Life after death

The last few weeks have been a roller-coaster of emotions – from the sadness of losing a dear sister-in-law, to the bittersweet joy of reuniting with many long-lost relatives and friends, and the fierce hope of protecting and nurturing 5 year-old Samuel after the loss of his mother.

The experience began nearly two years ago when Michelle was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, a rare cancer that spreads through vessels and glands in the body. She bravely navigated the inevitable rounds of chemotherapy that seemed to sap the very life out of her skin, flesh and hair, reducing her to a shadow of her former self. Yet, no matter how toxic the treatment, Michelle never ran out of clever quips, hopes and prayers.

Meanwhile, my brother, Paul, searched for alternative therapies, a more healthy diet and a stronger dose of faith. So dedicated was he to her cause that he gave up work for eighteen months, became the sole carer of both wife and son, and stuck to a raw food diet that even the patient eventually abandoned for more familiar cooked foods and sugar-laden sweets.

As the absentee brother, I was relegated to making frustrating calls from Nigeria that ended in thin air or waiting at the end of WhatsApp for Paul to answer my texts, while tending to the family’s needs. On brief stopovers in London, I would walk the tightrope between wanting to be supportive to Paul and Samuel, while doubting my ability to control my reaction to Michelle’s worsening state. My heart was filled with compassion, yet I would dread seeing her morphing into a husk, reminiscent of my mother some fifteen years earlier.

The last couple of times I saw Michelle, I was passing through London on the way to and from Jamaica. I could see that, barring a miracle, that those were her last days. I tried to talk to Paul about whether he was preparing for the inevitable but he was too focused on coaxing her into one last rally, one that he hoped could be sustained until she recovered completely. 

Not wanting to put a damper on things, I retreated to Calabar and prayed that the news would not come too quickly. But it did. Paul kept me up to date on Michelle’s re-admission to hospital with pneumonia and her rapid decline overnight. I went to bed fearing the worst and awoke to a missed call and a stark message: “Michelle has gone to heaven”. I felt sadness for the family she left behind and a strange sense of relief that her suffering was finally over.

Throughout the planning and execution of the final arrangements, my brother has been magnificent. With the help of a very supportive church, loyal friends and family, Paul conjured up a memorable and moving farewell that you could have sold tickets to quite easily, such was the amazing outpouring of musical performances from some of Michelle’s favourite praise & worship artistes. In the midst of sadness, there was joy, fellowship and gratitude for a life that had touched more than five hundred souls who turned up to say goodbye.

My favourite moment of the whole day will remain etched in my memory for a long time to come. It came at a dramatic juncture, when the beautifully engraved casket was being lowered into the bowels of the crematorium. Paul took Samuel gently by the hand and led him to the altar, so that he could take one last look before his beloved Mummy disappeared forever. As some mourners moved forward to join the silent vigil, Samuel looked around and, for some reason, looked up to the balcony. 

His gaze met mine and he broke into the most beautiful smile. I smiled back and he grinned, then gave me a cheery wave. It was a poignant moment that left me in no doubt that Samuel will be just fine. He is beginning to learn that death is a part of life and that there is always life after death.

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68 thoughts on “Life after death

  1. Michael….Thanks for sharing and your commentary certainly highlighted and enabled me to experience the journey of the family. Well done!!!

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    1. Michael,
      Your post brought tears to my eyes, I expected nothing less from Paul who has a gentle, loving and caring spirit.
      Give my love to Paul.

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  2. Willy,
    Your blog was as moving as it was eloquent. I have a close friend who lost his wife last July to brain cancer at the tender age of 45. She left a beautiful daughter 8 and handsome son 14. Her husband was just like Paul, never losing faith and constantly searching for the next alternative treatment. In the end, the cancer had it’s way, but reminded us that life is fleeting and we must love all we can, help all we can, live fulfilling lives all we can. Thanks for sharing so eloquently. Blessings to you and family always.

