“Hurry up, Tonbara!” I called in exasperation, gripping my books to my side.
“I’m coming!” he called back as he tried to gulp down the last of his orange juice.
“No you’re not!” I groaned, “You’re as slow as a turtle and we’ve probably already missed the bus.”
Tonbara rolled his eyes and followed me out the door, calling back into the house, “Bye Mom and Dad… Bye Timi, Gesiye and Ineye.”
I grumbled my good-byes and moodily walked beside my quiet brother in the dark streets towards the bus stop.
“What’s the matter with you anyway? PMS?” he asked amusingly and took my books from me, a routine he normally did every morning.
I glared at his dark face and rolled my eyes. “Why are you so slow in everything?”
“It’s a Monday, Dee… Chill out! What are you so stressed about?”
I took a deep breath as we crossed the street, “I have three tests today… In my hard classes too. I can’t stand those teachers.”
My brother was quiet for a moment and then sighed, “Well… School’s dumb anyway, so don’t let school get to you like that.” He nudged my shoulder, “Take care of yourself,” he whispered and with his free hand, he waved at his oncoming friends.
I sighed, heeding his advice and took back my books as we reached the bus stop. I whispered, “See ya later, Tonbara.”
He nodded absentmindedly, “Bye…” he then walked off to meet his friends.
That was Monday morning, December 9th 2002.
The next day, on Tuesday morning at about 5 o’clock, my beloved baby brother, Tonbara Joshua Komonibo was taken up to be with his Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. I was taken aback by this incident and still can remember vividly when we found him that dreadful morning. His lithe, uncovered chest as my father tried to revive him, his small beautiful eyes closed as he slept on forever and his long fingers, like mine, no longer able to hold a grip! Beneath my tears, I watched in a blurry state as the paramedics carried my brother’s body away and I kept on praying aloud, claiming the same resurrection that Jesus gave Lazarus.
I kept murmuring while holding my younger siblings, “Not Tonbara… Not him…” but at the back of my mind, I knew he was not coming back and I had to take care of my younger siblings without his help. I kept worrying about what I would say to Gesiye when he needed to talk about boy things. Would I understand any of it? Would I be already married and experienced enough to understand the wonders of manhood? Or would I be helpless and never find the help to aid my brother’s growth as a man?
I never questioned God because I knew it would be a sin and Tonbara had said earlier with such passion that he wouldn’t want to curse God or query God’s plan about anything. So I was numb and never asked anything of him. I could remember as my father tried to perform CPR and I pleaded with God to perform a miracle. I cried blindly, “God please… bring my brother back and I won’t ask for anything again.” I knelt on my knees and started to remember all the miracles Jesus had performed on the already deceased when he was on earth.
I felt and also knew I had to be strong for my family, being the oldest of all my siblings.I also knew that I couldn’t cry profusely or like my mother said, cry like ‘unbelievers who have no hope.’ Sometimes, before my brother exit from the world, I could always count on him to take half my load of responsibilities and help me raise our siblings, but now I know I’m alone to be the role model for my sisters and my brother.
On Thursday, two days after Tonbara’s exit from this planet, I tried to go to school. My father dropped me off and immediately, I began to reminisce when Tonbara would carry my books and we would converse all the way into the intersection where we separated. In the school, there is an intersection where on the left side is the library and straight-ahead is the cafeteria. We would normally split after our see-ya-laters, he would go straight ahead to the cafeteria and I’d turn left to the library. But on that day when I was alone, I began to cry. The bell had already rung so I was basically late for my first class. With my vision cloudy, I walked weakly upstairs to my locker, carried my books and made my way to my class. On my way to my class, I saw one of my friends and by the look on her face, it ignited my tears. In class, I tried to sit and watch the film, but all I could think about was my brother and I began to cry again and it angered me that no one else was crying for him. In fact, most of them were laughing, maybe because of the Huckleberry Finn video. I rushed out the door and began to cry angry tears and my teacher came out to comfort me.
Unfortunately, I didn’t stay the whole day and I called my mom to come pick me up. All through the rest of that week, I didn’t go to school and our house welcomed many visitors who comforted us and prayed for us. My friends came, and even the guy I liked came to comfort me. And for the first time, my heart no longer jumped when he was around. In my mind, I could remember my brother’s warning, yet teasing voice as he frowned at me, “If he ever touches you, I’ll beat him up.” I laughed in my mind, but not aloud because the guy I like had given me my first hug from him. But I didn’t care at the time.
