March 31st, 2015 – Nigerian Lady Mourns: How Stage 4 Prostate Cancer Killed My Father 11 Years After My Mom Died Of Ovarian Cancer
A Nigerian lady who lost her father to prostate cancer on March 30th, 2014 remembered him yesterday.
Read her story below:
An Open Letter About My Father – Andrew Oroh Omokri (Oct 23, 1954 – March 30, 2014) and to all those grieving
I lost my dad 1 year ago to Stage 4 cancer. I lost my mom to ovarian cancer 11 years ago. So, in essence, my dad was my everything. Unfortunately, we can’t have any memorial service until the elections are over. However, I still want people to read and hopefully someone can find comfort in my words.
This is a story of what it was like for me to lose my beloved father, and how I have been able to thereafter wake up and live. I write this letter in the hope that a handful of you read it. And within that handful, I hope my words offer support to a few of you.
I don’t have any answers here in this letter. Twelve months ago, I was where you are today — completely devastated and in total shock at the magnitude of my loss. My father died! I lost my dad to Stage 4 prostate cancer on March 30th of 2014.
My grief was not suddenly thrust upon me – it was slow and built up steadily over the course of 15months, perhaps yours has been too or it was sudden. Or perhaps your grief marks the end of a long journey with your loved one. No matter how our grief is packaged, or what our relationship was to them — it is of course, a complete tragedy.
I’m not here to paint a gloss over how you will possibly feel in the future — for what it’s worth, I still miss my father as acutely as I did on day one. I expect I always will.
You already know by now that grief is tragic and brutal. It completely knocks you off whatever course you were on and leaves you incapable of managing even the simplest task. The idea of washing, sleeping, eating, shopping and paying bills is now as trivial as it is impossible. Let alone the idea of organising a funeral, a memorial or anything.
People mean well at a time like this, surrounding us with support (if we’re lucky), particularly in those first six weeks. After around six weeks, people start to get on with their lives again and the concerns stop arriving — ironically at a time when they would be most appreciated! I hope that this letter finds its way to you around this time, if not earlier.
Grief can be an incredibly isolating and lonely experience. Despite the many people around you offering support, no one really understands the aching loss you feel right now. Supportive sayings can come across as patrionising, and smiley hugs are laughably out of touch with your new reality.
Perhaps you’re being told to “remember the happy times”, “be strong” or “eventually move on” — though well-meant, these expressions can be as unhelpful as they are insensitive to the depth of your loss.
Of course you will remember the happy times, but probably not today. And why be strong? Honour your grief and the aching loss you feel right now. You have plenty of time to “be strong” later on if you really must.
Anyway, I hope that somewhere within this letter, something resonates with you. In the spirit of sharing, I’ve written down what the past nine months have personally taught me — I hope some of it helps you in a small way.
The five stages of grief (denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance) are not linear.
From the moment we got told the unbelievable news, to the hospital visits, to Daddy’s treatments in Nigeria & India, to all the pastors that tried to heal him with holy water or fasting (even when you were so thin), to all the witch-hunting, false hope whilst taking our money (fake pastors, I’m pointing at you), to every update (good and bad), to my trip home in December, to our conversations (when Daddy could still talk), to every moment spent together as a family, to the final few months, and to the last burst of horrific news.
During this time, I experienced every emotion you could imagine.
1. I was angry — I mean even serial killers had better and luckier lives than we did.
2. I was depressed — I mean how I could ever be OK in life without my dad?
3. I was happy — In December of 2013, my sister married the love of her life, with dad by her side,
4. I was grateful — I was the closest to daddy than I had ever been.
5. I was emotionally insane — Who knew what call I was going to get that day, how daddy was feeling that day, or whether I would be positive or negative that day.
6. I was bitter — The entire world seemed to be enjoying life, while daddy and us suffered.
7. I was proud — daddy fought so hard
8. Most importantly, and most often, I was ashamed — How could I complain about suffering, when my dad was the one ridden with disease?
In the space of one day you may well go from denial, to acceptance, with a detour into depression. For me, 12 months on, I still experience anger and acceptance within a heartbeat of the other. Grief is not logical and I don’t think it is ever fully resolved. For me, acceptance is accepting that a part of me will always be sad — but you do learn to live with the sadness. I think that this is acceptance.
