Autumn Diary: On My Nana's Passing


Cowards die many times before their deaths; 
The valiant never taste death but once.
Of all the wonders that I yet have heard
It seems to me most strange that men should fear;
Seeing that death, a necessary end
Will come when it will come.

--William Shakespeare, Julius Caesar

I was made to memorize the above poem when I was in the sixth grade. And, as a class, we recited it every morning. This is the only poem that I know by heart (with a forgotten word here and there). I am not afraid of my dying or that of my loved ones. I think death a devastating blessing. It is, after all, the only certainty for all living beings. As suggested by the poem above, I was brought up in an environment which sort of prepared one to face death head-on. Every Ghanaian knows that no one goes to a funeral to cry! I mean yes, we share tears here and there, but the majority of the time is spent eating, dancing, and catching up with all those extended family members one has not seen since so-and-so died––for the majority of one's family are more likely to turn up for a funeral than any other event. It is as if having lost a loved one, we feel obliged to be alive for two

The first event of my life that made me think oh this is a miracle! had everything to do with my grandmother, whom we all called Nana. Her real name is Koryo, which when pronounced Koryö means air. This miracle of an event happened when I was about eleven or twelve years old. I was in a really awful situation and just when I thought I was completely doomed, Nana popped out, seemingly out of thin air, and saved me. A lot of who/what I am today has much to do with her saving me and bringing me up. 

Nana has always been an interesting little woman. Quick to anger but always ready for a good laugh. She taught me how to express love in teasing. I have met no one who knows how to tease like she does: somewhat bravely, somewhat coyly, and somehow sweetly. This smart woman taught me to love all her favorite foods then taught me to cook them just like we love them. One of the most beautiful things she instilled in me is the ability to not take anything and anyone too seriously. Hen do nyemi ji muo! She used to say. Which roughly translates to: a serious person is a laugh, or the serious friend is humorous.


On a beautiful evening, a few days ago, I came home from work in a very good mood––I had been in a good mood all day––to find my brother looking forlorn. He says to me: Akweley, i li bene ma de mo nino han...(Akweley, I do not know how to tell you this). He paused and tears flooded his big eyes. I knew something was wrong. Mo de mi kɛkɛ(Just tell me!) I told him. He looks at me sadly and says in a soft, trembling voice; Akweley, Nana gbo (Akweley, Nana is dead). I felt my legs struggle beneath me and had to sit down, still in my winter coat and backpack. And I felt tears roll freely down my face. Yet I felt no sadness or anger, just this weird little realization that I could not translate my emotions. I then, suddenly, felt heavy in body and spirit. Now I feel weak, like I have been drained of strength and I think I am still a little shocked.

I cried not for long for I have been preparing for her leave. She's been even more brave and  gorgeous these past few years, quite mischievous and wonderfully naughty, too. Keeping it so real with everyone. I almost never called her––although she was always on my mind––but when I did get to talk to her, she would say, so you have remembered me today, have you?! And we would laugh and she would tease and tease and say, won't you take a break from all that schooling and get a job, Akweley? I am going to die soon and you must come to my funeral! And I would say, Ko ha wo, awanye, kɛ ogbo ma ba!  (Don't worry, older sister, when you die I shall come!). She turned 86 this September. Although fifty-six years my senior, she had this way of always treating me as though I was her equal. Quite odd of her, for it is not the traditional Ghanaian way.

Here is the thing, I do not think I shall miss her. How can I miss someone who is so much part of me? It is as though she and I are the same being. And wherever I go, she comes too, and wherever she goes so do I. So in a sense, I too have died, just like she is still so much alive! It is a blessing that she has lived as long as she had; a blessing that she died happy, knowing she is loved; a blessing that she was neither ill nor in pain, and that she went very gently. Often when I look in the mirror I hear her teasing me to not be so vain. In my mind's eyes she is always laughing with shinning eyes. 

I haven't worn any black. I am not mourning for my Nana. I am celebrating her death! And I am definitely not crying anymore. What is there to cry about? I am happy she is dead! There is much beauty in life but there is also so much pain. Old age has not been particularly kind to Nana. For some time now, she has not been able to eat the things we loved to eat, and her joints have been giving her much tribulations. Also it seems she had been feeling a lot lonely since her best friend kicked the bucket. Everything in me says she is in a beautiful place now. So I can't help it but to be happy for her.

To you, my dearest Nana, Congratulations on your death! Iyoyo, my heartbeat celebrates you. That I am here means you are, too. And when my lungs refuse anymore air, I shall run into your loving embrace and we shall laugh and tease each other as we are so very good at doing. Rot beautifully, you awesome, gorgeous woman! Thank you for saving me and thank you for all the beautiful life lessons. I shall try and apply them in my living, so I can be as courageous as you have been. And you can be sure that I will do my best to be as happy as I can be in this body of mine. Of course, I shall not forget you; how can I? when I am, because you were, and so much of what I am has everything to do with you! I know your soul is soaring and whirling in sparkling joy. And yet I must say, I wish you a glorious rest, and yes, oh please yes! may your beautiful soul be peaceful at last!

Until so very soon,
Your Suma

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