Since 2003,January 2 has always been a sad day for me, for one very ghastly reason, until April 22, 2015.
Here’s the reason: On January 2, 2003, my father, Ethelbert Oparah, until then the Parish Catechist of St. Joseph’s Catholic Church, Ogbor Nguru, Mbaise, a retired Headmaster Special Class, an absolutely handsome, humble, humane and Godly “living saint” transited to the Grand Lodge above.
We had spent the Christmas and the New Year in Duro Soleye Hospital, where he checked in on December 12th. He’s been sick for about 18 months having suffered a stroke after suddenly lapsing into diabetic coma. A very good man, he didn’t want us to spend the New Year in the hospital after we had spent the Christmas there against his wish, but his condition took a rather curious turn on New Year’s Day and by 4pm, he started having difficulty in breathing and the very wonderful medical personnel had to keep him going by giving him Oxygen.
My mom, all my siblings and I surrounded his bed. He kept talking to me, asking me whether I was ok, and whether he would be ok. I was so scared, I couldn’t even respond. I kept looking at one of my younger brothers, Chukwuma, then a Medical Student, for clues. He was expressionless. The doctors and nurses kept coming and going, and kept assuring me he’d be all right. At midnight, my brother told me to go home and catch some sleep since I would be working in the morning. I obeyed. He stayed behind. Of course, the plan was to resume in the hospital with my mom and others in the morning and, as is traditional, lead the family in prayers before heading out to work.
Well, it turned out that was the last time I saw the old man alive. When my phone rang that fateful morning at about 5am, I knew the worst had happened. I hadn’t slept. I was so scared, so sure the call would come. And it did come. Point blank, the young man told me, “Daddy’s gone!” And my world literally came to a stop! I tried to man up. I sneaked out of bed, got dressed and wanted to sneak out of the room without letting my wife know. But she had seen me. She stopped me in my tracks and burst into tears. She had quietly overheard my conversation with my brother.
He wanted to come with me. I told her to let me go alone, just so my Mom won’t get the joke so early. Alone I “flew” to Duro Soleye. Right there I saw my Dad as he lay peacefully in total and final sleep! I stood there looking at him as the room, and indeed my World, spun round and round. I sat beside him, held him up (he was still warm. He only just passed away), and I gave him a shake, calling his name and speaking to him. He was speechless. He was motionless. He was expressionless. Then, it dawned on me he was really gone, because my Dad never failed to answer my call. I was totally devastated.
Look, I left the man right there and drove back home to get my mom and siblings with the excuse that Daddy wasn’t getting better and that we needed to pray for him. “Foolishly”, they all came along. May be they sensed the worst had happened but elected to play along, going by the way they all quickly brushed their teeth, washed their faces and packed into the two cars and off we went. I led them up to the private room, and as I opened the door and pointed at the lifeless man, they all erupted in tears. Imagine all 9 of us plus my mom and my wife! Except Peski, my immediate younger brother, who wasn’t in town that Christmas period, everyone else was around. The Hospital was on fire with the wailing and yelling. We all cried our eyes and hearts out. Then, I took charge. The bills. Mortuary. Phone calls to family and friends, and my boss. The whole nine yards. And then, the funerals plans.
I’ll spare you the details, especially if your not the first son and first child among 10 (a whole local government)! But fast-forward to this night. My son, Tito (short for Otitodirichukwu) and I are sleeping in one bed tonight. He’s been restless. He keeps waking up and climbing on top of me. He keeps staring at me. Each time I lay him down when he slept off, he’d wake up in a blink of an eye. And I’m here myself, sleepless. Then, it dawned on me. It was already midnight. It was January 2. Tito is my father. Yes, he is. I’m that superstitious. Besides, my father promised me, in writing,that if he died before I got a son, he’d come right back to me. He never lied to me while he was alive. So, I had no reason to doubt. The only thing was that it took a while, a long while. 12 years after his passing, and 15 years after we married, the old man fulfilled his promised. And Tito, my father, is now with me. Nnanna, in Igbo. Babatunde in Yoruba. He’s woken up a dozen times as I’m writing this post and each time he’s given me that look, that familiar intense, telling look that’s characteristically his. Never mind…! You may not understand.
So, this is the 3rd January 2nd since Tito’s birth on April 22, 2015. I used to cry and cry and cry and cry on that day. I still cry. In fact, I’m crying as I’m writing this piece. But now I cry and after I laugh. For he is with me. In every way, looks, behavior, disposition, mannerism, smiles, gait, everything. He came back even more handsome. Nwoke ka nwanyi Mma!!! And he came in a spectacular way, with a sister in tow!!!
So, you see my dilemma. You can now understand the reason for my conundrum and the double paroxysm of sadness and joy. It’s even hard to say Rest In Peace, Dad. Why would I say so, when he’s back to me as my one and only son! But then again, as they say, loved ones never die for they live forever in the hearts of those whom they love and those who love them.
And so it is with my father. I’d rather thank him for all he did for me. I doubt that I’d be able to live up to the standard he set. His legacy of love, peace and sincerity are my guiding principles in life. I thank him too for fulfilling his most important promise to me, among several promises he made to me.
Daddy, I’ll never forget you. I’ll never let you down. I’ll uphold your legacies and strive to meet and,if possible, raise the standards you set. I love you dad. And surely, on the last day, we shall meet at that final fellowship in the Grand Lodge!
Mr Oparah is the Director of Communications, Airtel Nigeria