An evening with Chimamanda, a private reading of 'Notes on Grief'

How does one begin a report about one’s literary idol? There is no way to begin but to just start.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie [Instagram/@chimamanda_adichie]

I feel the weight of my figurative pen bearing down on me, I am scared to be such a disappointment, but I must write this report.

I was in Junior Secondary School Two when I first read my first Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie book - 'Purple Hibiscus'. I have adored all her writings and books ever since.

I was to attend a book reading of Chimamanda's new book and I didn’t think too much about it. I felt it was just one of the duties of work.

When I got to the venue at Alliance Francaise Ikoyi, I sat down at the back and waited patiently for her to come on stage.

As I waited, excitement began bubbling inside of me, it finally clicked that I was about to meet The Chimamanda.

The French Ambassador to Nigeria, Emmanuelle Blatmann came on stage first and spoke of her as a “Nigerian best-seller author known worldwide.”

Her Nigerian publisher, Eghosa Imasuen, read out her citation and mentioned how she comforted him when he was grieving by just saying, "sorry."

An important theme in 'Notes on Grief' is no words of comfort can be offered to one in mourning except ‘sorry’ or ‘ndo’ because no comfort exists for them at that point.

In Chapter Three she writes, "Grief is a cruel kind of education. You learn how ungentle mourning can be. How full of anger...why are my sides so sore and achy? It's from crying...my heart - my actual physical heart - nothing figurative here - is running away from me."

When it came time for the main event, Chimamanda waltzed in with poise and carriage in a beautiful black mesh gown embroidered with flowers, a fiery red lipstick, and the cutest clutch made from stones in the likeness of the cover of her book, 'Americanah.'

My first thoughts when she walked on stage were, "She is so beautiful."

She apologized for being an hour late and began reading passages from her book.

When she was done with reading, it was question and answer time, and almost everyone who stood up began by saying.

“I lost my father…I lost my mother” and barely asked any question.

It became like a therapy session with Chimamanda assuming some sort of motherly position there on stage.

People stood up and asked Chimamanda for help or just to vent, “How do I handle this grief?” They inquired.

A young man whose father died two weeks ago asked, “When I feel like I am enjoying life, I feel guilty. What do I do?”

Chimamanda listened to everyone and related to their stories, she never cut anyone short – even when I rolled my eyes at some over-sharers- but she gave them helpful advice.

“My mom is sick in the hospital; she had a fatal accident.” A news reporter said.

“What would your co-workers have done to make you feel better?” Chimamanda asked.

If they hugged me and asked if I was okay, really asked.” She replied.

Another person asked if she felt there was any spiritual attribution to both of her parents dying so close to each other.

Chimamanda replied jokingly, “Winch dey” but cautioned that one might be susceptible to believe superstition in the face of grief.

I have not lost any of my parents, relatives, or close friends that I love dearly. People around me have died, but no one too close.

I understand grief only from a distance, in the same way that Chimamanda was before her dad died.

She said, “I have mourned people before, but I never experienced grief.”

She described how she reacted to the news of her father's passing in Chapter Two, "I was utterly unravelling, screaming and pounding at the floor."

She jokingly chimed to the audience. “If I die, you all better cry for me.”

“If we are expected to remain normal in the face of grief, when can we be allowed to fall apart? She asked.

She mentioned how on some days, she tries not to think of her late parents.

On other days, she would watch videos and look at pictures of them until her daughter yanks the phone from her because "it makes mommy cry."

“Grief is a perpetual state of astonishment.” She said.

In Chapter 11, she writes, "I will never see my father again. Never again. It feels as if I wake up only to sink and sink."

Chimamanda's 'Notes on Grief' is a familiar letter to those who have experienced loss, and for those who haven’t, it is a preparation for grief.

She still misses her parents, and indeed it is the little things. They’d facetime before and after her speaking events and, comment on her outfit choices.

The adoration and commendation from her parents meant so much to her, and now it is gone.

Meeting her was an honour, she reached out to hug me and was very pleased to talk with me.

Her smiles were constant throughout our conversation, and it was disarming for me.

I never thought I was going to be starstruck by any famous person, but her pleasantness and warmth really touched me profoundly. I left the event feeling like I was walking on clouds.

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