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  3. Thanks Michael for sharing. Wishing you, Paul and Samuel all the love, healing and comfort. Beautifully told. At one with the source. Xx

    ~Butterflies are free to fly~

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  4. Michael, so beautifully written. The tears just kept coming. Samuel has a strong foundation of love, faith and family. I continue to keep you all in my thoughts and prayers. I look forward to more blogs. This is part of your own healing…xoxo

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  5. Paul… moving and eloquent which evoked so clearly the wide range of emotions, love and compassion you have for Paul, Michelle and Samuel.
    Your message was also uplifting and a reminder that life is precious. You and Paul are am sure the best role models Samuel needs in his life. Beautiful.

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  6. Mike,
    Sincerest condolences. Excellent & eloquent blog saturated with a plethora of inspirational factors. There is no doubt that little Samuel is in great hands.

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  7. Yes Willie a moving blog. It is hard to accept the fact we will never see a loved one again. For years I had a hard time dealing with it. Sharing your loss with us actually give me a way to look at death as the way I look at life. I always say it but for whatever the reason , reading your blog makes it more real to me. May the almighty continue guide your family with strength and faith.

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  8. Mike, please give my condolences to Paul. He is fortunate to have a loving and supportive network of family and friends to help him get through this time. Being away from family in times of great need always results in feelings of guilt, thinking that you should have, could have done more. Continue being the loving brother and uncle that you always were and know that means a lot to them. Stay strong my brother. Love always.

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  9. Very, very well written, Willy. I found it to be comprehensively succinct, especially in light of the topic & the extended period it covers, & particularly poignant. It is easy to identify with your feelings of frustration & helplessness as the absentee brother/brother-in-law/uncle, Paul’s faith, doggedness and devotion as the dedicated husband, Michelle’s tenacity and positive attitude in light of the obvious relentlessness of her declining health, the evidence of a life effectively lived, as attested by the huge attendance at her home-going, and the remarkable and encouraging resilience of 5-yr old Samuel.

    I sense that writing this was somewhat cathartic for you as well.

    Wayne

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    1. Hey Wayne. Yes, this has been quite uplifting to share and receive such an amazingly positive response. I’ve started to write my first book – a take on my experiences in Nigeria – and I think blogging will help. Anyway, I’m about to find out! Much love to Jenny, Gabby, Ricky and Wendy.

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  10. Am so sorry for your loss. .May her soûl rest in peace. .I v to say this, when I got your bbm msg I didnt à well composed yet touching story such as what I just rest…one word ” Magnifico!..will bc your msg so pple can visit ur blog and réad thé story.

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  11. Thanks For Sharing Michael, Please Accept My Condolences And I Hope You Had Some Sort Of Healing Through Writing About It….
    Great Piece, Diligently written And I Look Forward To More ….
    Glory

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  12. Bitter/Sweet emotions, beautifully expressed. Reading this felt so real, like I was somewhere watching the scenes play out from a distance.
    The experience reminded me of when I lost my aunt to cancer some years ago. She was so young and full of life, then suddenly her health began to deteriorate until that fateful day; when she thought it wise to leave us. She passed with a weak smile and left behind a very pretty little girl (only child) who at the time was just 5 years old.
    I’m sure Michelle left knowing that Samuel is in great hands.
    I pray for healing for you and the entire family.
    Best Regards

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  13. Sunday morning, and I woke up to this message on my bbm,i followed the link,just to read this jaunty well written piece.
    Reminds me of a friend who lost her mom too to cancer and still didn’t get the chance to see her for the last time because there was financial constraints to bring her corpse back to Nigeria.
    Really a sad moment,my condolence to you,your brother and little Sammy,i always say “All Is Well”
    R.i.p Michelle.
    *looking forward to your first book***bighug***

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  14. Thank you so much for sharing this with us Michael. I pray your family moves on graceful and may the lord heal any hurt and pain from your hearts amen.

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  15. Michael, that was lovely. Your nephew has fine role models in both you and Paul. Many blessings to all of you. Keep writing…..you have a gift.

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  16. Thanks Dale for sharing this amazing piece. Sam is such a brave lil guy Cos he knows mummy is with her father in heaven.God grant paul and the entire family the fortitude to bear loss. Accept my sympathy.

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  17. That Michelle never ran out of clever quips, hopes and prayers in spite of her circumstance exemplifies the beauty of the human spirit. I never met her but she comes across as one who was bubbly and full of life. So sorry for your loss Michael. Thanks for sharing. I found this very moving. May the good Lord comfort and heal you and your family in this difficult time.

