This is certainly not the best of times for multiple award-winning writer, feminist and public intellectual, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. She is mourning the death of her father, Professor James Nwoye Adichie who passed on in Awka, Anambra State after a brief illness. He was aged 88.
The writer who spoke to her dad on the phone a day before his demise has yet to come to terms with the loss of a man who was not just her father, but was also her confidant, motivator and friend.. “I am writing about my father in the past tense, and I cannot believe that I am writing about my father in the past tense. My heart is broken,“ she wrote in the emotion-laden piece she posted on Facebook on 4 July, 2020.
The shock and pain she feels is palpable when one reads her article entitled, My Old Man, published in the Guardian UK on 15 June, 2008. In that piece, she said, growing up as a child she thought her father invincible. “As a child I thought him invincible, she reminisced. In that article, she also wrote about her dad’s sense of humour and how “funny, kind and gentle” he was.
“I sometimes try to remember the exact moment when I began to look at him with gratitude, and to learn from being with him that it is possible to have a kind of complete joy in the mere presence of one’s father,” she said in that article.
Adichie said her father’s death was shocking because few days before he passed on he had showed no sign of ill health and imminent death and spoke with her on their weekly family Zoom call. And since his demise, her life has never remained the same.
“And just like that my life has changed forever. June 7, there was Daddy on our weekly family zoom call, talking and laughing. June 8, he felt unwell. Still, when we spoke he was more concerned about my concussion (I’d fallen while playing with my daughter).
“June 9, we spoke briefly, my brother Okey with him. “Ka chi fo,” he said. His last words to me. June 10, he was gone.
Adichie also narrated how she “loved her father so much, so fiercely, so tenderly” and how because of that love she had always had a lingering fear that a day would come when he would be no more.
“Because I loved my father so much, so fiercely, so tenderly, I always at the back of my mind feared this day. But he was in good health. I thought we had time. I thought it wasn’t yet time. I have come undone. I have screamed, shouted, rolled on the floor, pounded things. I have shut down parts of myself.”
No doubt, Adichie and her dad were very close and that explains why her pain is unbearable, what with the reality of his demise, the huge vacuum it has created and the things both of them had planned to do
“We talked almost daily. I sent him my travel itineraries. He would text me just before I got on a stage: Ome ife ukwu! Nothing else mattered to me as much as the pride in his eyes.
“I saw him last on March 5th in Abba. I had planned to be back in May. We planned to record his stories of my great grandmother.
To the award-winning writer, grief is a cruel learning process through which one learns to cope with the reality and pain of losing a loved one.
“Grief is a cruel kind of education. You learn how ungentle mourning can be, how full of anger. You learn that your side muscles will ache painfully from days of crying. You learn how glib condolences can feel.
Still the unbearable pain of never seeing him again hits her like a recurrent nightmare. Yet sleep is the only respite.
“Sleep is the only respite. On waking, the enormity, the finality, strikes – I will never see my father again. Never again. I crash and go under. The urge to run and run, to hide from this. The shallow surface of my mind feels safest because to go deeper is to face unbearable pain. All the tomorrows without him, his wisdom, his grace.
However, Adichie is consoled by the fact that her father who was Nigeria’s first Professor of Statistics did not only live a good life but was a titled Igbo man, “a gentle man and a gentleman” and a Roman Catholic with a humane and luminous faith.
“My father was Nigeria’s first professor of Statistics. He studied Mathematics at Ibadan and got his PhD in Statistics from Berkeley, returning to Nigeria shortly before the Biafran War. A titled Igbo man – Odelu Ora Abba – deeply committed to our hometown. A Roman Catholic with a humane and luminous faith. A gentle man and a gentleman. For those who knew him, these words recur: honest, calm, kind, strong, quiet, integrity,” she said.