Tag Archives: celebrate

On Death and Dying

My best friend confessed early in our friendship her fear of death and I remember being curious about why she was scared. Now looking back, maybe the question should have been why I did not feel the same? I mean of course death is not a welcome or happy thought but I don’t dwell on death and I certainly don’t actively fear it. I am very much of the school that there are 2 certainties in life: we are all born and we will all die. And since death is inevitable, I don’t think about it much.

Death is the final release.  Whatever one believes in, I think most of us believe that once you are dead, you don’t feel pain anymore. I know some people believe in reincarnation, some like me believe in the Hereafter and some think that whilst your body dies, your spirit never does and it still retains the memory of pain/anger/hurt/happiness. Although I believe in the Hereafter being Muslim, I do think that when I die, my soul leaves my physical shell and returns to its source (God). Then at some point, our lives are all assessed and we are rewarded (or not) for all our good deeds.

I wonder sometimes about what it feels like when your soul detaches from your body. I wonder if it is like a physical break, painful but transient or if it is more like an emotional separation where the after effects are long felt. I then wonder what the soul feels if it feels anything at all once it is separate from the vessel that conducts and interprets pain. Beyond that, I think death is more fearful if you are not the one dying. I mean, I would imagine that if I was in a terrible car accident, I would either die instantly with no time to think or become scared of what was happening. Or I would be in pain or feel myself getting weaker and weaker and it would be so unbearable that death would be a welcome reprieve. Same as if I had a chronic illness which was not curable but I was steadily deteriorating then dying would probably be a mercy for me.

When I think about dying properly, I realise that although I am not afraid of the dying itself, I am scared of some of the ways that I could potentially die. I am afraid after all. Being a medic, I have seen many people die so I have spent time thinking about the way I would not like to die. I guess one of the scary things about dying is that most of us do not have any idea when we are going to die. It is different for those who are diagnosed with ‘predictable’ illness but even there, giving patients a prognosis (i.e. a number of days/weeks/months/years they are expected to survive) is not an exact science.

In the past 6 months, I have come across patients who were not expected to survive being born and the first few days of life yet despite all odds, they are still with us many months later. I have also come across patients who were predicted more time only to deteriorate much quicker than anyone has experienced, giving no time for their loved ones to be prepared. The only people whose time of death can be predicted with any accuracy are those who are already brainstem dead but on life-support and when the machines are switched off, we can be fairly sure they will die within a certain time period. Even so, we have all heard of the ‘miracle’ stories where patients defy the odds and remain alive far beyond the expected time of death.

My ideal death would be the one most people wish for. I would like to die in my own bed, in my sleep. I would like for it to be when I am old but young enough that I am still completely independent. I would like for it to be after a family reunion where my nearest and dearest are all sitting around a table and reminiscing about the good old days. I would like for it to be after my mother has gone to her grave because I can’t think of anything worse for a mother than to bury her own child. I would like for my children (if I have them) to be old enough that losing their mother does not scar them too badly.

If I am unfortunate enough to have a catastrophic trauma and needed life support, I have told my closest family that I would prefer not to be kept alive for many days. I would like to be given a chance to recover (if there is one) but when it gets to the time where my chances of waking or recovering are much less that 50% then I would prefer for the machines to be switched off. I would like to be an organ donor although in my donor card, I have not ticked the skin donor thing because I am a bit squeamish when it comes to being buried with bits of my skin harvested. I don’t yet have a will but I have told my husband of my wishes verbally if I don’t get around to writing a will before the day comes.

I would like to be buried according to Islamic rites. I think the simplicity of an Islamic burial suits me perfectly. Washed and wrapped in a cotton shroud and buried within a day. If I am in my bed, the closest Muslim graveyard would be perfect but if I happen to be abroad in a strange land then I would like to be taken back to Kaduna, the town of my birth because that symmetry also appeals to me. Also my great grandmother and grandmother are both buried there so it would feel right to lie next to them.

