LOUD WHISPERS: Purple and White

White’, she whispered. ‘What do you mean?’ I asked her. She said, ‘Wear white’. The other friend I was in the room with said it seems she was telling us what to wear for her funeral. I took a deep breath and held her hand and said to our dying friend, ‘Yes, white. And purple, your favourite colour?’ Her eyes lit up and she nodded. She slipped away two days later, on April 6th 2013, after a long battle with breast cancer.

On the morning of April 7th 2013, I walked in to her father’s home in Ado-Ekiti with my husband. The compound was full of mourners, wailing and screaming. When we entered the living room, her mother started to cry louder, calling her daughter’s name over and over. We flanked her and tried to console her but of course it was impossible. There was so much grief and sadness there, I could not go back till a week later. So many people came from far and near to pay their respects. For almost two weeks I was in a daze. Even though she had been ill for quite a while, very few people knew because those where her wishes. That is why, to many, it seemed as if she just passed away suddenly. This gave rise to all sorts of speculations, and for a long time afterwards, I was deeply hurt to hear of all the nonsense being bandied about.

It was a very bad time. An unbelievably painful time. A husband lost his wife. Three children lost their mother. Aged parents lost their daughter and siblings lost a sister. Friends lost a trusted confidante. A political family lost a Shero and role model. I lost a friend, sister, political associate, cheer-leader, prayer companion, co-conspirator, gist lover, dance partner, shopping companion, she was all that and more. We wore purple and white for her funeral as she had asked. Two days after her funeral, there was a thanksgiving service at the Cathedral Church of Emmanuel, Ado-Ekiti. As Bishop Samuel Abe was delivering the sermon, he said to us, ‘I know you are all in pain now, but don’t worry. One day, everything will be alright. God’s mercy shall never depart from you all. You will see’.

On April 6th 2023, we gathered at the Anglican Church of the Ascension, Opebi, Lagos, for a tenth-year memorial service in honour of Her Excellency, Mrs Funmilayo Adunni Olayinka, the former Deputy-Governor of Ekiti State. It was a lovely, well attended service, and even though I cried, they were tears of gratitude this time. Ten years later, God Almighty has been kind to the memory of Funmilayo Olayinka. Her three beautiful daughters are now amazing, strong, professional women working within and outside Nigeria. There have been graduations, weddings and naming ceremonies. There are three grand-children, including a set of twins. Her father and mother passed away in 2016 and 2022 respectively. Of course, they never got over the pain of losing a beloved daughter, but they were well cared for and their transitions were celebrated appropriately. The progressive political family she left behind in Ekiti continues to thrive. As I sat listening to the sermon on April 6th, I remembered what Bishop Abe said in Ado-Ekiti in April 2013. What a difference a decade makes.

After Mrs Olayinka’s passing, the Ekiti State Government, in collaboration with my foundation, the Ekiti Development Foundation, set up the Funmi Olayinka Diagnostic and Wellness Center at the Ekiti State University Teaching Hospital in October 2013. The center has provided screening and diagnostic services for thousands of women in Ekiti State and from neighbouring States. The passing of Mrs Olayinka provided an opportunity to raise awareness of various forms of cancer in the community, particularly gender-specific cancers such as breast, ovarian and cervical cancer. Over the years training, sensitisation and capacity building for local women as well as health workers has helped provide access to more information and resources to deal with this menace. There is still a strong attachment to superstition, blame and denial, but at least people are able to choose what to believe in and what options are available to them should they get an unfavourable diagnosis. I devoted a significant amount of time to these issues during my husband’s two terms in office and the current administration in Ekiti State continues to take this seriously. As the memorial service was taking place in Lagos on April 6th, there was a seminar and screening program on breast and cervical cancer going on at the same time at the Funmi Olayinka Diagnostic and Wellness Center in Ado-Ekiti, hosted by the First Lady, Her Excellency Dr Yemi Oyebanji.

I have lost other friends and associates over the past ten years to various forms of cancer and even though it can be debilitating, I know that we have to continue to raise awareness and offer help in any way we can. This is why I joined First Ladies Against Cancer in 2020, an advocacy group of serving and former State First Ladies. Using our respective platforms, we have advocated for increased financial, material and technical resources for cancer control, relevant policy frameworks, as well as appropriate sensitisation and awareness in our communities. We all know someone who has battled or is currently dealing with one form of cancer or the other. Early detection is key and then we can begin to look at next steps. Sadly, the vast majority of citizens do not have access to the treatment and care they need and this is why those of us in a position to do so should intensify our advocacy and sensitisation efforts. I also know many people who have resources and should know better, but do not take things like screening seriously. ‘What you don’t know can’t kill you’ does not apply to cancer. What you don’t know will put you six feet under well before your time. I find Mammograms uncomfortable. I find Pap Smears (for cervical cancer screening) invasive and I absolutely hate Colonoscopies. Yet, I do them because the alternative is playing Russian Roulette with my life.

Even ten years after, it is hard for me to talk about what being with Mrs Olayinka was like and how badly her transition affected me. It still hurts. However, I am grateful for having known her and shared unforgettable moments with her. She was beautiful inside and out, warm, funny, affectionate, reliable and deeply committed to making a difference. I am thankful to have had the opportunity to see God’s amazing grace over the family and friends she left behind. Hope is one of the most powerful things we can have as human beings. It lights the way for us through the fog and the dark. For everyone going through a tough time at the moment, know, as the wise Bishop said that, ‘One day, everything will be alright’. Rest on beloved sister and friend. I will miss you forever.

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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5 Responses to LOUD WHISPERS: Purple and White

  1. Adegbola Opeyemi April 9, 2023 at 8:59 am

    Rest on Her Excellency, Mrs Funmilayo Adunni Olayinka

  2. Iyanuoluwa Isinkaye April 9, 2023 at 10:22 am

    Gone yet not forgotten. Rest on ma

  3. Maryam April 9, 2023 at 12:55 pm

    Rest on mama

  4. Rachael April 10, 2023 at 5:38 pm

    Rest on, Moremi Ekiti

  5. Fisolami April 11, 2023 at 9:21 pm

    Rest on ma


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