I remember seeing my little cousin for the first time in close to two years. She chose the restaurant nearest to her apartment where we’d meet before heading to watch a play. I had obviously forced her to go watch a play with me – a pastime that I often subject those closest to me to -, yet she was the one running late. She walked in, looking like the grown up she had become. Sincere, albeit short-lived apologies fell from her mouth. Next thing I knew, she was quizzing me about my boyfriend.
Are you happy? Long distance, huh? Wowza! What’s your plan? When will you move? Do you want to move? Aww, I am so happy for you sisi, but don’t move for a man!
Her questions were coming out faster than I could answer. I remember looking at her, thinking how grown she was. She was a lot more feisty and assertive than I remembered. Talking about some of her experiences at her job, I realised that she was no longer the naïve young woman I had last seen two years ago. I will admit here that I was a bit shocked at how mature and assertive she had become. She also had a newfound bite that I didn’t like much. Looking back now, that doesn’t even matter, because she was alive. She was here.
My cousin died last June, and it’s been such a weird thing to deal with. Thinking about all her aspirations and passions hurts. Thinking of how full of life she was the last time I saw her, made it so difficult for me to think about her in the past tense. But God is good and his choices are always right so we don’t question that. We merely thank him for time, and love and life. We thank him that we knew and loved…”but if we had not loved each other, none of us would have survived” – James Baldwin.
Another reason why this particular death hurt so much is because it reminded me of my other cousins who died years before. My girl cousin who passed on was crushed by a car so badly that they told us not to look at her body because we wouldn’t be able to recognise her in our memories. I remember this death because her funeral was the first time I had to go to my father’s village (long story). My cousin brother’s death hurt even more because he was my brother. We’d grown up together and at the time of his death, he was living at my house. Also in a car accident.
Death for me, and for most of us, is always so jarring. A rude reminder that God can and does take back his breath when he pleases. And a beckoning for us to number our days. Death comes and we cannot help but be changed by it. In thinking about all these young people that I knew and loved, who are no longer here, I want to remind us all of God’s goodness even in loss. How precious it is that we got to know and love such special people. May it also be a reminder to preach the gospel to those we claim to love, for there is no greater love than that.
When my cousin brother died, I wrote a poem that I want to share here because it feels applicable to all the deaths I have personally lived through:
YOU LIVE IN MY MEMORIES
I will not cry for you
No tears can put together broken glass,
Nothing can erase this pain that feels like my skin is being sandpapered, to erase even the slightest smell of your memory.
Almost as if to nullify your existence, or even worse, to reduce it to a few drops of that which will soon fade. To be forgotten.
I will not dignify pain with proving it right.
Because, you were a beautiful song that tug on my heart strings, never to be forgotten.
Waaaay more than that.
Often, your memory lands like sloppy kisses of sunshine on my face on stormy days to remind me that at the very least, you lived extravagantly.
Sometimes it carries me.
When simplicity escapes my mind, a thought of you reminds me how sometimes the most breathtaking things in life are the most simple.
Yet sometimes, it comes as a sharp pain that shoots through my heart like the first time I found out failure was an actual thing. Or when they told me I would never see your face again.
Or that time they wouldn’t let me see her, because the car that ran her over left her soo badly disfigured that they thought if I looked at her, I wouldn’t be able to recognise her even in my memories.
Sometimes I sit in the dark just so the outside matches that which is happening inside.
I miss you so.
And sometimes, it makes me smile. Because I know your life is a story worth every poem.
A stroke of genius, of pretty, that God allowed me the privilege to witness.
An open-ended beautiful poem, whose end is left to be created by its receiver.
I know these words are not big enough to contain you. Because you, you were larger than life.
But sometimes, I imagine these letters as a boat that take you to all the places that you never got to see. And in them, you sail to watch the moon in unknown skies.
While in them, you smell blue oceans and let new winds kiss your skin.
I imagine you happy.
I imagine you smiling and as you know, when you did I couldn’t help but join in.