No Matter How Short, Every Life Has a Purpose
Sipho Bhebhe Ibeakanma
A woman who lost her beloved young granddaughter to cancer is now honoring her memory by making and donating hair scarf wigs to cancer patients, and writing a book to encourage others who have lost a loved one.
“Mummy, I thought you might like these.” In a somber voice with tears streaming down her cheeks, my daughter Cleopatrah hands me a beautiful pair of salmon-coloured Asics running shoes. They had belonged to her daughter Niesha; a gift from her uncle.
With deep sadness and a heavy heart, I accept them. “Thank you, Cleo. I will treasure these.” Blinking back tears, I clutch them tightly against my chest. At the tender age of sixteen years, my granddaughter, our beloved Niesha, lost her fight to Desmoplastic Small Round Cell Tumors. A cancer so rare, there are less than one thousand cases known worldwide.
Every so often, I find myself staring at the shoes, rendered speechless. I decide to put them away, as a keepsake. I have to face reality. My daughter mourns the loss of her daughter. How shall I wipe her tears? I invoke the Serenity Prayer: “Dear God, please, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, the wisdom to know the difference, and the strength to carry on my duties, as I continue my own journey.”
Looking back now, I see that God had already made a way, before we even knew Niesha was sick. A few days before her diagnosis, still completely oblivious of the cancer encroaching at our doorstep, I create a simple but unique, multipurpose wig for my own head. Interestingly though, while admiring my own stunning piece of art work, my mind tells me something: “Sipho, make a lot of these and donate them to cancer patients who are struggling to find comfortable wigs.” A struggle I know all too well, myself. I find wigs really itchy and extremely hot, a sensitivity heightened by my hair loss due to a condition called alopecia.
In the next thirteen months, I put this project on hold, as our family rallies around Niesha, fighting her fiercest battle against the cancer monster. After a few rounds of chemotherapy, Niesha’s skin becomes severely sensitive and constantly itchy. While caring for her, Cleopatrah discovers two fabrics that Niesha’s skin can tolerate. This knowledge transforms my humble hairpiece to a very comfortable wig that anybody with sensitive skin would love and enjoy. Hence, I name this innovative hairpiece, ‘The Niesh’, after my granddaughter. This is her legacy.
Focusing on this gift that I have been given helps me shift my grief to something meaningful. It also brings joy to others. To honor her memory, I make The Niesh Wigs and donate them to cancer patients who need them. Niesha would have loved this.
For the past three years, I had thought I earned Niesha’s shoes simply because we shared the same shoe size, until one day I share my story during The Shoe Project writing class. “I will never be able to wear my granddaughter’s shoes again because of an injury from a falling accident.” One of my classmates comments, “Maybe they weren’t meant to be worn, after all. They could be a symbol, you know.”
The light bulb goes on! They are connected to a much bigger picture; I am actually walking in Niesha’s biggest shoes ever. I have been handed her baton to carry on. Now I am at peace about not being able to wear her physical shoes. They serve their purpose, tucked away among my most treasured possessions. I couldn’t stop Niesha from leaving us, but I have been given an opportunity to immortalize her name, through The Niesh Wigs and by writing her book: No matter how short, every life has a purpose.
Sipho Bhebhe Ibeakanma, a wife, mother and grandmother, has lived in Kingston since she and her family migrated from Zimbabwe to Canada. She enjoys participating in projects that help others and enhance her community, whether initiated by her or by others. “Random Acts of Kindness” are her favorite hobby.