When my grandmother died, there were a lot of tears and prayers and silence but there was remembrance every evening after the crowds dispersed and I found that uplifting. I think the sitting around the dining table and talking about Mammie’s life helped lift the gloom that surrounded us all. The fact that we could all remember and share our memories of Mammie reminded us all that although she was gone, a part of her was alive in us all. And that she had had a good life and her quick death was merciful. Those evenings also reminded us that life is transient. It is unpredictable and death can pick any of us at any time. In remembering our dead, we embraced life and were thankful for all we had been gifted with. I really hope those I leave behind can do that instead of it being all sad and tearful. May we all die a pain-free dignified death and may those we live behind be able to accept it is our time to go and may they have the strength to celebrate a life well-lived (hopefully).

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If Music be the Food of Love

…Then I am glutton and I want it all. I look at my little nephew loving music and it melts my heart. Where it not for music, I would not be where I am today. Music of all kinds. Music that is live or recorded. Current or retro. Played through headphones or on speakers. Walkman, discman to iPod. Music punctuates the story of my life.

I have 2 cousins in the US of A. The older of the two, the girl who shares my grandmother’s name with me, plays the violin to a good standard. She probably isn’t Vanessa Mae standard but the effect her music had on me was electric. She played a piece of music I wasn’t familiar with in my room in London and it changed that room for me forever. As she coaxed the strings into song, the tune struck a chord deep within me. It was as if everything came alive. My senses turbo-charged. I wanted to lie down and close my eyes and for it never to end. I must have had a very foolish smile on my face by the time she played the last note. It was the first time I had seen her in over a decade and I didn’t know her all that well. All it took for me to love her was a piece of music that she insisted wasn’t very good. All the shyness, the reserve, the uncertainty of my relationship with her was wiped away and in its place, I felt love, kinship and trust.

I will never forget the first time I heard the flute being played live. I was in JSS2 (equivalent of year 8) in QC Lagos when one of the senior girls was called on stage to play some music. There must have been nearly 4000 girls crammed into the Hall and despite all effort throughout the rest of the special assembly, there was steady background chatter. She came on stage and as she assembled her flute, the silence began to wash across the room. She played the theme song to Disney’s Pocahontas. Have you ever listened to the score on that song? It is so beautiful. And the words amazing in their simplicity. As she played, I could feel the tears gather in the back of my throat. All the other girls must have felt the same because the silence was absolute halfway through and at the end of it all, there was a stunned silence before we all erupted into applause and hooting. From then on every time I saw her, it felt like there was a magical halo around her for me. She glowed blue to me. And although I have forgotten the names of some of the girls I sat with for years, I remember her name as clear as daylight. Talking about Disney music – I get a similar awe when I listen to ‘When you believe’ from Prince of Egypt and ‘The cycle of life’ from Lion King. Spell binding.

I had a friend in QC who used to be just a classmate. Then one day, she opened her mouth and sang in class and we were all in awe. I guess you could call me the original fan. Although I have since forgotten what the first song Esther sang in public was, I will never forget how I felt about her from that day forward. Of course it helped that she was a lovely girl anyway but in my appreciation for her talent, we became fast friends. The song I will associate with Esther for the rest of my days is ‘I love you Mummy’ which was a hit in Nigeria in the 1990s. Every time she sang that song, all the hairs on my body would stand up and all my worries and stress and unhappiness and negative thoughts would simply disappear. There was once a special assembly only a select few attended and Esther sang that song there. Apparently, there wasn’t a dry eye in the house. Even our Principal had tears in her eyes. I saw her as an angel. She had a golden yellow halo. She was quiet, unassuming and her smile could light up a stadium full of people. Little did I know that when I left QC in 2000, it would be the last time I would see her. She was diagnosed with cancer shortly after I left and she died a couple of years later. Like they say, the best of us die young. R.I.P Esther. What a loss to the world and especially to those who never got to experience the magical voice Esther had.

