The Reverend father sprinkled water on the coffin and the words ‘I bless the body of Ifeoma Ada Mark Anthony with the Holy Water which recalls her baptism…’ resounded in the church hall.
I imagine that my newly widowed friend cannot begrudge medical personnel and clergy for referring to his adorable wife as ‘the body’. I imagine that the past twelve days have been grueling for him. I can imagine many things but I certainly cannot imagine what he must be going through, nay, what he will go through after the requiem and interment are over.
I sat through the Liturgy, struggled to enjoy the melody of the sung psalms and absorb the messages from all three readings. I marveled at the choice of the story of Mary, Martha and Lazarus for the gospel reading. This story’s high-point(for me) has always been the calling of Lazarus back to life, but in the reading we end at Jesus asking Martha if she believed that anyone who had faith in Him, though he dies shall yet live. An unfair passage to read; this is what I will think later on.
At the Prayer of the Faithful, we are to respond ‘Open the gate, the gate of heaven, open the gate for Ifeoma…’ And I send prayers that she may awaken light, unburdened by earthly worries. A prayer which indeed is a prayer for myself as well, when the time comes.
Determined not to shed a tear, I walk out of St Agnes with heavy eyes, as the choir sang ‘God be with you, till we meet again’
She was beautiful. She was a model when we were in school and beyond rocking clothes that flattered her table-flat tummy, she was a kindhearted person. Everyone agreed to this one fact, and to the fact that she had a smile for everyone and a sharp but playful retort for close friends.
Walking to the graveside, we joked about this.
Sunny P said he would miss the way she teased him with ‘Oni gbese!’ whenever they saw or spoke on the phone. He said his singular regret since they both became designers was that he had put off one of her requests for too long. He had promised to teach her how to sew trousers and had been postponing till the inevitable happened.
‘Shey na tomorrow I wan come teach am the trouser?’ he said, half lamenting, half clowning.
‘So, like say you don teach am to sew trouser, she for dey sew trouser for dat side abi?’ I asked him in turn and hit him playfully on his mildly protruding occiput. We laughed, and Richystar joined us. We probably cut a strange picture in a cemetery but in that instant, I knew the reflex was a welcome diversion from the matter at hand.
I planned to be stoic, to not shed tears for a friend I had only spoken to once in the last year. When the undertakers approached the coffin after the prayers, the sniffs and wails went up in the air like sand dunes in a desert, but I kept my eyes on the coffin. I made out her siblings crying and my heart went out to them. When Tunde collected the shovel, I sensed his strength and my resolve melt into the shovel as he dropped the sand, and in that melting, the tears flowed freely on his cheeks; mine too. It was only just beginning to sink in.
He was led away from the graveside, and I stood impotent as my tear ducts burst a dam. Sunny P’s hand rubbing my back did nothing for the dam, and minutes later as my eyes trailed Tunde’s heart wrenching lament for his lovely wife, I saw Sunny P struggling with his own tears.
|Ifeoma Ada Mark Anthony|
My friend is too young to be widowed less than three years after their wedding. But can one really question death? I listened to him blame himself for allowing her go on that trip, and I stretched my hand to hold his- me outside the window, him inside an SUV where he was flanked by men, both of them our former course mates. I told him he wasn’t to blame. But these words and the others said in consolation will only make sense later. Only after the grief has taken its sometimes tormenting course will the pain lessen.
Till then, I do pray that Ifeoma is in a good place, willing Tunde the strength to live on as we pray and wish her the strength to also move on. Celine Dion was right; Goodbye is the saddest word…