I don’t usually write very long articles, but I’m afraid this one will be, so bear with me. It was with a heavy heart that the African Community in Verona buried the late Mrs. Grace Okungbowa Eke, today 26 October 2019. Looking at the huge gathering of people from different parts of Verona and beyond, migrants and Italians alike, one can only but imagine the huge impact late Mrs. Grace had on the people she came across in her earthly journey. This is probably what should better define our lives, the kind of impact we make on other people in our daily lives.
(All pictures courtesy of Shalom Pix Verona)
Death is something that many people don’t usually like to talk about. Well, death is part of life and we very often realize that we cannot escape it only after it has struck a heavy blow against our loved one. Therefore, however mysterious and dark death might appear, we have to encourage ourselves to face it, believing that somehow our existences is beyond the power of death and grave. As an African Proverb, has it, “death is like a dress that, at some point or another, everyone has to wear.”
Yes, it might make us weep, it might make our heart stop beating but this is not the end of our existence; it’s only a transition into another level. So, to the bereft family, and the entire community of Africans in Verona, we must be encouraged and accept the challenge to move on.
Who Was Grace?
The late Mrs. Grace Okungbowa Eke was born on the 25th of May, 1969 into the family of Okungbowa, Benin – City, Nigeria.
Her father is from Obadan Adesagbon in Uhunmwode local government area, and her mother from Ase town, in Nndokwa East local government area of Delta State, Nigeria.
Late Mrs. Grace Eke attended Olua primary school and Uselu secondary School, both in Benin – City. She bagged a diploma in Business Administration from Iyaba Tech, Lagos and later, another diploma in catering, here in Verona. All these as part of her passion for education and learning.
Like many other immigrant women in the community, Mrs. Grace was a very hard working woman and she demonstrated an unconditional care to her family and the community, particularly of a religious nature. She was happily married to Alex Eke, from Imo state, Nigeria and they are blessed with four children, (three males and a female): Daniel, Vanessa, Alexandra and Emmanuel.
She died on the 27th of September 2019, at Marzana, Verona and may her soul rest in peace.
That is the short information about late Mrs. Grace or Grace Eke as she was popularly known among her friends. As for her individual character which made a huge section of the African community in Verona and beyond to turn up on her funeral today, I will let the different people I have interviewed to share that with you. But first, consider the refection below. It’s that of Fr. Cornelius Ekwebelem, during the mass.
“The human flesh is just like clothes, covering the body. A time will come when the flesh will dry up and what will remain are only bones. In the midst of life’s uncertainties is the strong faith that should guide the human thoughts. That is the presence of God every day, every time.” –Fr. Cornelius Ekwebelem, head of Saint Giacomo African Catholic Community, Verona.
What Others Are Saying About The Late Mrs. Grace Eke
“I know her here in Verona as far back as 2005; she has been a family friend and a close neighbour till now. She was a very gentle woman, very cheerful and above all, she was a good person, just that she left us so soon. The last time I saw her was in the office of our medical doctor. She was sick and we spoke at length, and I encouraged her. I never knew the sickness was going to take her life.” – Alex Idubor, neighbour and friend.
“I first met her in the year 2000 and she was single then. At that time, I had an activity where she came to do some training and I even employed her for sometimes. From there the relationship had to be built up with other people, like Amaka and many other people and her husband, Toro (Alex) was also with us there. Since then, we have had a constant contact till this time that she passed away untimely.” –Dr. Charles Ani, former employer.
“The very few things I do remember about her is that she was a very committed member of our community. Most of the times, she came directly to participate in community activities from work. Whenever the meeting of C.W.O (Catholic Women Organization) was scheduled, and even though there was nobody, she always made an effort to come, also for the cleaning of the church. You can see today in her funeral, of the number of people who are present. This is an evidence of the kind of life she has lived and her impact in various groups of African community in Verona.” –Innocent Ezenwa, ex-chairman of pastoral council, Saint Giacomo African Catholic Community, Verona.
“Well, I have known Grace since the time she was living in Borgo Roman, over 19 years ago or so. All these years, I cannot say how she lived inside the house, but with the way she live with her family, I have never heard of any problem with them. With the community, she has always lived well. She has a good heart. With the people she worked with, she had always leaved a mark of love with them. Life is just this; there is a time for everything: there is a time we are born and there is time we die. There is nothing much to worry about in this life, but in moments like this, when people gather because of you, it shows that you have left an impact in them.” –Faraday Ebose, ex-president of the National Union of Nigerians in Italy.
“I am Bose and I am a friend to mama Chidike, Eke Grace. Today is her funeral and we really miss her. She was a nice and good woman, a woman of good character. As you can see around, there are a lot people biding her farewell. This is a crowd I have not seen for a long time in the funeral of a person. This is not what we pray for, but we give God the glory, because it’s God that gives life and takes life too. So we thank God for the life she has lived in this world. ” –Bose Tejudeen, a friend.
