As a part of cancer awareness month this October, my friend Anwuli gracefully and generously shares her experiences with this letter to her late mother.
It’s been 21 years since you passed away.
We are all grown up now, five of us. I know you would be pleased that we are well. You have a granddaughter now, and she looks exactly like you—it’s a scary resemblance.
I have struggled to keep your memory alive. I woke up one day and tried to recall the sound of your voice, and realized that I couldn’t. I feared that my memories of you would become fragments, and I would have to recreate false ones. But I still see your face vividly, in my mind and in your granddaughter’s.
When we were children, I remember that you weren’t my favourite parent. I stuck to daddy all the time, tagging along to visit his friends, and to the tennis club after school. Even then, I couldn’t compete for your affection with Nneka and Ifeanyi. I barely remember moments that I shared with you. It is all sketchy in my mind: the trips to swim with your best friend and her kids; the clothes you bought for me; the way you would spank me when I did something wrong then bribe me not long after with a 5 Naira note. I have fond memories of running around the corridors of your office at Bonny Camp.
The most vivid memories are the periods when you fell sick. I was 11 I think, and I did not know you were sick. I like to believe you did not know how serious your illness was because one day you disappeared without telling us where you were going, and when you returned, I noticed that one of your breasts had been removed.
I feel that those months were probably the only times that we were really close. You seemed healthy after you returned. But not too long after, you got sick again. Nneka and Ifeanyi were now in boarding school, and Ifeoma and Onyeka, were too young to understand, I guess. Daddy had to go to work; and many times I was home alone with you. The sound of your cries still rings in my ears, telling me to take away the pain. How could I? I was only 11. But sometimes, I would wake up before the daybreak to hold you, hoping that you would be comforted and the pain would go away. Even on a school day. I recall I feared coming home because it hurt too much to watch you cry. And then one day I learned that you had returned to the hospital.
I don’t know how long I had to endure watching you suffer, but I was happy when we visited you at the hospital and you had treats for us, sweets to eat. There were many weekends you seemed like you were recovering, until that Sunday in September.
Daddy and I had come to visit. I think it was just the two of us. It was raining hard, I remember. There was a strong wind, and it seemed pitch dark outside. I hated storms, and I was scared. That day you lay on your bed and it appeared you were asleep. Daddy spoke with the nurses quietly, and then told me we had to leave. You didn’t say a word to me, and there were no treats for me that day. I was disappointed.
I don’t remember the rest of the day or the storm clearing, but I remember that someone came to the house the next day at noon. They were whispering with daddy and then everyone fell silent. I lay on my belly on the top of the stairs, and peeked through the spaces that led to the parlour. I knew that something had happened to you; How does an 11-year-old know that, sense that?
But what did I feel? I was a child, and I went back to play with my sisters. We made a racket upstairs, wet from our bath, running around half naked, but daddy didn’t scold us, didn’t tell us to play quietly. I don’t think he said much that day, and many days after that. The house was always filled with guests, day after day. Thinking about it now, I think I felt relieved. It was too painful watching you cry night after night, and I couldn’t do anything about it. Now I wonder if you would still be here if we knew as much as we know now about your illness, breast cancer.
But you’re gone, I’m grown, and I still miss you. We all miss you, all your children. You have been missing from some of the most important moments in our lives, and we have struggled with your absence, but I think we have come out as strong as you would like us to be.
We will always love you, and I will always remember you.
With Lots of Love,
Please support the 1k4Cancer campaign which raises funds to support women from low income families with their cancer treatment. All funds generated during the campaign supports women under the care of Sebeccly Cancer Care And Support Centre.
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