I have a great sense of humour and certainly enjoy a good joke, but as someone who has lived a considerable part of their life trying to get over a specific cruel joke from decades ago, I do not think jokes should be cruel or harmful.
I heard I was less than two years old when my mother left. My father was not home much either, so I spent most days with my grandfather. He was a fantastic storyteller, playmate, and best friend. So, when my father decided it was good for me to spend some time with my mother, I was less than thrilled because I did not want to be without my grandfather.
The move was more fun than I anticipated. Unlike the big city, everyone seemed to know each other and children were allowed to roam free. Making friends was easy, and this town gave me Sarah, one of my childhood best friends.
Phones were not common in this small town, so I could not speak with my granddad or grandpa as I called him. I looked forward to my father’s visits as an opportunity to know how grandpa and the rest of the family were doing. The gifts he brought were a welcomed bonus.
It was a hot afternoon; it had to have been because every afternoon was dry and hot in this small Nigerian town, and compared to the city I previously lived in where it rained a few months in a year, it felt like a desert down there. I must have been about eight years old, the last of the three years I ever spent with my biological mother. As usual, I had been back from school a few hours before her, just had lunch (she always had one waiting for my half-siblings and me) when I heard her voice coming from the back of the house. In that town, front doors seemed to be purely for decoration. It was customary for people to walk past the front door, go around the house to knock on the back door. Walking through the kitchen, I opened the door to let her in, and it was at that very door she gave me the unexpected news that sealed this memory in my mind for what I presume will be forever. My grandfather… died.
My first feeling was one of confusion. I knew what death was since I had known of people and animals who died, but somehow my brain kept registering the information as a temporary occurrence, like he went to the store and would be back soon. I remember standing still in the same spot and just staring through the door as my mother walked around me to get inside the house. After what felt like an eternity, I felt an overwhelming feeling of sadness that made my chest physically hurt (I guess this was when it indeed registered that he was gone forever). It was my first time losing someone that I truly cared for; the reason I will never forget that day. Knowing what I know now, I understand that what I felt at that moment was heartbreak.
As my eight-year-old mind tried to process this awful news while I fought back the tears that were fighting desperately to escape my eyes, my mother felt the need to make a joke about how part of the news she received revealed me to be a witch who bewitched and killed my grandfather. A joke I found very cruel and deeply upsetting.
In an instant, that anger drove my tears away and filled me with disdain towards my mother. I have forgiven many wrongs in my day, but I cannot forgive what she stole from me on that day. I did not grieve for my best friend.