I love musicals and I have the utmost respect for the incredible talent of theatre actors and actresses who sing their hearts out night after night. My favourite musical is Catz but my absolute ever performance was back in 2001 when I went to see ‘Notre dame de Paris’ in London. The narrator man with his long blond hair and colourful blue coat looked just like all the other stars but he overshadowed them all so that by the end of the show, I was more focused on his bits than on the lead actor and actress. What made it more amazing was that his voice outshone all the female vocalists on stage and I think that is a rare quality. The tone in his voice was pure. It was like crystal in its clarity and every word resonated in my soul. The power was like no other I have seen in theatre and I literally cannot comprehend how he could work his vocal cords so hard for so long and retain its beauty. When the show was over, I did not want to leave. I felt like if I didn’t move, I could remain wrapped up in the magic of his voice forever.

Last year, my then fiancé and I went to the Stephen Lawrence memorial concert at the O2 arena and the line-up was epic. I was mostly looking forward to Emile Sande but there were numerous others I was excited about. The revelation of the night for me was the lovely Beverly Knight from Wolverhampton (which is down the road from me). I have always liked her songs and loved her personality but when she sang ‘Fallen Soldier’ on stage, I fell in love with her. It is by far the best live performance I have ever heard. I have heard the song before and thought it was ok but when dear old Bev sang it, she elevated it to new heights. Every word struck chord in my soul and I felt the tears come as I remembered all my fallen soldiers. The pitch was perfect. The sentiment suited so well to the theme of the evening. She sang her heart out and she won a fan for life. I now realise that she is probably one of the most underrated British stars. It must be because she is so understated in her manner, so personable and so approachable. She is the ultimate girl-next-door except she is more than that. She has been blessed with the most gorgeous voice. What a star!

I know some Muslims believe that modern music is on the scale of evil but I honestly could not disagree more. How could I not appreciate beauty that I believe is a gift from God? How could music which inspires me to be pure and to be kind be bad in any way? How can music which erases my sadness and stress be anything but good? How can music which promotes happiness and positivity be anything but encouraged? Life is hard enough I think so I simply cannot accept that something that makes it all better can be a bad thing. I love music and I celebrate its existence. And most of all, I thank God for music because it has been life’s saving grace more times than I can count.

I Had a Son

I used to think having a baby boy was as bad as not having any babies. Over the years, I have come to embrace the idea of a being mother to a baby boy and even hope that my second will be a baby boy. This hope came from another one of my vivid dreams. This dream happened 5 years ago.

It was one of those busy dreams with a lot of running around and stress. I don’t recall most of the dream but the first bit I was aware of featured a heavily pregnant me in a room with several other women and in the first stages of labour. I remember being very hot and I was perspiring as the labour progressed and I got instructions on what to do. For some reason, no one in the room was in focus. I could not tell if my mama and my sister were amongst my birth attendants. I suspect there was at least one midwife. All I know is that I felt in control despite the alien event that was unfolding within my body.

Next thing, I was half-sitting, half-lying down with my legs in stirrups and pushing the baby out. It wasn’t real time…time seemed to be moving very fast as I watched myself going through the process. I felt a searing pain deep in my pelvis and I thought ‘I don’t think I can do this’. Then there was a more solid pain that threatened to break me in 2 and I looked down to see a baby. I blinked and the baby was clean and in my arms, all wrapped up in the softest cream-coloured blanket and a baby blue hat. I had a son.

As I held him, his dark brown eyes popped open and fixed on mine. As our eyes met, I felt a surge of love deep in the pelvis which he had just reluctantly exited. The only way I can describe the feeling is that of falling deeply and irrevocably in love. I felt the warmth of my love for this tiny boy spread out to every fibre of my being. It felt like the whole world fell away and the only thing I could see in its full glory was my son. The rest of the room was a blur. I could hear dimly conversation in the background but all I could make out was his breath sounds. My olfactory nerves jangled with the smell of him and even my taste buds tingled like I was gorging on the most delicious meal I had ever tasted. My skin prickled as if electrified and the hairs on it all stood on end. My muscles quivered. Tears dripped out of my eyes. I wanted to laugh and cry at the same time. I felt like I was simultaneously floating on a cloud and being sucked towards the centre of the world. I was in free fall. I was in love.

