Last month I attended a funeral. It was only the second funeral service I’ve attended in my lifetime. I arrived early alongside the bereaved family. On the drive to the vault, I was pilot of the seventh car in a convoy of 10. Alone with my thoughts, I tried to imagine the state of mind of the new widow seated in the 2nd car ahead, a close business ally of ours. Her public service career has seen her rise to the zenith of the agency she now heads. When the news of her loss first broke, we paid a condolence visit to her late husband’s newly built home in his hometown. The twin duplex building, still awaiting electrical fittings in some parts, nonetheless, is a graceful architectural work. The project was envisioned by her late husband, in preparation for life in retirement. He was retired and she is, at best, 2 years away from retirement.
On that day, pain robbed life from her face.
When she saw us, she tried to smile but appeared to forget how to smile and her eyes began glistening with moist.
On this day though, minutes away from saying a final goodbye to her lover of 38 years, for her, I wondered if the clouds could have been any darker on a sunny day.
If this was the case, or she dried her face and straightened her back a second before, it wasn’t obvious when she stepped out of her dark-tinted SUV, face dry as the weather. There is no denying that beneath her face a battle between emotion and the force of will raged wildly, and yet again, she was on the verge of conceding defeat to tears.
Even if she were winning, the atmosphere at the vault couldn’t have helped her cause.
Quiet as the resting ground that it is, the timidity of our footsteps seemed to upset her calm resolve. The lack of confidence in our steps betrayed the very reason why we were there: to stand with her. For her I imagine it probably felt like soldiers following a general to war, except our feet dragged like sleepy fighters unaware of the great loss so close at hand.
Now gathered together at the graveside, underneath a hot sun summertime will be envious of, she began sobbing –her sister, eldest daughter and son held her firmly on both sides at the edge of her lover’s grave. The voice of the Anglican choir present serenaded us so well and if I could describe the mood at the vault, I’d say it caused more peaceful rest for the gentle sleeping souls that call this place home. When the hymns ended, and talking ceased, and dust to dust commenced, and the only sound heard is that of caked loamy soil hitting the hard polished wood of her lover’s casket, we heard her shriek and bust in loud tears. For her, it must have felt like the moment of truth where the reality she feared and refused to believe finally arrived.
I and my team left the vault shortly after the interment.
On our drive back home to Lagos from Ibadan, the weather quickly turned from sunny to cloudy with apparent storms ahead. While driving through the storm and with the way it poured, we felt the storm was happening across the city. Imagine our surprise when we discovered the journey to our destination still had a sunny end to it. For this post, I tried to put the events of that day –the burial and storm- in perspective, and the feeling I get is: though moments appear they will last forever, nothing really does. Not the pain. Not the joy. Not the storm. Not life. But for the living, smiles will find our faces again and our voices may even crack with laughter when pain or the storm is over. And the experience will be no more than what it is: an addition to our experience gallery.
So simple to think yet so hard to maintain perspective in the heat of the moment.
Last week in Abuja, I paid the widow a visit at her agency’s headquarters. She was talking to a senator on the phone in her usual tough as a man with voice of a sweet bird style, successfully negotiating a better deal for her agency. She hung up, face beaming at her luck, and said to her staffs present “trust me to always get the best deal for us”. We hugged and I presented her with the gift my boss got her. We joked about her style choice, my boss’ generosity and said our goodbyes, all in less than 3 minutes. Walking out of the agency in my Obama strides, I was convinced that nothing truly lasts forever but most important, life comes in seasons.