From Death, Comes Life

It’s probably not every day that a blog starts with a sincere apology to its audience. However, you most definitely deserve one after all the support that you have given to myself, The Artistic Collaborative, and its writers. The last thee months have been easily been the most difficult that I have ever had to endure.

Hopefully, what you are about to read explains the blog’s three month hiatus. This is the story of how the passing of beloved a family member breathed new life and inspired a lost soul.

From Death, Comes Life

A Lost Star

Antoine Ribanje, 49 years young, a beloved husband, inspirational father, exemplary brother, caring son, and overall role model. Truth be told, these descriptions will never truly do justice to a man who has been an integral part of my life for as long as I can remember. He’s one of the reasons I returned to blogging and created this platform. One of the reasons my favourite colour is blue and I support Chelsea FC. One of the reasons I’m always able to see the bright side of life and can see good in people. An optimist and an inspiration, he was there when I was born in Almelo, schooling in Paris, maturing in London, and living independently in Cardiff, and now Salford. This icon passed away a month shy of his birthday, a birthday that he would have shared with my father, his lifelong friend, as they would have celebrated their 50th together.

 
“Passed away after losing the battle to cancer”
That’s what you often read when somebody dies from cancer, right?
Why portray him as a “loser”?


Yes. Cancer sucks, there’s no denying that. Having seen my uncle live life after being diagnosed with kidney and liver cancer last year, these descriptions couldn’t be further from the truth. He didn’t let his cancer prevent him from enjoying Chelsea play (even through their disastrous season but I won’t get into it, I’m over it dammit!). It didn’t prevent his grandson from spending time with his “gwandad”. It didn’t prevent him from congratulating me when I (finally) passed my driving test. Even when he was laying in bed in an intensive care ward, he always gathered up the energy to smile.

Yes. He battled through without ever letting this son a of b*tch of cancer diminish his smile.
 
That man will always be winner in my book.
My father (right) with his lifelong friend and cousin, Antoine Ribanje (left)

End of the Fairy-Tail

I never considered that somebody close to me would ever leave me. That thought never crossed my mind. I always thought that everybody around me will live till they are 500 years old and I would never have to be stood in a field with a shovel lifting dirt and throwing it into a rectangular hole in the ground. Of course, the conversation has come up throughout my 23 years, but it has always seem pretty far-fetched.

Like, let’s say, being able to swim through lava… Or me being able to do the splits.


So, May 4th, I’m stood in front of a class of people, delivering a presentation that I’ve kind of prepared for that morning. Poorly prepared for, but prepared for nonetheless. Throughout what felt like the longest 15 minutes ever, my phone is buzzing throughout.

Busy tone engage
That should let them know that I’m busy.
Rings again
MUM, I’M BUSY!
(Sends template text message, “I’m busy, I’ll call you later“)
 
Dad calls immediately after.
Are they not together?
Repeat procedure.


Presentation ends, now I’ve got time to try and call back. Huh? My calls aren’t coming through! They literally called 5 minutes ago! So I’m just going to wait till they call me back. This has happened before, they usually call me when I’m either at work or lectures asking if I’m at home, or cleaned the house, or if I’m behaving (what could I possibly be doing?!).

Moments later, the news broke on the family WhatsApp group… Never have I ever needed to get out of a lecture room before. Never have I left any room so quickly. I couldn’t get hold of any family members. Never have I felt so stranded and alone in my life. The fairy-tale was just that; a fairy-tale.

Death was very much a real thing.
Helping close the book to an amazing and fascinating story (photo credit – Sherelle Thomas)

Picking up the Pieces

The last month was probably among the darkest that I’ve ever had to go through. It made me realise certain things. Firstly, that my optimism was unfounded. I’ve always tried to be an optimist for others and encouraging others to achieve their dreams, inspire for more, and be the best they can be. But had I been taking my own advice? All this time, I’ve only really achieved anything when I’ve been propped up by my family and friends, being reactive and waiting for things to happen to me, rather than being more proactive and achieving things through my own volition. It’s a process, not recess.

I felt a lot of regret during this period, going through through short phases of depression, anxiety, and lethargy. Regret. Regret because of all those times I had promised to go watch Chelsea games with Antoine. Regret because of all those times I should have visited more often to help with his fight. Regret towards my inability to take advantage of the opportunities and make something more of myself.

Truth be told I was scared.
The hourglass had now flipped.
What had I done up to this point?


Who knows what state my mind would be in if it hadn’t been for my friends around me at that juncture in my life. Those that helped me pick up the pieces. Those of you who have tried to pick up all the pieces of broken glass know just how difficult that can be. From the wonderful ladies (and guy) of SUDS and the French Connection (they know who they are) living up in Manchester, to the friends (basically family by now) down south in London and Cardiff, not forgetting those of you in different time zones.

Those of you who dirtied your hands helping me pick up my broken pieces.

Thank you

(Unfortunately, I can’t go into everything you guys did for me, but hopefully you understand how appreciative I am)
Antoine with his grandson and wife, family always came first (photo credit – Stacey Uwimana of Nappy Gang)

Legacy & Rediscovery

May 23rd, the day of the Funeral.Adding a star to the sky.

That was the day I rediscovered the direction in which I wanted my life to be heading. It was time to take command of this ship and start steering it in the right direction and avoid those icebergs. I want my funeral to resemble even half that of my uncle. A building filled with people, spilling out of the church out into the streets. A graveyard full of people, some donning colours of Antoine’s favourite football team. People sharing their fond memories long into the night. And many more people worldwide that couldn’t make the journey but would still make their presence felt through messages, photos and videos, and really any way they could a part of the occasion.

This by no way means that I am looking forward to going.

But if I do I want to leave something behind that people could be proud of. Leave a legacy behind like Tonton Antoine did. There is just no way that I’m not going to achieve that by sitting on my hands now, is there? Yes, the hourglass is in full effect, it’s now time to stop feeling regretful and pity myself.

“Stop feeling sorry for yourself and start grabbing life with both hands, my friend.
Who cares if you got poor grades.
Or that relationship didn’t quite work out.
Enjoy life and make the most of it, you never when it’ll end”

I’d imagine that he’d say something like that before we then go on to complain about another poor Chelsea performance. He lived life to the fullest, he faced his own adversities and had to overcome his own hurdles, most of them a heck of lot higher than anything I can imagine.

Legacy lives on (photo credit – Fabiola Ng)

Lessons Learnt

It’s funny. Even through death, he continues to teach me lessons. I’d like to think that these are also lessons that you guys could take away. I know some of you have gone through your own adversities. Whether that be losing your best-friends, family members, work-related, and so on; thinking what’s the point, spending your day in bed trying to figure out what’s the point. If you can take anything from this post I guess it would be the following;

“Make the most of those around you and the opportunities that you have been given, what do you want to be remembered for when the ink to your story dries? Life will almost certainly kick you in the bollocks (or enter female equivalent here, please excuse the innuendo) but it’s never too late to steer the ship back in the right direction”

Or something like that, you get the point really.


Well, now it’s time to end this story and welcome you back to The Artistic Collaborative. I want to apologise to those that I have kept waiting but we are BACK! A friend of mine told me to make the 24th year of my life the best, so here goes! No more sitting on my hands and there are many stories that are coming in, so you better subscribe (pretty please). Together with George Bell, Hailee Ingleton and others, we have some exciting news coming up!

So watch this space!

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