The next few days I was numb. My family had planned to have his funeral and the memorial service on Saturday, so we had to make a short video of his life and gather all his pictures. In my mind, I was amazed at how my brother had grown from a plump little boy to the handsome boy on the Alabama trip during Thanksgiving. On that morning it was a sunny, quiet day as we headed towards the Houston Memorial Gardens, where they would bury the body of my brother. I cried as they opened the casket and I saw for the second time that week how peaceful and beautiful my brother looked. In my heart, I knew he wasn’t in that body, but was rejoicing with the others and the angels. He was praising God in his heavenly dwelling place. But the feeling of not having my best friend and my brother around was torture. We watched them lower the casket into the ground and I remembered the words of my father the night before when he read from John 14 about Jesus going back to heaven to prepare a mansion for each of us. I knew Tonbara was enjoying the presence of Jesus and exploring his mansions and the fields of heaven.
The next week, we all had to go back to our regular lives. My siblings and I went back to school, my parents went back to their lives and we lived on without the my brother. Sometimes, I think about my brother and still cry and then I get extremely angry at the joviality of many others around me when I grieve the loss of my brother. I dislike it when others nonchalantly laugh and joke about different things, especially death.
Our lives began to change very slowly. I was now alone to take care of my siblings. Before Tonbara left the earth, my role as the first born didn’t seem so significant since he was only a year younger than me, but now that he was gone there became a big gap between me and my sister, Timi who is three years younger. I was angry at some people who came to comfort us and whispered to me before they left that I should, “be the oldest in the family and be strong for everyone of them.” In my mind I was yelling, “What do you know about the role of a firstborn when you’re not one yourself.” But I knew they were right to some extent. So from that day on, I no longer cried when I saw my brother’s face and whenever I saw a picture or anything that reminded me of him, I would try to ignore the empty feeling felt inside of me. I willed myself not to cry for two weeks and whenever my mother and brother would begin to cry, I swallowed my own tears and took on the job of a firstborn and comforted them.
I thought I was past the stages of grieving a loss until one day, a few days after Christmas and our whole house was full of people. I was alone, pondering about life in general and my thoughts suddenly stumbled on Tonbara. Being the ‘strong’ firstborn, I gulped back my tears, ignored the painful lump in my throat and got up downstairs to get a picture of my brother, with the intent of sketching him. I hadn’t done any artwork since summer and I didn’t feel like drawing, but I willed myself to get my sketchbook, my pencil and sat on my makeshift bed. I tried to draw his face, trying to ignore those small intense eyes of his, but in the end my emotions won. My eyes became blurry and my hand began to shake. I got angry with myself for crying and I looked around me to see if my siblings were nearby. I knew that if I started crying, it would be a Domino effect. My cousin Jo would start, then Timi, then Gesiye, then Ineye and maybe my mother, when she sees us weeping our loss. And truly, my calculations were right. As soon as the tears rolled down my cheeks, my cousin started to sniff, Timi’s eyes were wet and then my brother started wailing. Fortunately, Ineye was occupied with her younger cousin, playing Barbie dolls and didn’t participate in the Domino experience. I began to weep, whispering my apologies for starting it up and tried to will back my tears, but the pain in my throat got more painful and I couldn’t see. I became angry at my siblings and I for being so helpless and so I rushed out of my sister’s room and into my own where I poured out my anger in the air, talking to Tonbara. I couldn’t yell, so I gripped my hair and called out, “How could you leave us like this? How could you?” I started to cry harder, “You were supposed to take care of us just like I took care of you… Remember? When I was one and a half years old, I took you with me everywhere. I loved you. You were my best friend, did you know that?” My heart was aching with so much grief and I longed to see Tonbara’s face again. To grab his shoulders and shake him and have him listen to me complain. After I had yelled out my anger at him, I began to reflect on myself. “Why am I so moody always? Why couldn’t I be like you, not quick to anger? Why do I push everyone away, while you pull everyone close to you?” I knelt beside my bed, buried my face in the pillow and wept for a long time.