“She was a good woman of God and a woman of faith; a good mother and a good friend to everybody. Whenever you make mention of her name, you mention faith because even on her sick bed, she had to testify to many people that didn’t know much about her. She was on sick bed in Negrar hospital and I was there with her and she was still preaching to a boy that was hospitalized. To the family of Grace and other families out there who have been torched by the cold hand of death, I will tell them not be discouraged. They should continue to have faith in God because with God, all things are possible.” –Pastor Albert Olajide, Holy Ghost Ministry, Verona.
“In fact, she was a very great sister and a good example for all Christians. She was a member of serval groups in the church. What consoles me is that she is living in the precious blood of Jesus. To the glory of God, she lived the life of Christ and the grace of our mother Mary will continue to accompany her. The last moment I met her was in Negrar hospital where she was hospitalized. I went there to see her and she was very strong and had that faith in the lord, saying ‘God I depend on you’. She was always smiling. In short she represented goodness. Even on her sick bed, she was still smiling. On the very day that she died, I saw her in a dream. She was smiling and her face was shining, therefore, she is there with the lord.” –Sis Martha Ogbodo, member of Saint Giacomo African Catholic Community, Verona.
“I knew Grace through one of my brothers, Jeff and she is a very good woman. One in a million. When I met her in the hospital, I could not imagine that she would die. Then the sickness became bad. Well, I don’t know… God knows the best because actually, you can cure sickness but you cannot cure death. So I believe that maybe it’s her time, because otherwise, when you say somebody is good and honest, she is one in million, like I have said before. To the family, its only God that can console them and guide them in this difficult moment.” –Chief Felix Onwudiwe, member of Igbo community, Verona.
“She was respectful. Wherever she sees you, she will greet and give you your due respect and I saw also that she was very devoted to her marriage and her work. She was a very caring mother to her children. For some time, I had not been seeing her. It was during this moment of her death that I learnt she was sick. I was not aware she was sick. I have giving words of encouragement to the family when I paid them my condolence visit. This is a huge and irreparable lost to the family and the community at large. Death is something that cannot be avoided.” –Israel Osita Okafor, member of Igbo community.
“This is a great lost to the community. As the catechist of the community, I thought Grace during their preparation for marriage. I prepared her for baptism, confirmation and marriage which we happily celebrated here. She was a nice woman and her sudden death is very painful to everybody, but there is nothing we can do because we cannot challenge the power that is beyond our control. I have never see her having a problem with anybody and she was always present. That is all I can say about her.” –Emmanuel Ejemiere, catechist of the community, san Giacomo African Catholic Community, Verona.
“My name is Dike Lynda from Imo state, Nigeria and I got to know Grace because her husband is also from Imo state and we are all brothers and sisters. The woman is a very nice person, jovial and caring. Wherever you see her, she is always friendly with everybody. What I remember most of her is her cheerfulness. I cannot imagine that at this hour of the day we are gather here to bid farewell to this woman… It’s rather unfortunate. My prayer for them, especially the children at this challenging time is for the good lord to grant them the fortitude to bear the lost.” –Mrs. Dike Lynda, member of Saint Giacomo African Catholic Community.
“We are here to stay close to Alex, who is one of our players for one year now. We have decided to stay close to him in this difficult moment. I knew of the death when Alex called me on the same day of the incident. Alex is a very good boy and hardworking player, able to live among his team. What I encourage Alex at this moment is to be strong and to be a good example for his younger ones. The mother would have been very happy to see he grow in his career but this is how it goes.” –Nicola Saviolo, coach with Hellas Verona football club.
“She was a good member of our community and we are all here to pay her our last respect. Her spirit has already gone to where it pleases God to place her. Now we are preparing her body to be laid to rest, here in Borgo Roman, cemetery, Verona. It’s a huge loss but we need to console ourselves as a community and move on.” –Calistus Eiche, secretary of pastoral council.
“Although the community will soon disappear with sorrowful hearts, let us console ourselves that one day we shall meet again to renew our friendship with Grace in the bosom of the lord.” –Father Oliver, during the funeral mass.
The words of Father Oliver quickly brings to mind hope of resurrection, which is the very foundation of the Christian faith. But it’s equally important to the living, in that even in a solemn moment as the community buries its dead, its living members need to see beyond the body on the ground but reflect also on their own lives.
As Norman Cousins, an American author once said, “Death is not the greatest loss in life. The greatest loss is what dies inside us while we live.”
In the life of a communities, a moment like this is unavoidable and it usually calls for a sober reflection. And at the end, the question is really simple and it’s one. When your time comes, what will the people say about you, and how are you impacting the life of people around you now?
Obehi Ewanfoh – Writer and online instructor to help migrants improve themselves.