Anita, you are an orphan, so what?! Believe it or not, it was a question I asked myself one day while I was feeling sorry for myself. Boy in those days, I threw the best pity parties for myself. And I would excuse all my bad behaviours on this ground- I am an orphan.
Until one day, it was as if I had a split personality and the other Anita got pissed and asked me the questions that made me resolve to not let my negative experiences hinder me- You are an orphan, so what?!
Nineteen years of being fatherless and seventeen of being an orphan is not beans! To have even found yourself in this place as a child (teenager in my case) and to come out on the other side is not an easy feat. But it all started with a decision not to let anything hold me down.
In my book, you’ll see it was a long journey from whenever that decision was made (and there are lots of resolve points in my life) to where I am today.
For those who know me and have ready my book Reve-Healed, you know that I had a bitter-sweet relationship with my father, and that of course, he eventually passed. In addition, I also never really had much of a relationship with my mother, who also eventually passed.
Yesterday, December 13th was exactly 19 years my dad passed. Two days to Christmas in that year, we buried him. Naturally, I came to hate and detest the season. Truth be told, every December, I get triggers (feelings of sadness starts to try to overwhelm me), but over the years, it has gotten better. Plus, I am no longer mad at God, so now I enjoy the season, in spite of.
As I reflected on my life (as I always do in this time), I want to share very quickly 5 lessons being orphaned has taught me and perhaps a tip for people who have lost a parent and/or feel they are going through life alone. Quite frankly for ANYONE!
1. You can still make something out of your life
A lot of people think being orphaned means you no longer have to make something meaningful out of your life. As a matter of fact, if you are like me with a very complicated family, then there are perhaps people in your life waiting for you to fail. Why make it easy for them? Decide early on that this will not stop you.
For me, I saw education as a tool of success, and boy nothing could get in the way of my education. I am not where I want to be, but my life is in a place where people legitimately. I recognize that while I no longer enjoyed certain luxury from my when my folks were alive, my family did at least pay for my education. That helps, BUT, I have also seen people much better placed than I who still squandered opportunities given them.
THIS RIGHT HERE IS ONE OF THE GREATEST LESSONS EVER OF MY LIFE IN GENERAL- WE ARE THE ONLY DETERMINANTS OF “MY LIFE IS OVER”!
2. We still have a long way to go in protecting the rights of minors in Nigeria
People often say the reason extended families take everything from kids after their parents passing is due to lack of will, insurance, etc. To a large extent, my father was cut from a different cultural cloth considering the prevalent norm. He had life insurance, will and everything that should have protected us and provided for us.
Unfortunately, while, yes, our education was paid for (and the VERY BASIC), we got nothing else. Dare I say, till now. My brothers and I are now in our 30s. Zero accountability, no one called anything into question. What’s worse, is the culture of silence on things like this. When you speak up, people say “you sha did not starve”, “they sha paid your fees”, “you will not be the first”, “this is naija for you”.
I am sorry but we need to do better than that. You have a responsibility to protect the rights of the fatherless, motherless, orphaned, widows, etc. Sometimes I look back and I wonder what would have become of us if my father never had anything? To the family members who went out of their way to provide for us, God bless you! To those who did not, but took everything, karma is real o!
Grateful to be in a place where I have no need of those things, but would be nice to have, as an extension of memories of my father. This should have been a no-brainer, when a person dies, the estates go directly to spouses and kids (in trust, then handed over to them when they become adults). This speaks to foundational issues in both our laws and our culture.
PS: I am sure I will still get backlash for this one. LOL
PSS: Protecting the rights of children, especially orphaned kids is a collective responsibility! Stop stealing the bread of the orphans
3. No one can have your best interest like your parents
This one is especially for teenagers who think their parents are the worst. Again, the relationship with my father was not the greatest. He was my greatest source of pain, yet my greatest source of safety at the same time. So I get it, if that is what you feel about your folks.
But at the time, I also did not realize how much ‘covering’ just the presence of a parent provided. After my dad passed, I felt so naked and vulnerable. It was weird and I felt like I needed to constantly look over my shoulder. In an ideal sense, no one really wants better for you than your parents do, no matter how twisted their ways of showing it.
Despite all the hurts my father caused me, truth be told, I felt that gap after he passed. The things others were not patient enough to help me navigate through, forgetting I was a child, no parent in their right minds would have doled the things I received in that manner. So please, find a way to work through any issues or conflicts you may have with your parents if they are still alive.
4. Higher susceptibility to neglect and mental health issues
My family did not know this, but I used to refer to myself as a community child- everyone’s responsibility and no one’s responsibility. What this often looked like for me was when it was holiday times, there was a LONG process on who do I go and live with? Lagos, Abuja? Port Harcourt? If yes, with who? Maybe this was a problem that stems from having a large family? Not sure. But one thing this experience created was a feeling of neglect. Consequently, this led me to bouts of depression, in addition to already existing traumatic experiences.
I should say this, children generally tend to question love and acceptance from their parents. Now imagine a child that has none! Death is painful enough for anyone and can trigger mental health issues. Add to that feelings of neglect and other trauma, you really need to be extra patient with kids in this category. They would do a lot of things that are bad, but underneath is a cry for attention, love, affirmation and acceptance.
Now, if you have lost a parent, and you identify these in you, there is onus on you to now take your self-awareness and drive yourself to help you need. I say this because left untreated, we tend to display these things in our adulthood too. Many of us react out of trauma, it is natural. Refusing to acknowledge and get help, that is not!
5. Make God your Father and Best Friend
Seriously, what other choice do you have? Remember that feeling of nakedness and increased sense of vulnerability? You still need a ‘covering’. God created the family system and designed it as father/mother for a reason. This is why when we see some traits in people we call them daddy/mummy issues. They are real!
So, God is our Father, agreed! But do you know He also promises to be Father (specially). I never truly felt covered until I gave my life to God and invited Him to be my Father in both an heavenly and earthly sense. I legit take my needs to Him. You know the beauty about God being your Father? He truly will never do you wrong. It is against His nature- literally. And you could NEVER outgrow Him even if you tried.
A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows,
is God in his holy dwelling.Psalm 68:5- BibleGateway
To be honest, there are lots of lessons that sit with me, but I would like to share these five in the meantime, and invite you to remember that we have a responsibility to speak up for the vulnerable in our midst and be a sense of covering to them.
Finally, if this orphan girl can become the woman I am, seriously what can’t you overcome and make something of your life?! fill in the blanks for yourself. YOU have been…………………….so what? It is not the end of the road. Which of these resonates the most with you? Share in comments below.