I have always had a fascination with the subject of death. Okay, we all do except those of us who have stared it square in the face through the faded lenses of the ones we love.
I grew up in a culture that has no tolerance for decoding the mysteries of death even when it hits close to home. Nigerians are still not open or comfortable when it comes to tackling the complexities of dying and grieving.
The person who is in transition mode is usually hidden somewhere and most of the time friends and even family members have no clue what is happening until it already happens.
Two of my boarding school classmates died within a year of each other and even though we were not that close it was shocking and sad to find out that they had passed without me knowing they had endured a long terminal illness.
It forced me to question what I would do if I were in a similar situation. What if I were told today that I had stage 4 ovarian cancer and would be dead in approximately six months? I have often pondered what that must feel like.
How do you absorb such tragic news and at the same time start planning for your rap imminent demise. Instinctively I would shut down and pretend for a week or two that I was perfectly healthy until of course the symptoms would start catching up with me. Then I would have no choice but to quietly surrender to my fate.
I imagine that as my health declines, the toll of my illness will start to be visibly apparent which would make me less inclined to be in public or have too many visitors. I can honestly say that more than half of my friends on Facebook will be completely in the dark about my dire situation. They will have no idea until after I have released my last breath.
So, yeah — my dearly departed friends handled things to the best of their ability. They kept their pages active until they couldn’t anymore and the next update we got was the announcement of their demise. They exited from public life quietly and with somber dignity. And that’s the way we expect it to be. Death is an event that should typically be happen behind close doors.
But in this new era of “over-sharing” and “over-indulging” — nothing is deemed sacred anymore and privacy is a relic of the past. It’s all about self-expression to the point of overt blatancy.
The more you reveal — the more relevant you are and the stakes get higher when the competition heats up. Instagram accounts are overflowing with pictorials that capture subjects at their most vulnerable — but not in an inspiring way. It’s usually a playbook straight out of The Kardashian/Jenner archives. I’m sure you get the picture.
But what about when the subject in question isn’t showing off their butt cheeks or pumped up cleavage? What if they are sharing something that is both solemnly critical and life-changing? What if they are dying and feel the need to publicly document that journey for all to see — with no filters or the assistance of the “edit” button for dramatics? Is that also an acceptable agenda?
A few weeks ago — I was scoping through People magazine — and happened upon an article about a country singer who I had never heard. She was battling cervical cancer and the odds were against her even though she looked perfectly healthy in the photos.
I was drawn to it because it reminded me of another celebrity a few years ago who I had initially never heard of before — Jade Goody. She was a British Reality TV star and the mother of two young boys. Her larger-than-life persona was her trademark and it made her famous. In the midst of her hustle, she was diagnosed with cervical cancer. Unfortunately it was too late to save her. She proceeded to film her last remaining weeks up until she was too weak to move.
I followed her story and watched her show and it was a devastating experience. It was difficult to watch her light dimming and her body wither under the effects of the disease. And when she passed — it was as if I had lost someone close to me. I had invested so much in her and yet she was really just a stranger to me. But — weirdly she was more than that by my own design.
This was in 2009 — and now six years later I am faced with a similar dilemma. The country singer I mentioned earlier is Joey Feek and she is just forty years old and terminally ill with stage 4 cancer. She is now literally on her death bed. How do I know this? Well, her beloved husband Rory Feek who is also a singer and the other piece of the duo — Jory + Rory has been keeping a detailed blog to keep fans up to speed on his wife’s progress as they wade into uncharted territory.
To be fair — he was blogging way before his wife fell ill so his pursuits weren’t necessarily inspired by their current status but the point is that they both chose to continue sharing their activities despite the tragic turn their lives have taken. This coupled with the fact that they gave birth to a baby girl a year and a half ago, who has Down syndrome.
So — you get the picture. A gorgeous raven-haired beauty with a voice like an angel who lives in a sprawling farmhouse with her loving husband — her partner in crime — in life and during concert tours. And along with her adorable daughter they are happily living the American dream until it all comes crashing down.
It’s a heart-wrenching story that is turning their world upside down but they are not the only ones in anguish. They are living their sorrow for all to see and for those of us who are privy — we are also in turmoil.
How can we not be? When I took the plunge into the world of this affecting family — Joey and Rory Feek had decided she should discontinue treatment when it became clear that that her cancer cells were spreading faster than the doctors could control. Rory divulged the details in his blog and announced that his wife had decided to return to her childhood home to live out the rest of her days — in hospice care.
After that bombshell — it was hard to abruptly break away. Of course I needed to follow up and keep tabs. And I have been doing that diligently — even though I wish I wasn’t. It’s excruciating to see the pictures and notice how thin, frail and tired this woman is looking as she strives to beat the odds by living longer than her designated time.
The latest post which also made the rounds in People Magazine and US Weekly features Joey Feek and her daughter and it is clear the end is very near. Her gaunt appearance and the dazed look in her eyes showcase a patient on the verge of death. This is supported by her husband’s confession that she is now too weak to get out of bed.
Once again I am invested in the fate of another woman who isn’t really famous but has somehow become a household name due to her unfortunate circumstance.
As I gazed at her photo — I wondered if perhaps I was participating in a morbid exercise due to my infatuation with death. I read the comments below and most were not that moved with Rory Feek’s testimonials. They found it self-serving and wondered why on earth he would even have the audacity to advertise his wife’s predicament for monetary gain.
I have to admit I was torn about their decision to expose the various stages of their grief. My criticism stemmed from my discomfort with the glaring honesty that was so starkly delivered. I am scared to death of death. I have always imagined what it really means to be on your death bed. And now against my will — I never have to wonder.
Yes — I chose to give a damn about a dying singer whose husband is so distraught at the prospect of losing his wife that he is channeling his disbelief towards his fans and anyone who cares. It’s a very moving gesture and I applaud their bravery.
I think artists intuitively feel the need to express themselves. And in this climate of “over sharing” — why not make allowances for the brutal facts of life.
Butt cheeks, cleavage, hair extensions, and sex diaries are all entertaining but when it comes to grittier fare — we all of a sudden become critics and life shame those who dare to give us the wakeup call that we refuse to adhere to.
We are all going to die someday and in case you were wondering — this is what it looks like.
I’m watching someone die and I don’t even know her. And I’ve decided that’s okay.