UCHE IKWUEME: AN EMANCIPATED SOUL
“When I look upon the tombs of the great, every motion of envy dies in me; when I read the epitaphs of the beautiful, every inordinate desire goes out; when I meet with the grief of parents upon a tombstone, my heart melts with compassion; when I see the tombs of the parents themselves, I consider the vanity of grieving for those whom we must quickly follow”. – Thomas Hardy (Jude the Obscure).
That evening, on the 23rd day of August, in the year of our Lord, 2020, when I and a few other Bar leaders had that lunch at an upscale Ikeja Restaurant and Bar will remain indelible in my heart. For as I got out of that lunch in the company of my partner, Adebola Olarotimi Lema I flipped open my phone and as I am wont to do many times I went to the Whatsapp group of the Lagos Branch. I first saw the beautiful picture of beautiful Mrs. Uche Ikwueme (Uche). My first thoughts were; is it her birthday again? Then my eye caught the word death in the accompanying message by the Branch Welfare Secretary, Enitan Anthonia Eke. My heart skipped.
I brought myself to read the message. Then my heart sank and my knees buckled. I had not been affected by anyone’s death in that manner in decades. Could it be that it so happened because I did not have any inkling of her ill health? May be I would not have been that devastated by the news of her transition to greater glory if I had known beforehand that she was unwell. Our hearts grieve and our grieving hearts will once again remember those moments when we heard the news that our beloved Sister and friend, Uche had unfortunately succumbed to illness and had died. I felt so alone at that moment and could not really process what had happened. It truly seemed like a bad dream. I have now realized every passing moment since then that she is not here anymore and it hurts so much.
When loved ones die, the big question that we human’s have is “why”? I struggled with that one for a long time until I finally realized there are no answers here. We will not find the answers we seek on this side of eternity but we have now learned what Uche knows: apart from Almighty God there is no hope, but in him there is all hope.
We have watched in horror and listened with trepidation as the sadistic butcher, death, which nonetheless will be swallowed up in victory one day snatched away one of our brightest in the cruelest manner. We were shocked; our hearts were broken because we know that suddenly, we will feel the pain and loss we have felt at every loss to death for years. This death is meaningless. We have called this one meaningless because in Uche’s death we have lost more than a life; we have lost a dream; we have lost a vision; we have lost a world. We still cannot find means to come to terms with this reality. It is a cruel world we live in; we have called this death cruel and meaningless for want of weightier words to describe how we feel right now. This is one death we will never understand, however much we try.
We have felt the heaviness of praying for her and all her loved ones since she departed this world. We have also prayed for the aged mother, the grieving husband and the children she left behind.
In her death, we have been reminded that the life we lead is not ours. There is always some sacrifice to make. But these deaths have become too many. Our hearts are full and we are angered. How many more deaths will it take before we know that too many people have died? Uche’s death calls to mind the famous 1962 protest song of Bob Dylan “Blowing in the Wind”. How many times must a man look up? Before he can see the sky? Yes, ‘n’ how many ears must one man have? Before he can hear people cry? Yes ‘n’ how many deaths will it take till he knows that too many people have died …How many years can a mountain exist? Before it is washed to the sea? Yes ‘n’ how many years can some people exist? Before they are allowed to be free? Yes ‘n’ how many times can a man turn his head pretending he just does not see? The answer my friend is blowing in the wind.
I have seen the pain her husband feels. We will try to console him, words may fail us but we must continue to find the right words and the right gestures, we must carry this burden with him, we must help him survive this unspeakable tragedy.
In all these however, what rankles most is the fate of the young children she is leaving behind. One day they will ask for their mother. What shall we tell them? I may not know what you will tell them but I know what I will tell them; their mother, Uche was a good woman, she was one of our brightest stars, she was a kind hearted and loving woman, she was a devoted wife and a doting mother, she wanted to raise a model family and she toiled hard to give this family a good life. Above all, I will tell them that their mother was a great woman and leader who did not die; for to live in the hearts of those you love and who love you is not to die but to live more abundantly.
As one writer posits, ‘‘think not of death as the extinguishing of life, but rather the snuffing out of a candle because death has come’’. One cannot agree more with Canon Henry Scott Holland (1910) that, “Death is nothing at all. It does not count. I have only slipped away into the next room. Nothing has happened…Speak of me in the easy way which you always used…All is well. Nothing is hurt, nothing is lost”.
The lives of good men and women who have passed to the great beyond teach us that death is but the dawning of a new day. Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ also teach us that death is emancipation from this world, ‘which beautiful though it be, is still a land of captivity’. Uche has experienced that emancipation.
In the end I admonish us not to go on mourning forever as though we have no hope for as Apostle Paul, a higher spiritual authority admonished in II Thessalonians 4:13-14 when he wrote on the subject of death and resurrection, “I do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning those who have fallen asleep, lest you sorrow as others who have no hope, for if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with him those who sleep in Jesus”.
We are assured that Uche will rise again!
Fare thee well our sister and friend!!
May the Lord bring you to the place of eternal rest!!!
Stephen Onimisi Obajaja Esq a Partner at the Lagos Law firm of Fountain Court Partners served as Secretary of the Lagos Branch of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) when Uche Ikwueme was Vice Chairman in 2015 – 17.