life and death | July 31, 2009


elizabeth essien, the stimulist, national day of mourningMy latest blog on The Stimulist today, calling for a National Day of Mourning, so we can at last codify, or at least make socially acceptable, the act of mourning.

It was kind of an emotional thing to write, found myself crying remembering when my mother died (pictured right at 21-years-old). It's something I try not to remember most of the time. And certainly the crazy process of going back to Stanford a couple days after we buried her, and spending the rest of senior year hanging on by a thread, eating meals mostly alone in my dorm room, taking tests alone after my concentration got so shot I needed time and a half on exams, pretending I was okay.

Or rather, accommodating how ill-equipped most other people are with death, how they mostly never mentioned my loss, averted their eyes if I mentioned it, and usually went on (and on and on) about their trivial problems. Studying for a final exam. Getting over a breakup. Finding an outfit for senior formal. To all of these trivial trials I listened politely, nodding and frowning in the right places, saying how much it really sucked and how I was sure things would turn out okay. And all the while, this ever widening distance grew between me and most of the people in my life who I felt worried about the stupidest things, fixated on the most inane minutiae.

Life and death, I realized, is life and death.

Having a boy you like not care that you're alive is not life and death, it's a distraction. Fixating on that boy, obsessing over him, slitting your wrists with shards of broken glass (true story, one of my friends from high school) just isn't worth it.

At the time, and even now somewhat still, death put life into perspective for me. My relationships, my goals, my dreams for myself. I realized that most of my relationships weren't that deep, didn't have the legs to support a significant trial like loss; that I really really really DID hate biology, and was never in a million years going to med school; that I felt pretty bad about my life and could certainly benefit from therapy; and that I really hated feeling like I had to look like I was doing okay for other people. In reality, I wasn't. I was far from okay. The okay that I am now has been hard won, and I had to give up a lot of my childhood dreams about what I thought my life would be like in order to live it. That phrase is so deep, really -- "...She is survived by her daughters Eno, Ime, Anniedi, and Iquo..." -- because surviving isn't easy. Not helped by the fact that most other people could not help me cope. Most of my friends never even asked me how I was feeling.

If they had asked, I might have said I feel like shit. Or that my life was over. That I then, at 21, had to be my own mother. That my biggest and best cheerleader was gone forever and I would have to do the work of believing in myself for the rest of my life.

Many of those early feelings still haven't been processed, and seven years is still not that long. It amazes me how difficult it is, emotionally, to comprehend a loss. Even seven years later, one memory can make it seem like just a minute ago, and I'm sitting there in the hospital room again, wishing she would sit up and start talking, or laugh that great big belly chuckle she had.

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  1. Oh my!What a read!
    It is really hard to comprehend loss until you have it happened to you. As you rightly pointed and death is what it is...

    From the names in the post I guess you are either from crossriver or akwa ibom.. I am from akwa ibom.

    Take care and all the best.

    ps. loves that pic of your mom....stunning vintage

  2. Hi.
    Am also a nigerian like you. gush i know how i you feel or felt . i am going through that process. although my mother isnt dead. ( Godfordbid) but she is my biggest cheerleader the one who always find something positive to say about everyone. am pretty sure my life would be over when she eventually dies. i love ur blog. beautiful writing. babez am still waiting for ur book deal. publish that sucker cuz ur a terrific writer.

  3. It's amazing how death becomes trivial to certain people. Maybe it's not trivial, maybe they just try to hide the pain. Sorry about your loss, and your mum was a really beautiful woman.

    The fact that I've been reading your blog the entire day shows that you writings have moved me. My emotions are spent today from reading your blog. Oh well, I've left my footprints (comments) here and


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