LOUD WHISPERS: Grandma’s Whisper

A few months ago, I wrote about how my very old grandmother sent for me because she wanted to pray for me. This was one of the things she was doing to put her affairs in order, she had received her ‘boarding pass’ and was waiting to ‘board her flight’. In the article, I said my grandma was 96 years old. I was corrected by some family members who swore that she was at least 104! After some back and forth, with calculations of ages of people like my mother who do have birth records, there was a consensus that she clocked 100 years old in 2017. When I went to see grandma in March, she prayed for me and recited my Oriki (praise names) many times over.  When she was done, she drew me close and whispered something in my ear. When I saw my mother in Lagos shortly after, I told her what grandma had whispered to me and we had a good laugh.

On Friday December 1st I got a message from one of my aunts in Akure that Mama was ill. She had stopped eating and was very weak. I advised them to take her to her doctor’s clinic to see if they could stabilize her or at least ease her discomfort. Just after I finished talking to my aunt, my mother called and I could barely make out what she was saying, she was sobbing hysterically. I thought Mama had died, but my mum was crying because she had heard that Mama was very poorly. I calmed my mum down, and for a brief, insensitive moment, I wondered why my 76 year-old mum was wailing so loudly over someone who was 100 years old. Then I chided myself for being silly, a parent is a parent, no matter how old they are.

Around 11pm on December 4th, my young uncle, Safe, called to tell me that from the look of things, Mama would not last the night. I was in Lagos, trying to finish work on a project document I was writing and which was due for submission the next day. I wanted to concentrate on the document, but this news about the imminent passing of my grandma was very distressing. Two of my mother’s sisters were around, so I called out to them and told them the latest news. I suggested that we should have a vigil to thank God for Mama’s life and pray for her peaceful departure. As the songs of praise were being sung, I was multi-tasking, singing along with them and typing away. One of my aunts put her phone on speaker so that my Auntie Ore and Safe in Akure could hear us. Safe placed the phone next to Mama’s ear for her to listen for a few minutes. When my aunts started singing one of my favourite hymns, the Yoruba version of ‘My hope is built on nothing less’, I stopped typing and stood up to sing and dance. We sang the song twice, very loudly and enthusiastically. Just as we finished the song, at exactly 11.45pm, Mama drew her last breath. When we got the call, we were all crying but we kept singing and dancing even louder than before, ‘Ile lo lo tarara, Mama rele o’, ‘Mama has gone straight home’. We stayed up till around 4am, sharing stories of Mama’s life and that is when I told my aunts for the first time, what Mama had whispered in my ear back in March after she prayed for me.

My maternal grandfather married three wives, my grandma Mama Ayo was the first, followed by Mama Duro then Mama Sola. Like most polygamous homes, when they were all young, there was a lot of drama, anger and resentment. However, women in all cultures where polygamy is practiced learn coping mechanisms to minimize, conceal or totally repress their true feelings. They do this as an act of survival and to keep the peace, for their own sake and for that of their children. The wives of my grandfather got along on the surface, but everyone knew the knives were never far away, and tempers flared every now and then. I however grew up not knowing the difference between the children of one or the other, and even when my mother and maternal aunts tried to play the polygamy card of ‘us versus them’, I ignored them and treated them all the same. My grandfather died thirty years ago. The three wives found themselves alone in the family compound because all their children were adults who had moved away to start their own families, and over time, the three wives became great grandmothers. After a while, Mama Duro, the second wife developed Alzheimer’s disease. She required constant care, which the other two wives provided, especially the last wife Mama Sola, because even though she is in her seventies, she was the youngest of the three. They bathed Mama Duro, cooked for her, and fed her when she could not feed herself. When we saw how much work the two old women were doing, we hired a local carer to look after Mama Duro till she passed away in 2012. A few months ago, when it became apparent that Mama Ayo was well on her way, Mama Sola started to wail, scared of the prospect of being left all alone. Mama Ayo comforted her younger rival and told her that when her time comes, she should not cry, but must keep reciting her praise names (Oriki). And so, on Tuesday December 5th, Mama Sola led the old women in the family to sing Mama Ayo’s praises all day long, celebrating a woman who she almost certainly hated in the early years, but grew to accept and love as an inevitable co-traveler in her journey through life.

Last week I read the story of a young lady from Northern Nigeria, whose father married a second wife. This new wife was hated by the writer, her mother and siblings, but there was nothing they could do about it. This situation lasted for years till the writer recently decided to let go of the past. In her article, she spelt out the dynamics of growing up in a polygamous household very eloquently. Women learn how to live with a situation they are deeply unhappy with, and this does not mean that they agree with a man’s right to bring in other women to share his affections and resources. What the young lady wrote reminded me of Mama Ayo and her co-wives. When they found themselves alone in the household with their husband gone and their children far away, they devised yet another coping mechanism – they turned to each other for strength. The moment my grandmother drew me close and whispered into my ear, I knew that a tiny part of her had not forgotten how to play the ‘Game of Rivals’. What did Grandma whisper into my ear? ‘My daughter, make sure my funeral is grander than that of Mama Duro’.

