My cousin recently had surgery and was admitted to hospital for three and a half days. Though I cannot speak for her, I am sure that the depth of her pain and darkness was alleviated somewhat by the steady string of mothers, sisters, brothers, cousins, aunts, in-laws, friends and other well-wishers that flowed through her ward, offering the warmth of their presence, love and prayers.
Next to her was a patient who had no guardian and who, since being admitted, had not received a single visitor despite clearly being very ill. She struggled through her medication, struggled to get up with the drip (which was at one point attached to her foot), cried out in pain and called out to strangers for help.
At times, she would put on a brave face and fend off a helping hand by saying Ã¢â‚¬ËœItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s ok, IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ll manage.Ã¢â‚¬Â During those moments, one could see the self-pity etched on her face and you had to look away to avoid being washed over with emotion.
When I first saw her, I thought she was a foreigner in Malawi on business, with no family or friends around. After one of us asked her, we found out she is Malawian and that she actually lives in the same city the hospital is located in. We also found out that all her family have passed on, that she has no children and that her husband, who is also ill at home, cannot sit through the pain with her.
Seeing this woman in so much pain with no one to hold her hand reminded my relatives and I of how important family, extended family and true friendships are.
Most times, we take the people in our lives for granted and put no effort in nurturing the relationship we have with them. We forget to show our relatives how much we care through a simple visit, a phonecall or through offering a shoulder to lean on during their times of trouble. We forget that not only will these people rejoice with us in the good times, they will also help ease our burdens during the dark times.
Sometimes, we are too busy to slow down and acknowledge the friends that we have made over the years (and here IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m talking about the mature, lasting friendships, not people who will come to eat at your table and then turn around to gossip about you once you are out of earshot). For, donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t friendships cross the threshold into a different realm and donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t some friends offer a lot more or come to our aid a lot quicker on some matters than our actual relatives do?
As Africans, this extended family and overall warmth is something we should revel in, because not all people in the world have this. My brother and his wife, who lived outside the country for a very long time, often mention how, you could tell a hospital ward was occupied by an African (not a black American nor any other race) by simply looking at the amount of people coming into and out of the ward during visiting hours. A lot of times, non-Africans were lonely and had no visitors at all.
A friend of theirs once told me how she suffered from post-natal depression after her second child was born because none of her family members came through and when her husband left for work, it was just her and the baby all day long. She said she never felt this way with her first child because her mother, cousins and sisters were all around to help and keep her company. Eventually, she decided to come back to Africa because she just couldnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t deal with the loneliness and the depression anymore. This all boils down to how lucky we are to be born in a continent where most people care so much about ones they hold dear.
So, if my cousinÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s hospital stay has taught me anything; itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s never to take the people in my life; whether they are in it because they are my blood or because they have chosen to love me, for granted. It has taught me to nurture relationships and always give out my best even when it is not needed.