By Dickson Okafor
November 23, 2019, will forever remain a date the families of Aniebo Obiekwe and Aniezeofor, both in Iwollo, Ezeagu Local Government Area of Enugu State, can’t forget to remember. It is a day that will stick in their minds as a memorial, the day their matriarch and epitome of the very essence of motherhood, the late Lolo Celina Aniebo Obiekwe (nee Aniezeofor), whom we all drank from her milk of kindness passed on to the great beyond.
Initially, when the news of her death broke, I was short of words to describe the meaning of the world’s greatest mystery, death. But J.K. Rowling captured it this way: “To the well-organized mind, death is but the next great adventure”. Chuck Palahniuk went further to ask, “If truly death meant just leaving the stage long enough to change costume and come back as a new character, would you slow down? Or speed up?”
Whichever way death is described, I took solace in Shakespeare’s description of death in his book Julius Caesar, where he said, “Death is a necessary end, which will come when it will come.”
Then, it finally dawned on me that what I regarded as a mere rumour ab initio was reality, which I’m yet to cope with. But as the days go by, it is disheartening to learn what the words “I miss you” were when I could no longer see Mama Celina at her sitting point, I now realize that, indeed, a necessary end awaits all. Yes, a necessary end awaits all of us because death is a debt we must pay at the appropriate time, just as Mama Celina has graciously paid hers. Meanwhile, she did not die in vain; she lived a fulfilled, impactful and inspiring life in many ways worthy of emulation.
Born on June 17, 1929, to the family of Chief and Lolo C. Aniezeofor, in Iwollo, Ezeagu LGA of Enugu State, Mama grew up in the village setting practicing peasant farming and trading. Like other girls of her time, she had to pursue only basic western education that was often truncated prematurely. These were in circumstances in which female children were not the most favoured for such upliftment even by the most loving fathers because girls’ education was not given equal attention as for the male child then. Given the circumstances she found herself in, pretty Celina accepted to marry handsome young Samuel when he proposed to her. The marriage was blessed with nine children, among whom is Chief Elvis Obiekwe, CEO, Elico Inter-Resources Ltd and national president, Dynamic Youth Organization of Nigeria (DYON).
To the young couple, there was absolutely nothing more worthy and sacrificial than the fact that God entrusted to them a bright future. But beyond that, humanity depends on mothers to bear the bitter-sweet burden of the period of neonatal and maternal formation, raising and nurturing their infants, ensuring their proper growth and preparing them for effective and productive lives. It is worthy to stress that our mothers protect all of humanity by ensuring that life is more meaningful beyond birth and help their fruit of the womb so that they are able to lead purposeful and meaningful existence in dignity. The joy of most mothers unarguably is to ensure that their offspring live more fulfilled and impactful lives than them.
However, for Mama Celina, following the demise of her husband, Chief Samuel Aniebo Obiekwe, in 2001, through sheer determination, she was able to rise above adversity and continue to soldier from where her husband stopped, which led to success story of her children. Having exemplified the hopes and aspirations of most widows who are confronted with enormous challenges, she overcame the challenges through diligence, strength, character, hard work and faith in God. Little wonder, these virtues are replicated in her son, Chief Elvis Obiekwe, whose humanitarian gestures, especially empowerment of youths in Nigeria, have gained national and international recognition. Mama Celina was truly a passionate woman who dedicated her life to family and service to God.
Apart from providing a shoulder for many to lean on, Mama, who many describe as a beacon of humility and a legend in affection, warmed any place she entered with humour. Significantly, her good gesture was reciprocated by beneficiaries of her unconditional lover, most especially her daughter-in-law, Lolo Jennifer Obiekwe Aniebo.
Just as Mitch Albom rightly observed, “Death ends life, not a relationship.” Death could not end the relationship that existed between Mama Celina and her daughter-in-law, Lolo Jennifer, because Mama had love, care and affection showered on her by Jennifer for the 15 years she had health challenges as result of old age.
It is important also to understand that it is rare to see mothers-in-law cared and catered for by their daughters-in-law not even when they are down with ill health. But Lolo Jennifer gave Mama Celina much to cheer as a stabilizing factor on the home front. No doubt, her absence has brought a combination of emotions that can never be fully defined to all of us, including her grandchildren. Yet, within the period she lived, Mama brought joy and sweetness to those of us who were close to her. Indeed, her compassion left a lasting impression on all us even though her death broke millions of hearts. However, everyone at one time or the other experienced the best love of a mother. It was this kind of love and time Mama devoted to the happiness of others thus she will forever remain a shining example of the deep bond of motherhood to many, including her children and grandchildren.
I remember being present when Mama Celina was admonishing one of her grandchildren, Chinoso, an undergraduate at Babcock University, and in her usual sense of humour, she said, “Control your anger because holding unto anger is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.”
What an incredible mother she was, whose labour of love allows us to feel closer, hence, she will remain in our hearts even in death.
One thing that set her miles apart from her contemporaries was that she was not a woman of many words and, indeed, words are not enough to extol her virtues. Therefore, Mama, even though your death brought grief and pain, in life, we loved you dearly, and in death we love you more.
May the good Lord grant you eternal peace, amen. Adieu.