Funeral Oration

Delivered by Professor Obioma Nnaemeka at the Funeral of Her Mother, Mrs. Jessie Obidiegwu, Held in Agulu, Anambra State, Nigeria on Thursday, October 5, 2006

Jessie Ifemelue Obidiegwu! Ezigbo Nne!

Over the years, you were our rock and the glue that held our family together. You journeyed with us as we  marked the many milestones in our lives. You celebrated with enormous joy and pride our achievements, big and small. But today, we are gathered in this place you loved so much to celebrate your extraordinary life. Mom, today the applause belongs to you; the ovation is yours.

Mom, I love you; I adore you.

Jessie Ifemelue Obidiegwu! Daughter, Wife, Mother, Grandmother, Great Grandmother, Mother-in-law, Sister, Niece, Aunt, Friend, Neighbor, Truth-teller, I salute you!

You were born into royalty and married into decency and distinction. Scion of the great Ogbuefi family of Obeagu village, Agulu—a distinguished family epitomized by my late great uncle, Chief Nwaokafor Ogbuefi, Ezeabulunne I of Agulu. Handsome man, who well into his 90s stood tall like a cathedral, planted his feet on our land as strongly as the great iroko tree, and spoke with the authority that was tempered by human kindness. Mom, you were like your dear brother—beautiful, elegant, dignified, strong, and spoke authority with the gentleness of the breeze.

Jessie Ifemelue Obidiegwu! Nwanyi Oma, Okosisi, I salute you!

Mom, did your passing leave a vacuum? Of course it did! A huge one! You left a mighty hole but being the unique human being you were, you left a vacuum that is unique in its own way. The hole you left behind does not have the attributes usually associated with vacuum—nothingness, emptiness. On the contrary, your vacuum is the vacuum of fullness. You left a vacuum where I can see things, hear things, smell things, and feel things. I look into the vacuum and I see your beautiful face, your captivating smile, your regal carriage, and your elegant gait. I put my ear to the vacuum and I hear your gentle voice, your giggle, your laughter and the famous phrase with which you punctuated a drawn-out laughter—omaha afio! I put my nose into the vacuum and I smell the aroma of your wonderful cooking. I smell your delicious onugbu soup spiced with the best ogili isi purchased deep in Afo Agulu. I smell your extraordinary stew jerked with potent ose Nsukka. I put my hand in the vacuum and I feel you. I feel your gentle and soothing touch. I feel your magic.

Jessie Ifemelue Obidiegwu! Odogwu Nwanyi, Ochili Ozua, I salute you!

You were popularly and affectionately called “Lawyer.” Your law firm was unique indeed. You practiced the law of conflict resolution and peaceful coexistence—not the law of winners and losers. You banished imprisonment and the death penalty from your law practice. You saw in everyone pure humanity and the capacity to do good. Mom, you loved peace so much that you nurtured it, preached it, practiced it and promoted it. You never met anyone you didn’t like. You never had an unkind word for anybody. You saw the good even in the most flawed of human beings. I once asked you who your enemy was and you quickly responded “Enwerom onye ilo”/I do not have any enemy.

Jessie Ifemelue Obidiegwu! Ojemba Enwilo, Mama Uwa, I salute you!

Mom, you were kindness and generosity personified. Your home was an oasis for the thirsty, a rest stop for the weary and a restaurant for the hungry. You had good ears for the depressed, big hugs for the crushed, words of wisdom for the uninspired and good advice for the confused. You saw inhumanity and condemned it. You saw injustice and raised a moral voice against it. You saw human suffering and alleviated it. You saw hopelessness and gave hope. You saw peace and maintained it. You saw progress and promoted it.

Jessie Ifemelue Obidiegwu! Truth-teller, Moral Voice, Odozi Obodo, I salute you!

Our Queen is gone!
Our Matriarch is no more!
Our comedian has left the stage!
Our Lawyer has closed her law firm!
But Our Star is shining as brightly as ever!

Mom, I can assure you that our family will do just fine. Guided and energized by the lessons you taught us, we will meet the challenges ahead and we will prevail. You raised a wonderful, beautiful and peaceful family and we will keep it that way.

Mom, red was your favorite color. Today, red candles are lit all over the world in your honor and memory—from Senegal and South Africa to Australia and India. Today, red candles are burning in celebration of your life—from Norway and France to Switzerland and the United States.

My great sister and poet from the Diaspora, Maya Angelou, wrote: “A great soul serves everyone all the time. A great soul never dies; it brings us together again and again.” Mom, you were that great soul. You will never die; you will bring us together again and again. You have left with us so many memories to help us through every tomorrow. The light of your love and the warmth of your presence will always be precious memories. I believe that those who gave our lives beauty live forever in our hearts.

Mom, I love you with my whole being. I adore you. Thank you! Thank you!! Thank you!!!