The heat and pain were forgotten in that instant. My head emptied of all thought and all I could think was ‘here he is’. Like that was the moment that all the preceding days of my life had been leading to. Together with that love came the overwhelming urge to protect him from the big bad world. I shivered as the protective tigress in me snarled to life with a ferocity that scared me. In that instant as I gazed into his eyes, I felt love, pride and an irrational fear that he could be hurt. I knew then that I would love him more intensely that I had ever loved. That I would celebrate every achievement of his with a purer joy that any I had ever experienced. That I would feel his pain like it was mine. That I would move heaven and earth to ensure he was happy. That I would die to protect him.

I was frozen to the spot, staring into his unblinking eyes when I snapped awake. The power of my feelings stayed with me for the rest of the day. I felt exactly as the great romance writers describe being in love. I had butterflies fluttering in my tommy. The colours of the world seemed sharper, brighter and more intense than usual. The weather was perfect regardless of whether there was rain or sunshine. My creative juices were flowing. I had ideas coming out of my ears. I did not feel thirst or hunger. I just felt ridiculously happy and I walked around all day on a high, humming to myself and doing little dances when no one was looking. So, I thought, this is what so many mothers feel when they finally hold their long-awaited baby in their tired arms. What an incredible feeling! I only experienced it in a dream and the depth of the feeling was immense. It was like a high to end all highs (not that I know what an actual high feels like but I can imagine!). No wonder some women carry on popping out babies long after everyone thinks they should stop. No wonder there are women out there who admit to being addicted to being pregnant and giving birth to babies. All I can say is that I pray one day I will have this experience for real. Because it felt damn good. The best feeling ever!

Corazon Por Corazon

I speak very little Spanish but being a salsa fan, I have heard enough Spanish lyrics to know the Corazon means heart and the Spanish-speaking world is always ‘Corazon this’ and ‘Corazon that’. The title is a nod to the video I just watched on Facebook which has inspired this piece. It was posted by Andre Gayle who has stuck English subtitles on a Spanish video entitled Corazon por Corazon (heart by heart…changing the world). Basically, the video is about the loss of our humanity, the very essence that is supposed to make us superior to other animals and plants. It highlights what cruelty and sadness there is in the world and how a lot of us are desensitised to the sight of another human in need. So much so that when we witness suffering, many a times our response now is to take out our smartphones and take a video instead of offering our help.

It made me cry, especially the scenes of animals and children being abused. It made me ask ‘why’ again. I am the half full glass type of a girl but occasionally, I become despondent when I watch the news and it is full of pictures of little children being bombed by Israel or another old pensioner being abused by a carer. It makes me question what I am doing spending so much of my time doing NHS/eportfolio paperwork when there is suffering out there and I have the medical training to perhaps make a difference to so many, in Nigeria for example. It makes me question whether having children is a good idea because what legacy are we leaving behind for them to inherit?

The environment is a huge worry for me. I drive a Nissan Leaf in an attempt to be greener and I recycle and try to minimise waste. I know my efforts mean something but are probably insignificant in the grand scheme of things but at least having made the effort, I go to bed with a clearer conscience. For every person who drives a ‘green’ car or cycles or walks, there’ll be 10 people who drive cars with ridiculous amount of emissions, who waste more than half the food they buy and who never do any recycling. As the ozone layer thickens and the greenhouse effect is compounded, global warming intensifies. Formerly temperate climates develop extremes of weather. Flooding, draughts, tsunamis, tornadoes, forest fires and earthquakes occur with greater frequency than ever before. Large populations of the world who are dependent entirely on subsistent farming are living in famine conditions year after year. Ironically, in Europe and the US more and more of the population are buying excess food and every week are binning it as they buy too much and let it all go to waste. Too much of land is taken up by refuse which no one knows how to get rid of properly. Mountains of waste piling up as we become more and more wasteful. Turns out that even our recycling is not all recycled. Because our Governments have not invested enough into recycling plants so only a fraction of the potential recyclables are being  recycled.

