My brother Yinka roused me from an unusual afternoon nap Midway through this column last Saturday with a phone message that Mrs Christianah Oni Deru was gone. For a moment, I was still.
I checked the message again and again, to grasp the name. It was the first time I would know the first name of this extraordinary woman who discarded her earthly cloak at the age of 80, leaving behind her husband and children.
All her life, I knew her only as auntie or “Dear mi” (my dear), a wonderful chaperone of a wife at home or outdoor to my uncle , Otunba Olufemi Deru, one of the roaring figures behind successes of the Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry for more than three decades, and a former managing director and, later, chairman of Berec (Nig) LTD, the then battery makers.
Theirs was a beautiful marriage which unfurled everywhere they were like a bed of roses and, if I am spiritually qualified to make this judgement, a marriage made in heaven.
From the days of courtship, they called each other by only one name…DEAR MI, one word English, the other Yoruba, both of which mean”my dear”. As their children grew up, they often teased them over this.
Mrs Deru’s doors were always open to all her in-laws. She raised shoulders against none, and she was a perfect hostess to even the most malevolent against her husband.
What I found most remarkable about her which made me see her as an extraordinary woman was that she was unafraid of corpses. She loved them and tended them as if they were babies. She never worked in a mortuary, cleaning bodies. So, I always wanted to sit her down to an interview about how she came by the passion. But I had no opportunity to do this before I retired from active newsroom newspapering.
Anywhere we met at a wake-keep, she was beside the discarded vessel, either chasing flies away or mopping sweat or re-arranging decorations. In some cases, she would keep the vigil, sometimes all alone for some time, either with the body of a departed friend or a relation. She came across to me as someone who was unafraid of death, who may thus have been so inwardly prepared for it that she would not have engaged in a death struggle, let alone become trapped in a decaying body, or even become earthbound after freeing herself from the clay body no longer useful to her or tied down to this earth by earthly emotions. Thus, she may have awakened already, to joyful life in the so called beyond, while all of us she has left behind prepare to give her earthly remains a deserved memory.
Good bye “auntie”, good bye “dear mi”.