Between the earth and sky above, nothing can match a Grandmother’s love.
I called my grandmother NNE NNE, Igbo word for mother’s mother. It was passed down from my cousins. I think it was because NneNne’s first child was Big Aunty and Big Aunty’s first child was and is still a girl. So Nne Nne sufficed.
But I questioned everything like why couldn’t I call grandmother NNA NNE or NNE NNA- Father’s mother?!
“Stick to Nne Nne, Ozi Nnenne. A mother’s love they say is supreme, now imagine a mother’s love being doubled?” Big Aunty told me. I asked no further and I refused to tell her I had Nne Nne in mother’s mother – maternal grandmother . Nne Nne had a name for everyone. When I was born, she called me OZIOMA- good news. She said I reminded her of all the goodness that couldhappen in the midst of pain. I was born in the year 1994, grandmother had a surgery slated for thatyear but few days before that surgery I was born. She said I was goodnews. She never had that surgery.
I’m 20 and it’s 2014. The month is October and the morning is cold.I’m still covered, under my blankets when I hear my phone ring.
“Olu, ogini, I don’t have credit”
“See this one, I’m calling to tell you of something important and youare here talking credit”
“Oya ndo, what is it?”
“I think Nne Nne is dead. Father and mother have been talking inwhispers. But I know something is wrong. Nne Nne is dead”
I began to cry. Words failed me.
“You’re crying?! Why?! She was old.
The suffering was too much. I’m happy she’s gone to be with Jesus. Bye, before you begin lamenting onmy credit”
Nne Nne can’t go like that.
I was supposed to hug her one more time.They say hugs were invented to let people know you love them without having anything to say. That’s how it was with Nne Nne only thing waswe had so much we wanted to say to her, problem was she couldn’t hear. She couldn’t see. She couldn’t remember. She cried all the time. Hugs became our only way of making her feel, see and remember LOVE. Earlier that year, I had gone to see her. Before I went into the room I was warned, “She may not remember you”!
She could still perceive some light vision as both eye functions had been severely impaired from glaucoma”.
I entered the room and everything was just as I remembered. The barefloor. The snuff. The chewing stick. The hand fan made from raffia and designed with green and red colours. The pictures of all of us. More bottles of snuff.
“Nne Nne mo, imela kpole – How are you? O wu muwa, Ozi bekee, ADA Chukwunedum”
“Olo, No, Ozioma” I shook my head to make her understand I wasn’t Chisom my cousin. But her confusion set in and she began crying, asking and begging God to take her life. I hugged her so tight. She was hurting and we could donothing.
Big Aunty said she thinks NneNne died around 10:00pm. She was humming one of her favorite tunes when she slept off. Big Aunty assumed Nne Nne had gone to bed. But when she woke up around 12:00am to check grandmother, she noticed everything was still the same. Herhands still held the raffia fan. The snuff wasn’t opened. The bed wasn’t scattered. Everywhere was quiet. She could perceive it – Onwu. Death.
Father and his siblings called her “Diida” “Wake up, teeta n’ura”…
When she didn’t move. Big Aunty knew. Cousins knew. She was gone. Peacefully she slept. With singing in her lips. Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his godly ones. His Saints. His faithful ones.Cousins washed Nnenne’s body. Covered it. They all gathered in the room and waited for dawn. Waited for the ambulance.
I regret a lot of things. One of them is not being fluent in Igbo language. That was a barrier between Nne Nne and I. When I was little, I was indifferent whenever I heard we were to to travel to Owerri. Happy, because I would see Nne Nne, sad, because I couldn’t communicate effectively with Nne Nne. I had a lot of questions to ask her . I wanted to ask her about her first sewing machine, the man she fell in love with – her husband, I’ve never heard anyone speak about him. I was so curious. I wanted to ask her about the Biafra war, when the war came to Umuekwune, she was sick that day, father was six that year and prayed to God to keep Nne Nne. She survived the war by eatingfrogs, not by eating lizards like the Mbaise people. I wanted to ask her about the shape of my family compound. They said it was once aseminary. We have two Priests now. There was so much I needed to know, I had all the questions, Nne Nne had all the answers. When I was six and seven I would write letters to Nne Nne, letters that my father would deliver to her. Her replies were not written down, they were delivered verbally through Father, these replies from Nne Nne were usually accompanied with crisp and minty notes, I remember the one time I got Fifty Naira from her. I saved it until I was done withprimary three. I was seven. Because of Nne Nne, I resolved that my children would speak Igbo language without stress, meaning I would have to get married to an Igbo man who speaks the Igbo language with grace. The Igbo language meant so much to me.