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  18. An articulate and captivating read, I lost my mom in December (2014) and my mother-in-law the previous December (2013), so I fully understand and empathize. Condolences again to you and your family (Facebook previously).

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  19. So sorry Michael for the loss. Please extend my heart-felt condolences to your brother Paul and family. We in Calabar pray that he continues to find the much needed strength to carry on.

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  20. A veeery touching piece…. and bitter sweet in the end. Michelle sounds like the superwoman in every familty and a phenomenal person.Please accept my condolences on your family’s loss.Sure enough she is off to a great start in that better place. Little Samuel ..what a trooper?!.he will be just fine with his dad and uncle around. If anything this has set me thinking of my own mortality and a lot of what if’s familywise. The realization that we (50+) have already lived the greater 2/3 of “this life” and we are getting ready to get ready to make an exit. I will use this as a wake up call to stop, review and make sone positive changes in an attempt to play catch up in the last third Now that I am older and wiser…. (Sometimes we get so caught up in the small but immediate day to day affairs & struggles that we Forget/Miss the Big picture)
    Great piece Sir Willy, hope u will continue writing.

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    1. Thanks GB, I’m glad the article touched you in such a positive way. You’re right – it’s easy to get lost in day-to-day minutiae and lose sight of bigger goals, dreams and relationships. Here’s to the last third or maybe even the second half!

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  21. “Death is final healing”. That was one of the phrases of a late pastor that I knew in in encouragement of bereaved families. We don’t like watching our loved ones suffer and we are helpless in the circumstance.
    The wake up call is for all 50+ to stop postponing living.

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  22. Sad and touching narrative. Accept my condolences. For your family, renew your strength in the Lord & keep faith. Cheers sir

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  23. Very sorry for your loss.
    My condolences to the family.
    Vanity upon vanity.
    Death is inevitable.
    Our goal and focus in life should be to make heaven.
    That is the only consolation and hope of believers.
    Hope to see you soon in Calabar.

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  24. May your sister in laws soul rest in perfect peace. Amen. May God continue to give your family peace, understanding and strength. Thank you for sharing your feelings and thoughts. God will definitely continue to shower love, blessings and wisdom on your family.

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  25. This is indeed very touching, I’m sorry for your loss and I pray that God gives you and your family the fortitude to pull through. May her soul rest in perfect peace. Amen.

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  26. Michael thank you so much for sharing. I did not know Michelle and was sorry I could not be there for her send off. I know she was dearly loved and thank God for the love and blessings that surrounds Paul and Samuel.

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  27. Thanks for sharing Michael. I beleive this could help give closure to many who read. I lost one of my sisters to cancer a few years back and can relate as she left a son and husband behind too. Michelle is in a better place. Paul and Samuel will be fine as the beautiful memories she left behind will give them strength always. Warms regards to you and your beautiful wife.

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  28. Hmm! I get you. I have lost too, and your emotions are understandable. I was born to believe in life after death but after losing my brother to our country’s bad health system and understanding death the hard way, (we weren’t prepared for it in anyway) I made a decision to live life at it most, the most that I can and to love the most that I can, the people I care about. Life after death is something we know not how or can control but with the life we’ve got now, we can. For me right now life after death seems far fetched. When will your little Nephew see or touch his Moma again, when he does sees her, will she be his Mom and spend time with him like here on earth? You know the answer. Anyway thank God his got you and others; time will make his smile a reality. My condolence again.

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    1. Thanks for your kind words, Blessing. From what I’ve just read, I think we’re saying the same thing. ‘Life after death’ refers to the decision we make to carry on after losing a loved one and live our best life. I was inspired to write the piece because Samuel, in his innocence, managed to miss him mummy but still laugh, play and practise the drums. He’s never missed a day of school and planned his own 6th birthday party himself, booking the venue, caterer and musicians! By all accounts, he had a great time with friends and family yesterday. We should all learn from his example.

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  29. On point as always and very real! I’m late to the story but it touches me anyway. No matter the length of time you have to “prepare” it’s always a punch to the soul when someone dies.

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