After this incident, I realized that I couldn’t stop myself from grieving my dear brother, and I became more aware of others’ feelings. Like my other brother, Gesiye. Tonbara was his only brother, who he loved, admired and discipled. I knew he must have been feeling a pain more than my own, so I decided to help my brother the best way that I could. I vowed to myself, and Tonbara that I would make sure Gesiye would grow to become a wonderful, God-fearing man who would never forget his brother. Tonbara had specifically asked God for his birth ten years ago. I began to act more caring, watching over him and taking care of him the way I knew Tonbara would, except for the wrestling and brotherly fighting.
Christmas that year 2002 wasn’t the same. Our family didn’t seem so jolly and excited except for the fact that it was Jesus’ birthday. None of us dared asked for gifts. I personally didn’t care about Christmas. I didn’t want gifts. I didn’t want to sing in the choir. And I didn’t care about the season. I noticed for that time that the only person that ever got extremely excited over Christmas were my brothers, especially Tonbara. He anticipated the gifts under the Christmas tree and couldn’t wait to see all his friends when we went visiting. Now that he wasn’t there, my other brother, like me didn’t care or personally didn’t have the spirit of Christmas. My parents weren’t the same either. My mother was quiet as we went to the mall to shop for our Christmas clothes. Like me, she didn’t intend on shopping for toys because it would remind her of Tonbara. She got upset later at home and didn’t talk to us. Confused, I later confronted her in her room. In a groggy voice, she quietly said the words that I dreaded. “It just feels like you guys don’t remember what happened.”
Getting on my defensive side, I frowned, “What do you mean, Mom? Of course we don’t forget. We just don’t want to cry because it might upset everyone in the house.”
She sighed exasperatedly, “I’m not asking you to cry… I just wish you guys would at least be solemn for just a little while longer.”
My face burned with anger, but I bit it back. “Tonbara also touched everyone of us, Mom…” I wanted to say more, but knowing how I normally get when I’m angry; which is I get fired up, my face gets hotter, I start stammering, my lisp gets worse and I no longer make sense, I decided to leave her alone. I said goodnight to my mother, stormed back into my room and began to complain about how hard being the firstborn was.
As the days crawled by, our lives began to change. I for one became reserved, not talking much to those around me. In my heart, I was angry with everyone. My brother, my parents, my sisters, my cousin, even Tonbara and God. I was told earlier that I shouldn’t ask God why, but that was all I had in my mind. I wanted to ask why God didn’t answer my prayers or my mother’s prayers that day, but I kept thinking it was a sin to do so, so I kept it bottled up in my mind. As I continued to feel this way and not express my feelings out in the open, it turned to anger and began to eat at my heart. I became solemn, I felt guilty when I had fun with my friends, and I kept worrying about my family’s lives.
I dreaded the day when we would be alone without any visitor staying with us. Then one day, my mother gathered us together and asked me what I was so angry about. I shook my head and rushed away, crying and basically beating myself up for everything that came to mind. Now that I think of it, I believe it was the devil planting things into my mind to cause me to get mad at God and curse him, but I knew that would be insane. I kept remembering what I said to a few friends about how when someone close dies and we curse God, we are basically praising the devil, after knowing it was the devil’s intention to steal that loved one’s soul. So I get mad at the devil and continue to praise Jesus for saving my beloved brother’s soul.
Well, as I was sitting in my dimly lit room, my head buried in my lap, I began to cry and ask God if it was a sin to ask him why. My mother came to my room and I poured out all I had inside of my aching heart. She counseled me and I almost felt better, but I needed to get prayer from the one counselor I could get the best help ever. So I called Pastor John, the youth pastor and one of our family’s friend. He told me it wasn’t wrong to ask God why as long as we didn’t ever blame God for what happened to our brother. He gave me the example of Job who lost all his possessions and his family and P.J. said that Job inquired God, but never blamed him. I felt relieved and then he prayed that our family would receive strength, comfort and the word of God in our lives.
My parents went through a lot as well. I witnessed the struggle they felt as I listened with a frown on my face as they argued about grieving. I knew both of them were hurting in their own way, and the problem and cause of their fighting was they didn’t understand each other’s way of grieving their son’s loss. Like me, my father knew he was hurting and longed to cry, but felt he had to be strong for the rest of the family, so he kept in and grieved alone and in secret. My mother, on the other hand, didn’t grieve alone and in secret, she sometimes blamed herself for not going in Tonbara’s room earlier to check on him. She cried to the Lord expressing her loss of the son she had carried in her womb for nine months and loved and cared for fifteen years.
