Last year on November 7th, my family and friends accompanied me to Ejirin/Itoikin near Lagos for the 25th memorial prayers for my husband- Jide, and the 143 victims of Flight 086. I was unsure of what their reaction would be because many of them were visiting the crash site and memorial arcade for the first time. On our way to the site, we all tried to crack jokes and discuss issues and all sorts of topics while avoiding the reason we were all going to Ejirin.
At that moment, I realized it is easier for me to visit the memorial arcade alone because I am able to manage my emotions better when I do. It was ironically particularly difficult with family and friends by my side last year. As soon as we arrived at the memorial arcade and everyone saw the epitaph with the names of the 144 victims and the Ejirin River, there was a deep sense of grief that was almost too much for most to bear. Many people broke down.
One could slice the grief in the air even after 25 years. 144 souls gone forever… I had to distract myself so as not to be uncontrollably distraught, defeating the aim of the visit which was to pray for the dead and families of the victims. I decided to focus my emotions and thoughts on other things, from the villagers and bystanders who were not COVID-19 compliant, to if a hundred packs of small chops will be enough.
I also focused on the ADC staff and families of other victims of the crash, the canopy/chair rental company which disappointed us with their service, and the fact that we were starting behind schedule and many of my friends had flights to catch after the event. I wondered why the authorities do not maintain most memorial sites and cenotaphs in Nigeria; Just anything to distract me from losing control of my emotions.
I listened to one of the priests – Father Augustine, who admonished us not to be so aggrieved after 25 years, and I wished I could tell him that people mourn in different ways and there is no right way to grieve. That losing a loved one can never be forgotten. Though people get on with their lives, they do not forget the pain. The large turnout for the memorial prayers last year brought me some form of comfort, but on our way back to Lagos felt a deep sense of sadness still. I felt the coldness of the river and the emptiness of life as if we were leaving Jide and the 143 victims there, being abandoned.
Condolence visits bring back memories of my loved ones: Jide- my husband, my parents, Obinna- my brother, Ikebobo, Elsie- my childhood best friend, and many others I have lost. I recall when I visited a dear aunty- Mrs. Otubu, just after her husband, General Otubu died in a plane crash. It left me weeping uncontrollably for hours and I was very embarrassed but just could not stop crying to the bewilderment of other sympathizers. Fortunately, Mrs. Otubu understood where that deep grief was coming from. Just recently, I attended a service of songs for the husband to a young girl I mentor. At the car park just before I left the church, I shed some tears in my car for the young widow who was extremely distraught- the beginning of a new chapter in her life. Mmmm……Grief is deep…very deep. The loss of a loved one is a nightmare. The number one most psychologically traumatizing event one can ever experience.
Do you realize that one never knows how they will handle grief until it comes knocking on the door? People live with grief every day and for the rest of their lives. Yes, we do move on over time, but everyday experiences remind us of our loved ones. People die every day, but what is most tragic about plane crashes is the helplessness in the air and the horror the victims experience moments before they meet their unfortunate end.
We learn to remember them in our hearts and appreciate what they loved when they were alive. For me, I am drawn to places, movies, literature, melody, and individuals Jide liked. I think about Jide and wonder what he would have become or how old he would have been every year. Just imagine. Jide would have been 57 years old if he was alive today. I wonder what he would have said about Netflix or the new restaurants in town.
I wonder how he would have danced to hits by current famed Nigerian and African entertainers. I still play Lagbaja’s songs because of Jide who loved them so much, but I also know he would have moved on to other entertainers if he was here today. Change, they say, is constant in taste but for now, I will continue to hold on to Lagbaja in memory of Jide since he did not live long enough to enjoy other types of music around.
Jide would have replaced Satzenbrau beer with another and may have even stopped taking beer entirely to avoid having a pot belly or to reduce the pot belly that would have developed over the years. All to say, these are thoughts I have all in hopes of keeping his memory alive. You see, there are good days and bad days, and it may seem confusing, but even in the midst of people and the busy nature of life, grief can be isolating and it is okay to cry when one feels overwhelmed.
November 7th is never a good day for me even though I count my blessings and I am thankful to God for bringing my children and I thus far. I have been intentionally content with my life. It has enabled me to live a life of gratitude where I do not expect anything from anyone. Being intentional has helped me escape bad energy, grudges, negative vibes, and living a bitter entitled life. I thank God for his mercies and for my support system- family and friends who have been there for me.
People may wonder why I still commemorate my husband- Jide, the way I do 26 years on, Mmmmm……… If talking about Jide is how I am able to cope emotionally all these years, then I will disregard being judged or shut down, and grieve the way I wish. May Jide’s soul and the souls of the 143 victims of ADC Flight 086 through the mercy of God continue to rest in perfect peace, Amen.
This article was first published in Thisday by Uloma Jide-Afonja, wife to First Officer Babajide Afolabi Afonja, Co-Pilot of the ADC Airlines plane that crashed in Lagos on November 7, 1996.