You know what they say about the colour white – Purity, Holiness,Charity? It isn’t complete. White is my Nne Nne. Pure. Immaculate. Charitable and Holy is my Nne Nne. Two months before grandmother died, Big Aunty had a dream. White streets. White birds. Nne Nne on white. White. White. White. The birds cheered Nne Nne on. She was walking into this perfect light. A year before grandmother died, Big Aunty II, Big Aunty’s younger sister had the same dream. White streets. White birds. Nne Nne onwhite. White. White. White. The birds cheered Nne Nne on. She was walking into this perfect light.
“That was a sign” Big Aunty said when we were all discussing the colour of materials to be worn for Grandmother’s burial. Everything was white. Her coffin. The car. Our clothes. Everything. I was happy we were doing this for her. I was happy we celebrated her while she was alive. But I was still puzzled by the way Africans spent so much on burials. The various canopies. The women groups from the church, market, kindred, clan. The uniformed wrappers they tied. The songs they rehearsed. The rush for food. The flasks inside their bags forhoarding. I will never understand burial ceremonies in Africa.
One year after the death of Grandmother, the customary outing service had to be done. We wore our whites again. Big Aunty II brought a very big white hen for the one year memorial Thanksgiving. Immaculate white hen. This hen was so big I almost called it an ostrich. It was finally time for Thanksgiving when we began looking for this white hen. Big Aunty had TIED it outside and it was in the midst of other Thanksgiving items. We were wasting time, the people’s warden announced , father decided we all go for Thanksgiving like that. When we got to the altar, he whispered to the Priest.
“Anyi n’acho fowl” We are looking for the fowl.
“Nsogbu a diro, o ka no premises”… He announced it, everyone laughed. We prayed. After the benediction, someone screamed. Everyone gathered, jawdropped, speechless. The white hen was seated in all its GLORY under the seat where Nne Nne loved to sit. “How will you people come to church and leave Nne Nne outside?” an elderly man asked and walked away. Old men and their parables, I thought. The questions began pouring in…
“Who untied the hen?”
“How come nobody saw the hen walk down the isle”
“Why grandmother’s seat?”
So many questions, no answers. It is hard to believe in co-incidence, but it is even harder to believe in anything else. Coincidence, is the manifestation of God at every moment on our planet. We find communionin these moments.
Protestants do not believe in the doctrine that Saints should intercede for humans on earth. They believe you have to go directly toJesus and other reasons. However, these are the reasons people ask Saints to help intercede:
Those in heaven are really more alive than we are.
We need the prayers of our brothers and sisters and family members, here or in heaven.
We choose someone we can trust, someone who understands our problems, someone who was close to God.
That night, after the memorial service, after the white hen, aftereverything, I sat on Nne Nne’s marble grave and prayed thus :
“Nne Nne mo, pray to Jesus for me, that I would write books and overcome all the challenges life will throw at me. I’m sorry we dropped you outside the church. Pray to Jesus for father and motherthat they would live as long as you did. Pray to Jesus for cousins. Pray to Jesus for all of us. Sometimes, it gets so hard we loose hope to thrive on. Pray to Jesus for us, Grandmother”.
Do not stand by my grave and weep for I am not there. I am the swift uplifting rush. I am the soft stars that shine at night. Do not stand by my grave and cry. I am not there. I did not die. I am in the airand sky. Be happy for me. I did not die.
That night, I went to bed with a smile. I dreamt of the colour white,I saw these words on a white signpost :
END OF ONE LIFE, BEGINNING OF ANOTHER – MOVING FORWARD TO A NEW LIFE.
For my Grandmother…. Keep Resting In Peace, Nne Nne m.
Happy Mother’s Day.