Kindness is becoming short in supply too. As the video highlights, it is now commonplace to watch a person being beaten, robbed or even stabbed and no one wants to step in because it is all about protecting the self. Every year, there is someone on the regional news who has been stabbed or mugged in a bus or at a bus stop or somewhere similarly public where everyone has just stood by and watched. Yet some of these people have the audacity to whip out their phones and video the event and then post it on YouTube. I always wonder how these onlookers would feel if the victim was not a stranger but their mother, father, brother, sister, daughter, son or best friend?

As for the violent offenders, many of them are children who are old enough to know between right or wrong but even at that early age, they seem hardened and lacking in the most basic of human kindness. I know this lack of kindness and empathy is multifactorial but I am convinced one of the main reasons is poor parenting that comes with the modern time. As a paediatrician, I am in a privileged position to be able to closely observe the intimate relationship between parents and their children. There are many things we see that cause us to raise our eyebrows and a few that send us running to Social Services. But what I find most disappointing is when a young child aged 3 or 4 does or says something cruel and the parents, instead of taking the opportunity to point out what is right or wrong and explain why, turn their faces away and throw away the chance to shape their child into a decent person. A couple of weeks ago, I was on-call and went to see a 10 year old boy who was in pain with my registrar (senior to me) and an ST1 (junior to me). The registrar examined him and decided we needed to investigate by taking a blood sample. The boy’s reaction was to shout ‘You are not f*****g touching me. I will bash your f******g head if you come near me’. What did his father do? He bowed his head and my registrar shot the top of the dad’s head a look. As more swearing came forth, I stepped closer to the boy and said firmly ‘I’m sorry you are scared of having a needle but you are not allowed to speak to us like that. We are here to help you.’ That stopped him in his tracks and he resorted to sobbing. His red-faced dad followed us out of the cubicle to apologise and all I could think was ‘don’t apologise to us, teach him to have a bit more respect.’

Speaking about respect, I think that has run off with the kindness. As doctors, we are at the receiving end of a lot of disrespect but we put up with it because we understand when people come in contact with us, it tends to be the most stressful, frustrating, unhappiest time in their life. I think a little respect goes a long way. It is in the small things like saying sorry when you barge into somebody, holding open a heavy door for the person a few paces behind, picking up an item someone (especially frail, old or pregnant) has dropped right in front of you or even smiling at a stranger who makes eye contact. It is about saying please and thank you to anyone helping you out even if it is their job to do it. It is about acknowledging your work colleague who does a little extra work so you don’t have to do it or staying longer at work to finish a task so they don’t have to hand it over to you. It is about realising your loved one is sad and giving them a hug. It is about saying the occasional thank you to your spouse for all the little considerations they give you daily that make your life better without you even realising they’re doing it.

I will say that I am lucky to be surrounded by lovely people who I am proud to call my family and friends. I know I did not get to choose my family but I certainly chose the family I keep close and the friends I surround myself with. These people are generous. They are donating to charity and taking part in fundraising for charities. They are courteous to strangers and helpful where they can be. They smile easily and are generous with their hugs, kind words and cups of tea. They recycle. They reclaim furniture. They treat their pets with love and tenderness. They are there when you get bad news. They hold your hand and sit beside you when there are no words that can ease the pain and hurt. They pray for you to succeed and celebrate whole-heartedly when you do succeed. They turn up when you need them the most. They laugh with you and not generally at you (but sometimes they laugh at you too if they know you can take it). They care about their neighbours and it is not always about them. They are diamonds…beautiful bling with surprising strength. They inspire me every day to be a better person and whenever I reflect on the people in my life, I feel blessed.