Grief can be intensely physical
I wasn’t prepared for this, and I certainly thought I was having my own heart attack at several points in the months before and following my father’s death. In all honesty, every time I thought about losing my dad, I made myself stop. It was inconceivable to me. It couldn’t happen. It couldn’t happen because I wouldn’t be ok, no one in the family would be, and we simply could not live without my dad.
So when we lost him on March 30, 2014, I had no idea where to go or what to do. I was numb, week after week. My breathing was constantly laboured, my jaw was clenched, my heart was physically tight and heavy, my stomach was tense, my head ached — perhaps you feel similar symptoms. So for what it’s worth, please be reassured that these very intense physical reactions are predictable physical manifestations of grief.
Everything feels meaningless — at least for a while
When someone close to you dies, your understanding of life as you knew it often goes right out the window. Thoughts are scattered and life’s meaning is futile at best and at worst, completely devoid.
For a long while, I wanted nothing to do with my own life. There was no future in my mind, for any of us. I quit my great job in London, moved back home to Nigeria, joined a start-up, yet I question daily, the reason for my daily struggles – If I couldn’t save my own dad.
Through death, we realise how deceptive being alive is. Life fools you into thinking that you are going to just go on forever, suspended by this wonderful energy, this life- force of happiness. And yet at times like these, whether we want to realise it or not, we are acutely aware of the mortality hidden in the shadows of everyone’s life.
Don’t rely on Friends and Family
You know the ones who were calling constantly, always at his side during his lifetime, so-called best friends, extended family, mentees, those who poured in when they were alive – Yes, those ones. Don’t rely on them. They would break your heart and couldn’t care less how you live. Trust in God and your own strength.
Family and finances — two unexpected hurdles
Life can be a curious thing sometimes — just when you are trying to deal with your insurmountable loss, practical issues suddenly barge into your world, demanding your immediate and undivided attention.
The mountain of bills, debts and paperwork (not to mention extended family obligations!) that you are probably facing right now feels possibly like a very cruel joke. Not only do you not have the energy to deal with all this, but having to sit in meetings with faceless people discussing your deceased loved one is at best, sad to observe and at worst, completely devastating.
What many of us may not have previously realised is that the ‘estate’ can be fraught with complexities, and in the event of complex estates — often following the sudden and unexpected death of a loved one — details are often are not fully wound up for several years.
This delay of course bears down on the grieving process, forcing you to deal with endless practicalities, at a time when you just want to fall to pieces and lock the door.
Added to this, family tensions can start to rise following the death of a family member, and frustrations and misunderstandings can come tumbling out. Whether related to finances and the estate, or the result of different personalities and ways of grieving, tensions can erupt overnight and threaten to undermine even the closest of family relationships.
Grief is messy and family members are the most likely people to hurt and be hurt. Not only are our families a delicate framework of different personalities with a shared, complex history — the old saying that you hurt the ones closest to you rings true at a time like this — as unfair as it is.
How to deal with your friend’s grief
On the flip side, if you’re dealing with a friend experiencing grief, you can make their journey a little easier along the way.
• Don’t say “Anything I can do, please shout/call” or similar. Offer to do something, anything. Real tangible things. “Can I come over for a coffee?” — “Can I bring you anything from the supermarket?” — anything that’s an actual do than hot-air coming out of your mouth. You learn to hear “anything I can do, please call” as “I have no idea what to say and have no intention of doing anything”. Don’t put yourself in that bracket.
• Don’t expect to magically understand what they are going through. Till date, I do not feel understood and I don’t feel like I could make anyone understand either. Every relationship is so different, every person so unique. Not one loss is the same. Although many of us have lost a loved one and understand anguish, I do not believe you understand the details of my pain, nor will you ever. And in those details and strings of memories I am alone. They are mine alone. Respect that!
So there you have it, my summation of what life can be like in the first year of grief. Your experience will no doubt be entirely different.
So, to those who have lost a loved one, we are all in this together. We no doubt understand each other in a way that no one else in the world does, or ever will. We must help one another.
To those who have dissipated from our lives, we blame only the horrible life event that we had to go through, and welcome old friends back in with all my heart.
To those who have never gone through this, you are beyond lucky. If you are currently fighting with someone, fix it. If you are currently unhappy, fix it. If you are currently angry, don’t be. If you are down, don’t be. Why? Because everyone in your life is alive.