As we get older, there are some things that are no longer as important to us as when we were young. All our battles and struggles pale into insignificance when we find ourselves staring at that last door. What we might never be able to resist though, is the urge to have the last word. That is what brings closure to a life full of ups and downs, joy and sadness, love and hate, loss and victory, but in all, a life very well and fully lived. Congratulations grandma, you do have the last word. Have a great week everyone.


Bisi Adeleye-Fayemi is a Gender Specialist, Social Entrepreneur and Writer. She is the Founder of Abovewhispers.com, an online community for women. She can be reached at BAF@abovewhispers.com




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17 Responses to LOUD WHISPERS: Grandma’s Whisper

  1. Femi Diipo December 11, 2017 at 12:05 pm

    Growing up in a polygamous family, there’s some part of this story I can relate with. The initial hatred and eventually survival mechanism and the rivalry that never dies. May she rest in peace, and I hope we members of above whisper family will be invited to the grand burial. My condolences to your entire family ma’am.

  2. Dom Dom December 11, 2017 at 12:11 pm

    It’s such a wonder and a miracle to have lived for so long. Perhaps the longevity gene is in your family. May her soul rest in peace

  3. Olakunle Olajide December 11, 2017 at 3:06 pm

    Grandma re ile ooo. I think it is safe to say a life well spent. But Grandma is funny and i think you have mentioned that statement on one of your articles here “A grander funeral.” I really hope polygamy can stop, the bad it breeds is more than the good.
    Please ma’am, give Grandma a grander burial. Smiles..

  4. DSEED December 11, 2017 at 10:17 pm

    Grandma was so funny even at the point of dying she still wish her funeral better than her rival. For those that experience polygamous they really tried especially the first wife. Mama has lived to witness the greatness of her grandchildren and its such a great privilege. Sun ree mama.

  5. Bisi Alawode December 12, 2017 at 10:32 am

    Awwwwnnnn. Adieu mama. She has lived a very good life and in Jesus name, You will live longer than mama lived.

  6. Bolanle Olatan December 12, 2017 at 10:41 am

    Ohhhhhhhhhh…. This happened to my mum this year when she losed her dad and she started crying like a baby, crying for an 80year old man. But sincerely, a parent is always a parent. My condolence to mummy and to every member of the family.

  7. Seyitan Tubosun December 12, 2017 at 10:44 am

    Wow. God bless granny. What a way to exit this world with great songs and dance. I am sure mama danced up there. We love you mama, you lived well. God bless you and keep you our Erelu BamBam.

  8. Victor December 12, 2017 at 10:54 am

    God bless mama. And sincerely, God bless your wealth of knowledge. You are great ma’am. Very great.

  9. Cheryl Martins December 12, 2017 at 10:58 am

    Adieu mama. You have lived well and you have a granddaughter showing forth your light and we are proud of you. Don’t worry, we are shutting Africa down for you. lol. Speaking about polygamy, it is a great deal and the bad sides sometimes, overwhelms the good side which can be very frustrating but adapting and tactics is the game for polygamy. Though, I don’t know think any man in this generation would want to consider that path.

  10. Shina Dideolu December 12, 2017 at 11:02 am

    God bless the soul of mama. I remember reading that article and sincerely, mama is the pepper them kinda woman. No dulling even in death! God bless her soul, accept my condolence Erelu!

  11. Bisola Cole December 12, 2017 at 11:15 am

    When my dad died at 74, even though people were saying he died an old man. I still cried like a child. In fact, up until now, I miss him. A parent is a parent o no matter the age. My condolence to the family most especially to mummy. Please take heart and celebrate mama just like she requested and my regards to mama Shola too.

  12. veronica Imaseun December 12, 2017 at 11:18 am

    How time flies, mama as come and as left her footprints on the sand of time. God stay and keep everyone she left behind. My warm regards to mum and mama sola. I hope mama sola won’t fall sick o.

  13. Olajumoke James December 12, 2017 at 11:20 am

    See how they have come to love themselves. There will always be that period of fight and hate. It will all end, it will all make us better and strengthen our bound but I must say, You got a good polygamous home o. Because, polygamy isn’t easy and funny out there.

  14. Samuel December 14, 2017 at 11:23 am

    Goodnight Grandma. I am so glad the wives eventually ended up loving each other.

  15. Olushola Aderanti December 16, 2017 at 8:28 am

    My sincere Condolence to the family. Mama has really lived well.

  16. Nneka December 16, 2017 at 8:29 am

    wow. Rip mama. She has lived well and I am sure she is waiting for the grand burial. Please, invite me o. I wouldn’t mind celebrating the life of such a woman of Grace. God be with the family.

  17. Eric Onuoha December 16, 2017 at 11:26 am

    Very funny last request by Mama. I come from a polygamous home and I can understand the resentment and bitterness of the wives and as you said, as one grows older, the things one fights about become insignificant. In the end, the three women needed one another for survival. I lesson I have: Appreciate the people around you because there will come a time when you need them. Rest in peace Mama


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