As part of the 1k4cancer campaign, i will still be sharing stories, conversations, letters and diaries from people who have lost loved ones to the disease.
Ada Ogunkeye is a colleague who has now become a dear friend. On friday nights we partake in a ritual situated at a shopping mall parking lot where we recline the seats in her car, absorbed in conversations as we attempt to navigate through the complex labyrinth of life accompanied with supermarket chicken and cider to rinse it all down.
Ada lost her mother at a very young age to colon cancer and in this conversation, shares some of those moments and more
What are the fondest memories you have of your mother?
I remember my mum telling me bedtime stories. I think those are some of my fondest memories of her.
And her smell; scent is such a powerful connector for me, I remember her smell so vividly and I love it. I also remember her always looking worried, lol usually because myself or my brother were up to no good.
How did her illness start to unravel?
I was relatively young when she passed away, so I can’t say that I remember the moment she became ill, she also became pregnant with my youngest brother at the time, so she was constantly in and out of hospitals.
Initially the doctors in Nigeria misdiagnosed my little brother as a cyst, which was a close call for a while.
Afterwards, we just knew that mummy had to go away to the hospital for long stretches at a time, and then eventually to hospitals outside of Nigeria.
Tell me about her final days?
She had lost so much weight, and cut her hair. She was frail. I think my mother knew when it was her time, because she insisted on coming home to Nigeria instead of staying in the hospital in England.
My Aunt tells me she kept insisting saying “the children are young” and referring to how much money was being spent on health care.
When I first saw her when she came back from the hospital I was afraid. She looked so frail. She was still smiling and wanted to hug us, but I was afraid I would hurt her.
She had to have a nurse in the house with her, and one day I walked in whilst she was having a blood transfusion I think. I was afraid. I still remember the strange smell in the room. It didn’t smell like my mother.
Shortly after that she had to be admitted into a hospital in Lagos, and that was the last time I saw her. She was always smiling though, and for that I’m so grateful. She never looked afraid.
What were the earlier days like for you after her passing and how did loosing her affect you psychologically and emotionally?
I was in a daze I think when she passed away. There was a lot of activity, lots of people, lots of relatives, everyone asking how we were.
I spoke mostly to my older brother and my Dad. He was so strong for us so we had to be strong for him also. We never cried around people, if we felt like we had to cry, we went upstairs, because we knew if people saw us crying, the emotions would be too much.
I can never really know the full extent of how losing my mother at a young age affected me. I do know certain things now as I’ve grown older and compare the way I think and function to others.
It made me tough, independent minded, and very aware of the fragility of human life. I don’t expect to wake up the next day. I don’t expect to make it to a next moment. I hope that I do, but I know i’m always half thinking “this could be my last moment”.
It made me dread phone calls, I know death is real, and I know it first hand, I keep expecting to hear that someone else has gone. That’s simply what happens to your mind when you lose someone so young, it becomes a part of the way you think.
It made me fiercely independent and protective of my father and brothers. I worry what will happen to us if my Father passes away. I worry about being able to support myself and my brothers. My Mother may not have survived cancer, but in a way she survived through me. So I fight every day to make my life worth living, I hope that it means something that I’m here.
Emotionally, it’s harder to tell the impact. I love to laugh, and I avoid sad/serious situations. I also for a long time avoided emotional attachments to an extent; because they come with sad/serious situations. Lol.
Did you ever get to a point where you thought it was time for her to go rather than be in pain?
I think my parents both did such a fantastic job of shielding my brothers and myself, that only towards the end did I realise she was in pain. She was always smiling. She always had something positive to say. I was 10 when she passed away, I had no real understanding that she could leave us, and we were only told she had cancer after she passed away.
My Father and Mother were of one mind in that respect “the children are young” so they protected their young children the only way they knew how to.
Memory is a powerful thing, do you ever find yourself in a place of holding on to the memories of her and at other times hoping to forget?
I believe I am most sad that I do not have more memories. When you lose someone, the memories are all you have left. No. I never want to forget, I have never wished for it.
Memory is also tricky and with time some things fade, but it’s like a scar, it’s always there. I wish I had her for longer, I wanted more memories.
When you lose a mother young, you don’t realise what it truly means until you get older. She never saw any of my graduations. Not one. Not even from primary school. I never got to discuss boys with her, heartache. It’s only now in my adult years, when I talk to other women and see the influence their mothers had in their lives…. It’s sad, but it’s a loss that keeps happening, or in a way that’s what it feels like.
A friend of mine said sometimes, she isn’t really sure if she knows what it means to grieve. Sometimes the grieving process actually starts before death.Have you grieved yet and do you think dealing with loss ever gets easier?
If you lose a fundamental part of your life, its noticeable to you, especially landmark moment, accomplishments etc.
You learn to live with the loss however! It’s not all doom and gloom, you can think of it as being an amputee. Your life is what you make of it. You can decide to overcome that obstacle, or hurdle in your life, or you can let it define you. You choose.
I choose to be like Oscar Pistorious, the South-African paralympian with no legs, who started off his international sprinting competitions, beating able bodied athletes.
With whom and what you have become today, what do you think your mother would say to you now if she were here?
I hope she would be proud. I have achieved a lot conventionally with several law degrees, and am currently embracing a new career path in entertainment, and achieving there also.
I am told that she was an accomplished woman, and wasn’t afraid of challenges. I feel like she is proud. I think that’s what gives me the strength to keep pushing.
What lessons did your mother teach you?
She taught me to be a good person.
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.
Visit www.1k4cancer.org or call +234 809 008 8922
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