories of his loving ways.
Yes, we could huddle and share our angst as we bitterly wonder why Deji took that flight. We could question the wisdom of flying alongside a coffin or the irony of how someone who wasn't the biggest fan of flying ended up on such an ill-fated flight. We could do all those things, but it would not ease the pain.
What we should do is celebrate the legacy he left behind in his role as a son, father, husband, brother, friend and exemplary servant of his state and country. We need to gather around those left behind whenever we are chanced and tell joyful stories about Deji and not let death dictate how we remember this gem of a man.
This is how we can ensure he lives in our hearts forever. For if we keep his memory alive, in essence…..he will never be away from us. We shouldn't fret that a part of us dies when a special loved one passes away, we should celebrate that a part of us lives with our loved ones on the other side.
We must take refuge in the biblical verse given to me when I tragically lost my younger sister five years ago:
”Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. And you know the way to where I am going.”