What you feel right after the overwhelming horror, the hopelessness, the pain, the madness of grief is gratefulness. You’re grateful to the people who have come around, who’ve lent their ears and cheeks and shoulders to you and your barely coherent ranting; who’ve dragged you away from the brink of self destruction and have held you and wept along and let you ruin their smart clothes with drool and snot and pain.

You’re grateful most of all to your enemies, the ones you had closed your life off to. Those people you’d killed off in your mind and heart and soul, who you had cut off completely. When they, after hearing of your pain come around and hold you regardless of the ugliness that passed between the two of you, there’s nothing stronger than the gratefulness that you feel towards them.

My mom died on 21-09-2011. She left. She vacated her body. She broke up with the world. This has left me devastated. This has left my family devastated. What I can’t stop asking is, does this happen to everybody? Is this what everybody goes through? Is this what we’re all destined to experience? TWICE? Life is a beautiful thing. Death is a horrible thing. Don’t let any make-a-quick-buck rock band tell you any different.

R.I.P, my ma

Mummy was a really cool person. Mummy was extremely funny. She had an opinion on everything under the sun (the president, nibiru, the ozone, catfish, even the lengths of my sundresses).

She was really happy. In general. Of course, it was general knowledge at my house that when mummy got angry or even slightly irritated, the person who didn’t make it out of the room fast enough would have to sit through a yearlong lecture that would start, stop, start again; her scoldings had lives and personalities of their own. She always made rabbit-y face right before one of those lectures, so we all had plenty of warning.

Mummy was playful and funny and naughty. She used to play Sankarai with us. She used to tickle and giggle and run. She was always game. For anything.

She was really beautiful. In school, people would ask me, ‘What happened to you?’ and I’d say, “Give me time” or I’d poke them in the eye, depending on my mood. Mom was a beautiful but oh so modest woman.

She loved God so much and always told us to stay close to God, not to forget God, even in our happiest, most contented times because he’s the author of everything. She always urged us to pray. She could pray for hours.

She loved daddy.

She loved flowers. There was this flower that used to grow in the front yard. None of us knew its name, so it became the mummy-flower. This flower would bloom red, but with one white petal. Or pure white with one red petal.

Exactly. This one. What is it called oba?

These flowers used to make mummy so happy.

She loved color. Her wardrobe was full of life and color and beauty.

She loved her garden. Her plants. Her house.

She loved matooke. We were the matooke duo, ma and I. Mummy never ever cooked matooke without thinking of me. I never fried matooke without thinking of her. That was what she cooked for the last meal I had with her, that Wednesday. Matooke and liver and peas and greens.

She loved pretty things but was always willing to make ridiculously big sacrifices for her babies.

Mummy loved fish. We ate fish almost every day for 9 months when she was pregnant with our baby, our precious, our beautiful Daniela.

Mummy lived aggressively. I don’t think she ever once put hand to brow and complained about ‘depression’ or ‘hopelessness’. This is maybe because she was big on prayer, but also because she believed in doing things. In getting up and finding solutions. She loved life and always prayed for long life.

She called herself her children’s’ champion. Our number one defender. Our refuge. Mummy was like a mother chicken when it came to us. Her love. Her love was almost smothering. She did nothing half half. When she loved, laughed, yelled. When she teased. It was always in great measure, running over. There was too much life in ma. Too much.

The only reason I know and love words, the only reason I’m interested in stories, the only reason I’m a writer is mummy. From before I could understand, I remember her voice steadily weaving story after story after story. She even created dances to go with these stories.

She showed her love as often as she professed it.

It’s going to be a hard life in which I cannot call ma up after a bad dream and have her lull me to sleep with a looooong prayer. It’s going to take some getting used to, not having her to talk and talk and talk to after a hard day at work, a heart break, a quarrel. Her stories. It’s going to be empty without her many many stories.

I want, need, hope to be like my mom. I want to be her.

Mummy knew laughter. She knew dedication. She knew extremes. She knew love. She understood it all. May mummy, Mary Jessica Opwonya Rest In Peace.


  1. This was one of the most touching memorial speech litany eulogies that I have heard my entire life. Absolutely amazing to have heard you read it.
    May Mary Jessica Opwonya’s soul rest in eternal peace. Amen.

  2. I read this in a taxi on Sunday afternoon in the Vision, still mad at myself for accepting some luncheon–by the time I was through, I was glad to have people who care enough to insist they wish to see me, come over, we do lunch, please…your homage to Mom reminded me, above all else, it is love that matters.

  3. Milli, this is so deep….. May Ma’s soul rest in peace.. princess Danny will be well, like Ma taught u… Pray n believe. May you find strength in the Almighty

    mama Neema(Yunia*)

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