Scars, Shipwrecks and Grief — a personal perspective.
I’m old. I’m 25 and will be 26 in October. This means that I’ve lived for two and a half decades on earth and have survived (so far) while a lot of people I know and love did not.
I’ve lost family. When my mother passed, I was too little to impute her death to pain. I only felt a sense of loss for not meeting her, whom I heard was an amazing person. I know I would have loved her.
I’ve lost friends. I lost two of my best female friends, Blessing and Judith, at the university. It’s still surprising how I could move on, for I almost didn’t feel any emotion compared to how others took the news.
I’ve lost relatives of friends. When Lara lost her Dad, I knew it was painful — to her — but I couldn’t relate to why she’d randomly wake up by 2 a.m to cry. I couldn’t understand why she’d provoke her tears by listening to sad songs even months after the burial.
This made me conclude that we all grieve differently. The missing link was me not relating to grief on a personal level.
There were times I caught myself asking how I would feel if I lose my Dad. Though I wasn’t answering from a place of experience, I somehow convinced or expected myself to take it like others and move on.
I was wrong — again! I was yet to understand what it means to grieve and how the demise of a loved one leaves a permanent scar.
Speaking of scars, I like to think of them as a testament to the relationship and level of love you had for the person.
So, the depth of a scar is directly proportional to the depth of love and bond you had with the demised (pardon my physics).
Scars are a testament to life. Scars are a testament that I can live and love deeply and be gouged, and that I can heal and continue to live and love. Scars are only ugly to those who can’t see.
Time is a revealer.
It took time to expose how wrong I was about my stance on grief. It took the death of my father last month to make me understand that I had emotions and I could feel pain: raw, deep, scalding pain.
Up until his death, I was his major caregiver since he took ill in 2019. I gave all I could with the support of my siblings financially and physically to make sure he stayed healthy.
When his health took a down toll last year, I knew shit could go left anytime soon.
I wasn’t wrong for the last week of his stay on earth was my craziest moment in life as I watched my Dad fight for his life for five good days without talking, eating, or taking water.
Breathing was laborious as he respired through his mouth since his nose was blocked. I witnessed all of these and at some point, I told God to make it quick because it was too much on him.
I reckoned praying for a comeback will be termed selfish or what Christians call a lack of faith.
I was at the end of my rope.
My mind was fucked up.
In the end, I had to leave the village with instructions on what to do when death finally comes. It was like a countdown, a pending loom and everyone was waiting.
I saw it coming.
In my dream, Dad would appear to me in white. I knew he was leaving, and I thought I was prepared. But nothing prepares you for the death of a loved one.
Nothing ever does.
My sister, Ndidi, joined me in the village on Thursday, so I could leave for Abakaliki on Friday morning to get my things ready for my journey to Lagos the next day.
The next morning, I got a call from her crying from the other end. I needed no sorcerer to tell me it had happened.
Dad had finally gone to rest.
At that moment, I didn’t know how to feel so I prayed the one prayer on everyone’s lips: “God’s will be done”.
I quickly unpacked, took a few clothes, and told Mike, my friend, who agreed to follow me down.
On our way, we got lots of alcohol. ‘Bro, you need to shack well before you go see your p-man dead body’, Mike advised. But no amount of liquor I took was able to knock me out.
On getting to the village, people were already gathered in my compound. The men were drinking.
Where I come from, nothing stops the flow of alcohol, not even death.
I went closer and removed the clothing from his face to clear my doubt and I saw him smiling at me or maybe it was delusional of me to think he was smiling. But I can’t mistake his smile for anything.
He actually was.
He was pleased with me. He told me how proud of me he was and how grateful. Because he didn’t have the chance to say thank you like he always did, he dropped me a flickering, parting smile that vanished as quickly as it came.
Permit my digression at this point.
Before I forget, I need to pat myself on the back for a job well done. I painstakingly took care of my father as I spent my 2020 shuttling between Lagos and Ebonyi state almost every month in ensuring he was fine.
Giving the little I had wasn't contestable at all.
So if there’s anything I learnt from my dad’s situation, it’s the fact that if you love someone, as much as you profess it, you make efforts to show it, to make them understand that you truly do.
Beauty lies in the little things you do. You don’t have to wait till you own it all or till it’s all rosy and comfortable before you show how much you care. Start from where you are right now in showing your love and care for your loved ones. They might not wait for you.
Standing there, staring at him, I felt waves of emotions rush through me. I’m happy he’s finally resting from life’s sufferings. But again, I didn’t want him to leave.
We had unfinished business.
I smiled at first, to make him understand I can’t fight his decision to go. Then I laughed some more before bursting into real, grown man tears that proved my vulnerability and humanness.
I cried bitterly, hugging, shaking, and begging him to please talk to me. I needed to tell him goodbye and ask him to greet my mum and namesake Damian for me.
Too many things I wanted to tell him.
I couldn’t control my emotions till I was pulled off from him by my sister.
For the first time, I understood what it deeply meant to grief.
Speaking of grief, I can liken it to waves. When the ship is first wrecked, you’re drowning with wreckage all around you. Everything floating around you reminds you of the beauty and the magnificence of the ship that was and is no more.
And all you can do is float. You find some piece of the wreckage and you hang on for a while. Maybe it’s some physical thing. Maybe it’s a happy memory or a photograph. Maybe it’s a person who is also floating. For a while, all you can do is float.
In the beginning, the waves are 100 feet tall and crash over you without mercy. They come 10 seconds apart and don’t even give you time to catch your breath.
All you can do is hang on and float.
After a while, maybe weeks, maybe months, you’ll find the waves are still 100 feet tall, but they come further apart. When they come, they still crash all over you and wipe you out. But in between, you can breathe, you can function.
You never know what’s going to trigger the grief. It might be a song, a picture, a street, or even the smell of a drink. It can be just about anything… and the wave comes crashing. But in between the waves, there is life.
Somewhere down the line — and it’s different for everybody — you find that the waves are now more merciful, they are now only 80 feet tall. Or 50 feet tall. And while they still come, they come further apart.
You can see them coming. An anniversary, a birthday, or Christmas. You can see it coming, for the most part, so you prepare yourself.
And when it comes, it washes over you, leaving you soaking wet, sputtering, and still hanging on to some tiny piece of the wreckage.
Take it from this old guy. The waves never stop coming, and somehow you don’t really want them to. But with time, you’ll learn that you can survive them.
Other waves will come, but you’ll survive them, too. And if you’re lucky, you’ll have lots of scars from lots of love. And lots of shipwrecks.