Long before the coronavirus hit our shores and upended life as we’ve known it, the year wasn’t great to be honest, at least to me. This has been before coronavirus and the lockdown but for the purpose of this story, let’s focus on the lockdown. At the beginning of this pandemic, I didn’t pay much attention to the news because I too believed it was just like the flu and it would come and go. My colleagues would make jokes about the world coming to an end. I felt we needed more fruits and vegetables in our system.
Then people started dropping like flies. I became much more worried because when you ideally have the flu, you don’t just die, plus the complications the virus came with were scary. There were stories of people gasping for breath in overcrowded hospitals, endless stories of people dropping dead.
When news broke that the Nigerian government was going to shut down airports in the country to curb the spread of the virus, my parents booked me a ticket back to Lagos. My mother – who had only gotten to the UK few hours to be my travel companion back to Lagos – and I took to our heels to catch our flight, but in that true Nigerian fashion, she closed her borders to her citizens.
My flight got cancelled and I went into full panic mode. I was angry because how can a country shut out her citizens? But I was more worried because my mum has a high blood pressure and she only had with her the amount of medicine she needed for the trip. I was very anxious but being a woman of faith, I believed in the plans of the Lord. We were able to sort out my mother’s medication and I too like many others settled into the routine that the pandemic offered.
I didn’t mind the lockdown at first because I didn’t like going out anyway. I think I had been out only four times before March 23rd. In fact, you could say I had already started self-isolating long before the UK went into lockdown. But you see, consent is key and this shutdown was not consensual. Just because I don’t like going out does not mean I like being told to stay at home and it was that, that irked me the most.
I finally had all the time on my hands working from home and still couldn’t do all the things I had thought impossible in the days when work was the only stumbling block. I couldn’t go to all the restaurants I had bookmarked for when I had time. I missed my school. I never really like going into school because it was time-consuming but all of a sudden, I missed seeing my classmates and complaining about the hours we spent in school.
Stockholm syndrome maybe?
I missed the commute, I missed the gym and I most importantly missed the vegetarian salad from the café. The lockdown also cost me my holiday. I had planned two separate girls trip and of course, both have become non-existent. This was going to be my year of travel, exploring new cities and putting myself first. But COVID-19 had other plans and the year will never be the same again as I settle into my new life of sheltering in place and taking trips only from the safety that Pinterest provides.
Halfway through the lockdown, it became obvious that this would be the new normal. I buried myself in my school work. I developed an exercise routine. The numbers of deaths in the UK were finally starting to come down. We had reached the peak it seems. I was checking up on my friends, laughing away through the many challenges on social media and then June happened.
June has been the darkest month for me this year. It was June that eventually broke me.
Before the sad news came as every sad news comes, it started with my health. One minute I was fine and healthy, the next minute I couldn’t eat or speak. And eventually, the call came in the first week of June that my grandmother, my Oluranti was no more.
You see, my grandma and I had a special relationship. I was the only grandchild that she gave her name to and we were alike in many ways. Our birth dates are only four days apart. She had lived with us for eighteen years before her death. She was a wonderful and strong woman who had accomplished so much. Even at her age, she had a sharp memory and could not be outsmarted by her account officers. She was the kind of woman you went to for advice because she knew everything about everything.
When I told her I got accepted into my current Master’s program, she was so excited. It was the same university, my grandfather, her husband had graduated from. She told me many stories and could still remember some of the buildings that were there fifty years ago. I promised to bring home the school’s scarf because my grandfather’s was nowhere to be found. My grandma was a pure soul who had a solution for almost every problem. She was also the ATM who bailed me out many times.
She would always smile at me every morning and start conversations with “my dear.” With every phone call, she would always remind me she was waiting to carry my child. That’s a thing I wish she still waited for. It still hits me sometimes when I talk about her in the past tense. Her death was very difficult for me and my family. Her two daughters and granddaughter were not in Nigeria because we were still in the middle of a pandemic and the Nigerian airspace was closed.
I was livid with the government because I should have been home to say goodbye. I mean, I understand why they closed the borders but we should have a national carrier to convey citizens home. My grandma was a woman who wasted no time while she was alive, she had left instructions that she wanted to be buried almost immediately after she died. I watched the funeral on Zoom, thank God for technology. The only consolation was that I could grieve with my mum. I can’t imagine what I would have gone through if it was just me. My mum and I leaned on each other for support in those nights of endless sobs.
With the pandemic, the loss of my grandma and working on my dissertation, my mental health was forced to go through it. I was angry and in so much pain. I felt like my heart was breaking and people couldn’t see it. I received a lot of condolence messages which were great, my friends stood by me. However, the messages I didn’t appreciate were the ones that started with expressions like “At least she…”
We have over time developed this habit of rationalizing bad events as a way of consoling people. “At least she was old,” “At least she is in heaven,” “At least she lived a good life.” But I wasn’t ready to let her go and that was what mattered to me. I knew she was old, I know she lived a good life. That should not stop me from mourning her.
The pandemic came offering both pain and madness.
In the days of my grief, I stuck like glue to my family, drawing breath and strength from their grief. The lockdown also allowed me to breathe. I was always exhausted before, trying to balance pursuing a master’s degree, work and life in general. While many took the time that the shutdown created to slide into DMs of exes, my skin was breaking out and I was not keeping in touch with my friends as I would have liked to.
I took up journaling, something I had been procrastinating about. I journal at least once a week documenting my days as they go bye. I also cook more now. I use to love cooking in my bachelor’s days at University, but I stopped. The pandemic brought out my cooking abilities like never before. I even baked a cake! I also learnt to forgive. I had been angry with two former friends of mine. Even when I thought I had forgiven them, I realized, I hadn’t really let go. I was truly able to let go and redirect my energy towards more productive activities.
Was life during the lockdown great? Absolutely not. But I’m thankful for the lessons. I’m embracing the pain and as cliché, as it might sound, I’m working on being the best version of myself.