Girly Man

I listen to Ed & Rachel on Heart FM on my daily drive in to work (as I always do because it is the best programme on radio!). Yesterday’s morning’s phone-in was about celebrating the ‘girly’ things that our men do that we think are great. So that got me thinking and this blog was born. Before I do that, let me just say I do not actually think these things are girly. I think the things I will praise below are just nice, lovely, sensitive traits that are brilliant regardless of gender. It is just that because men have the wrong idea about what it is to be a man, these nice things are now feminised. So to the men in my life whose traits I will be praising, I want to reassure you that I am in no way questioning your manhood or masculinity. I am celebrating you in all you glory!

My granddad, he of the military ways, is the only man I know who always has lip balm with him and applies liberally. Also, he moisturises daily and I know this is still true because last time I went home, I decided not to take any moisturiser with me and the only place I could find some was in my granddad’s bathroom. He had several bottles of lovely stuff and my skin was happy throughout the holiday. More importantly, he has lovely moisturised skin, his diabetic feet are the most beautiful I have ever seen and he has none of the skin complications associated with diabetes and hypertension. Well done Baba!

My teenage cousin (Baby A if you have read my blog) is a very creative boy and one of his ‘hobbies’ is cooking. He can cook a 3 course meal and seems to enjoy it but what I was most impressed by is that he can cook the loveliest crepes (thin pancakes). Impressed not only that he can make them delicious, thin, round and unbroken but also that he uses reconstituted powdered milk and if I hadn’t know, I would never have guessed. He also gives lovely hugs and likes to sit and talk about the important things in his life. And when I am not in the same town as he is (which is most of the time these days), he will often say hi or good night or send me emoticon hugs randomly. Warms my heart I tell you.

My brother-in-law’s best ‘girly’ trait is that he celebrates his love for his family. When he and my sister moved into their home, he spent a considerable amount of time and money choosing and framing pictures of their close family members. And by their family, I mean his family and my family. Imagine my surprise when I found the loveliest framed photo of my mama’s in their bedroom and one of me with the pictures of his sisters in his study. Awwwh! The other thing is his ability to turn the volume up when his favourite music is on and dance around the kitchen without any inhibitions or when in the car, do a perfect imitation particularly when it’s a girl singer lol. Before he lived with my sister, I thought that was a girl thing. But apparently not, thank goodness!

There are lots of girl things that I have come across that I have loved and still love in the uncles and cousins, patients and friends too. I know a man who loves black nail polish and getting his nails done who has to hide his love for fear of people’s acid tongues. I know of a younger brother who buys the best hand bags for his sister who is my friend. I know of a cousin who when he was younger loved nothing better than to brush his mum’s gorgeous hair. I know several who love to be hugged just like I do.

Special mention to my dear husband though. I love so much about him but foremost are the girly traits that were like girl-magnet when it came to me. I think the seed of love was planted when he was honest about his feelings and that he let me see how vulnerable falling head over heels had made him. He loves my pink fluffy socks which even I find too girly to wear out and he is not shy to admit it either…he took them all the way to Nigeria when he went to ask for my hand in marriage. My poor sister got a shock when she spotted my socks peeking out beneath his trouser leg. George also has a onesie (I am not sure how to spell it but you know what it is when I say it is like a large baby grow/jumpsuit/overall). He insists that it absolutely is not girly but I beg to differ. On babies is where it should be. On girls, it is cute and could even be a sexy slouchy playsuit-type affair on a young lady. On a boy up to primary school level I could persuaded to see its merits but on a man old enough to shave and father children, I am in the ‘please no’ group. Dearest old George pretended that I could have the onesie when I shared my concerns but did I ever get to wear it? You know the answer to that. The onesie is a bit of a uniform these days and I have to actively order him not to wear it to restaurants or the cinema. He even turned up at the hospital I am currently working in wearing the onesie and asking for me. Oh the embarrassment! If I had known, I would not have owned up to being his wife.

So to my granddad (Baba), Baby A, George and all the unmentioned cousins/friends/little ones that have made my days with their ‘girly’ ways, I love you all and please embrace the girl in you. One love.