Losing a confidant, friend or someone your life has, in one way or the other, been intertwined or associated with has a way of taking away a part of you. I lost a part of me when I lost and buried my father-in-law recently.
One can say I am living the proverbial grass-to-grace life. Part of my graceful life has been an amazing relationship that I had with my late father-in-law. He called me “Sammy” with a tone of love and exceeding fondness. To him, I was a beloved son. He was never one to come to me with a request or complaint. He was reserved and not one that would push himself on others; but he was always chatty with me. I guess I was special to him. If there was, however, a moment that he and I had a conversation concerning my wife, that conversation was about his hope that she was being the good and loving daughter he raised. He never once asked me about his daughter but my wife. He was always the willing wise counsellor. Beyond the father that he was to me, he was a caring spiritual guardian. He was also a good and interesting companion. He didn’t have educational certificates, but he was indeed a man who had invested in himself with knowledge and wisdom. He was a great thinker with a very sharp mind. He was also a man of humour and candour. What I, however, appreciated – and still appreciate – most about him was his positive-mindedness. He never discussed or judged any fellow man. He was always to hold unto the positives and tolerated beyond measure the negatives in human beings and situations. It is, therefore, an understatement for me to say that he was the best. Indeed, he was a dream father-in-law. I am finding it difficult to come to terms with the reality that there will never be that time again when I will share quiet and sober moments with him. I miss the ring of “Sammy” in his voice. Though I still have fond memories of him, and his smiling face keeps appearing to me in my dreams, I dread the fact that he is no longer there to lend me his wisdom in the form advice.
The funerary and burial rites brought me closer to the life and traditions of the people of the Oro nation of Akwa Ibom State. They are happy and celebratory people. Their honour for the dead is exemplary. They have a death caring tradition that is akin to a religion. The economics of their funerals are suppressed by psychological succour one gets from their love, empathy, genuine compassion and willingness to lend a hand. The emotional hospices come in the form of companionships and the way the people put out themselves to get things done. A grieving person is never a lone ranger in the Oro nation.
My father-in-law lived up to 80 years. Although he lived much of his life in Oron town, he was buried in his family house in the village of Osu Ebughu in Mbo Local Government Area of Akwa Ibom State. The funeral and burial took almost three months to accomplish.
The news of his passing was broken to me by Sunny Roland (all of my brothers-in-law bear Roland; their surname is Bassey), who was then the oldest of the sons living in Oron. His elder and oldest brothers are pastors living at Ogbomoso and Abuja respectively. He passed the message to me to inform me as the eldest son-in-law and to request me to notify my wife who happens to be the eldest daughter of their family and, by tradition, the mourner-in-chief and the one with the responsibility to bury the father.
I had noticed my father-in-law’s failing health in March, this year, when I visited him, but I did not expect his death to come months later. Perhaps if I were a medical doctor, I might have gauged his vital signs. My wife had seen him just a little over a month before the sad occurrence and had assured me that he was getting better. It was, therefore, natural for the news of his passing to hit me hard. The more stressful aspect was, however, the death-telling responsibility that was assigned to me by Sunny. I knew the fondness that my wife had for her father. Breaking the news of his death to her was most difficult and stressful for me. It took effort for me to brave it and break the news to her. In some way, I was thankful that I delivered the news to her on the phone. She was in Lagos while I was in Abuja.
Within days, a WhatsApp group was created for the family and in-laws to converge and plan for the funeral and burial. There were stops and starts along the way, but in the end, we had a good outing. The platform was, in some way, able to meld and integrate grieving emotions and thoughts on the arrangements for the funeral and burial. Typically, not many thoughts were spent on the source of the funds as was spent on sermons on the need to give the dead a befitting burial. The budget came way later than the elaborate outlined ceremonies. Everything was urged to be done with a touch of class. Nothing was to be spared to give comfort to visitors and enhance the pride, if not the bragging rights, of the family. Cows, goats and other pricy gift items had to be bought and given to extended family members and village heads in accordance with tradition. Nothing was to be done to adulterate the value system of the Oro nation. When the actualisation of much of the economic details and reality of those elaborate and extensive preparations fell on me, I could not protest outwardly because the ego and emotions of my wife were involved.
What came in handy for me during the funeral and burial of my father-in-law was the harvest of support and love that I got from my longtime friends. Honourable Patrick Ikhariale, Victor Ibharalu and I started the life of young lawyers together. We lived together in the same house under the benevolence of Pat and his elder brother Professor Mike Ikhariale until we all got married and went to start our homes. They were present at the burial. The Honourable Attorney-General of Akwa Ibom State, Uwemedimo Nwoko, who played the host, was one of us at Ijanikin, in Lagos State. He was, most times, the MC on my January 1 birthdays. Joe Ikhelua, who chose to attend the burial of my father-in-law over many other equally important engagements in Esan, has been a friend-brother since our days at Ijanikin. James Bulems, who braved the ocean from across Calabar, was also a 1990 friend at Ijanikin. My friends-brothers, Mike Nliam and Abay Esho (Safari), who came to prominence with their One day e go better hit and as pioneer movie sound trackers, had been part of my family since my 1990s days at Ijanikin. The original MC Basket Mouth, Ernest Esien, who emceed the burial ceremony, is an in-law who had lived with me. Cally Ikpe, who dared severe malaria to attend the burial, is also a friend-brother who had lived with me. I had to name Honourable Justice Winifred Iniobong Ekpe Akpabio after the guys because of the special place I have for her in my heart. I can imagine the sacrifices she made to attend the burial with two of her friends. She had surprised me with an invaluable financial contribution and I did not expect that she would further put out herself to attend the burial. I have always considered her a worthy in-law.
As I wish the soul of my father-in-law to rest in peace, I wish to use this moment to thank all those who, one way or the other, contributed to the successes of the funeral and burial of my late father in law.
Image by Andrew Martin from Pixabay