2021 was a year of two halves for me. Two halves that would be totally eclipsed by one month in 2022. But I’ll get to that.
I began the year with a lot of excitement and uncertainty. My career had just shifted into a new gear with a new role at Social Work England, my blog gaining more traction than ever before, and the foundations of a YouTube channel being finalised. Excitement at how well it all could grow, uncertainty at if any of it would grow at all. I also began the biggest restructure of my personal care package since I began employing my own carers in 2013. Excitement at the massive spike in independence and security I would get if the changes I was making went according to plan; uncertainty at my decisions possibly being wrong or if I could even recover if they didn’t. It was palpable and I was loving it.
Both of these would successfully run their courses through the year and would turn out to be everything I’d hoped for and more. But they would also have an unexpected side effect. They both represented massive steps forward in my life and forced me to face the reality of where my life was headed. All of a sudden I found myself thinking about all the big questions I had avoided for so many years. “Where was my life headed? Was I squandering the many blessings I’d been given? Would I remain forever single? Had I reached the peak of my existence?…” The list goes on and on. Long story short, I was in the middle of my first mental health crisis since the early days of my injury. I began having panic attacks, very low moods and dark thoughts. But most of all, unlike before, I was struggling to see a way out of it this time. For the first time ever, I even sought professional help.
This was the reason I hardly wrote or posted anything in 2021. I was either lost in the fog of my own mind or, focusing on trying to get better. Everything else took a backseat.
Then right on cue, like the sun with the summer, my mum arrived with her glow and warmth and the second half of my year began. She always visited from Nigeria in the summer and if she could, just before Christmas as well. This was one of the years with both visits. But I was so down and lost in my own head I didn’t even realise the positive impact her presence was having on my mental state. That’s just how bad things had gotten, because she had always had this ability to shine her light so bright that all the dark shadows in my life would disappear and I seemed to have forgotten. I fear I took it for granted. But that never slowed her down. She’d get up every morning at the crack of dawn and make breakfast, usually before or after her morning run. Most times I didn’t even eat the breakfast but she would make sure the option was there regardless. In fact, before I’d even have time to dig in, she would have started cooking the next meal. Now I’m not saying food makes me happy. But my mum’s food would make anyone question why they weren’t happy. She did notice every now and then that I wasn’t my usual self, but unlike previous years, this time, she gave me space to come to her. And I did, but I couldn’t bring myself to tell her what I’d really been going through. My mum never did handle the idea of me suffering to any extent very well. So instead, I made sure I let her know she was seen, appreciated and deeply loved. I started taking extra time out for her, initiating conversations for the sake of it, given her random hugs and kisses. I wanted to put her mind at ease. It worked. I still wasn’t in a very good place psychologically, and hiding it from my mum was also taking its toll. But it was worth it to see her happy. By the time she headed back home after a month with me, she was reassured I was okay and ecstatic to return at the end of the year. You see, December would mark one of the happiest muments for my family in recent memory, and would even become more significant after all the festivities were done.
What was so special about December you ask? My brother and best friend finally got married to his better half, and pretty much the whole family turned up to mark the occasion. By this time, I was in a much better place mentally. It turns out pretending to be okay when my mum was here in the summer had given me a blueprint for how to actually be okay. You see, immediately after my mum flew back home in summer, my brother arrived to finalise plans for his wedding. I basically just continued what I’d been doing with my mum with him, only this time, I actually told him what I was going through. I didn’t pretend, I just genuinely opened up to him and it was awesome. It was all uphill from there. So, I tried to replicate the same process as many times with as many friends and family members as I could, showing them how much I love and appreciate them and that kind of positive energy always bounces back. By the time the week of the wedding had arrived, I had so many family members around fuelling me with positivity that I almost forgot how bad things had gotten earlier in the year. I created so much happiness for myself just by sharing the little happiness I did have with those around me. And none of it would have happened if I hadn’t tried it with my mum first. That’s the kind of lesson she always taught just by being herself.
The wedding would arrive as the culmination of everything that seemed to have been getting better. And better yet, it stayed good. It stayed so good for what seemed like ages. My brother was now married and expecting a kid, my family had essentially had its biggest reunion in over a decade, including meeting people I hadn’t seen since my injury 12 years ago. I felt invincible. Christmas and New Year’s would come and go, my family would all return to their respective homes and 2022 was off to an amazing start.
None of us was prepared for what came next.
On the 21st of January, I would receive a phone call confirming my mother had passed away in a car accident. I thought I knew pain before this date. I was sorely mistaken. The words don’t exist to describe the void she left behind or the pain we all now feel from her death. So I won’t try to write them, I wouldn’t even know where to begin. What I do know is the significance of her life. That I will try to write about.
My mother was selfless. She devoted her life to helping others long before she was old enough to remotely understand what that would truly mean. From her childhood to her dying breath, all that woman did was help others. Too often at her own expense. But call it karma, call it God’s will, call it luck, she was also blessed in spades. She grew up in poverty, but spearheaded her family’s rise out of it. She, in the eyes of many, gave up so much for her husband, my father and the love of her life, but he gave her everything back tenfold. Both of them becoming a force of nature for good throughout their time together. Then she lost her husband before his time, shaking the very foundations of her existence, and yet she never stopped the good work they did so well together, instead rediscovering how she could best continue touching lives for the better, the way they had both done together for so many years. Many counted her out when she lost him as he was the breadwinner of our family, thus many to this day cannot fathom how she still held the family together and raised her children to be such strong sources of pride and joy. With every person she helped, she perfected ways to help more. With every success came the demand for more success, and she’d rise to the occasion every time. And even when she got to the point in her life where she could very easily have taken a backseat and retired into a life of leisure as her children catered for her every need like we always wanted to, she would actively seek out more ways to improve more lives, more projects to lift up her communities and left her door open to anyone she could help. My mother saw almost every blessing as an opportunity to bless others and every success as something to be shared.
“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”.
“Be the change you want to see in the world”
Two mantras my mum epitomised with her every breath. Only in growing up did I come to appreciate how powerful yet uncommon these are in the real world. Yet, I grew up seeing these as perfectly normal and just how everyone is supposed to live, so it’s how I try to live my own life. But I wouldn’t know how if I hadn’t learned first-hand from watching my mum be the woman she was. And for that, she has my eternal gratitude.
Today (March 3rd, 2022) should’ve been your birthday. I love you mum, I miss you, and I hope to see you again someday.