I despaired for a long time as I watched my youngest brother, now my only living brother, Gesiye. As we were out of the house, I watched him as he walked sometimes alone without the hand of his older brother around his shoulders. My heart ached as he went to the public restrooms without his older brother there at his side to protect and guide him. There were many things, I realized, that I couldn’t do for Gesiye and I knew he would have to do alone. Things like discovering puberty without the tale of experience from his brother to assure him he wasn’t turning into a freak, or whenever he needed someone to help him pick out clothes for a birthday party. There were also some things I could do, like playing video games with him, play wrestling, listen to music with him, and play sports with him. I was reassured as I looked upon his twin sister that he was not entirely alone to go through life. He had Ineye, his twin sister to grow up with him and experience education and other things with.
Sometimes at night, I longed to see Tonbara and ask for his advice on what to say or do with Gesiye. I was desperate not to see him cry as he missed his only brother and many times I felt helpless and once in a while, I got angry when he cried because I knew I couldn’t be of any assistance.
I then prayed to God for guidance and in a dream, I saw P.J.’s face. I didn’t understand at first, then one Sunday, I noticed P.J. having an actual conversation with my brother after church. I confronted Gesiye later and asked, “What do you think of Pastor John, Gesi?”
Gesiye looked at me as if I was crazy but then shrugged, “You mean John? He’s okay.”
I was a little taken back by his informality with our youth pastor. Although P.J. was only twenty-four at the time, it still felt weird calling him anything else but ‘pastor.’ “Did he say you could call him John?”
He nodded, “Yeah…”
I chuckled and caressed his head. “Okay then…” Then I asked for my mother’s permission to ask P.J. to be Gesiye’s role model and friend. She said that would be a great idea, so the next week, I called P.J. and posed the question.
He was quiet for a moment and then in a soft voice, he said, “I would be honored…” I was touched by those words and I knew that he would become a good part in my brother’s life. I was relieved to know that I wasn’t alone in helping my family heal. God, friends and family are there to help me help them. Little did I know that I would need healing too in my life.
Many people began to come in my life to help me heal. First, I had my parents and siblings to be there to listen and grieve with me. I had P.J. to be my counselor/mentor, my friend and a sort of ‘big brother’ to help me heal. I also had Seyi, to be like a ‘big sister’ and counselor in my life. My best friend Theresa helps me grow more in my faith as I was encouraged by her, my other friends.
“God’s Chief Jester”
My big brother, Tonbara, influenced my life more than I ever expected. Although he passed away a few months ago (December 10th, 2002) and was only fifteen, he left memories far beyond his years. I was born when he was about 2 ½ years old. As I followed his lead, lessons were branded into my memory, never to be forgotten. Although not realized in the past, Tonbara Joshua Komonibo was a big part of my life.
From the minute I could crawl, Tonbara was the one who showed me the adventurous side of life, while my parents, my older sister, and Sesame Street taught me the smarts. Tonbara was there with me through my first week of sixth grade. After a tough day at school, feeling tired and exhausted, I would listen to his jokes. I would laugh, because this was Tonbara, doing his duty – making people laugh.
I remember one of our family memories with him. We were on our way to Alabama. We finally got to the church where my sister and I were to sing our duet. I started singing (beautifully, I might add) when I saw a chihuahua coming towards me. I stopped in the middle of the song and bolted off the stage. I looked behind me and the dog was still following. While the owner was gathering her dog in her arms, Tonbara looked at me opened mouthed. His face burst into a smile and his rich laughter filled the room. He was cracking up now, tears threatening to fall. I joined in too, at the absurdity of the scene, recuperating enough courage to start the song over again.
The one thing about Tonbara was that he knew how to live life. He looked at the world and saw an audience. Looked at a problem and saw only a bump in the road. He used his gifts and talents to charm us. But most of all, he showed us that living isn’t our duty, but our God given right.
As I sit here today, I think of the influence he must have brought to other’s lives. Influenced and inspired, that was what Tonbara did. He hasWON the race; he has fought the good fight. Now he’s in heaven with a higher position. He is now “God’s Chief Jester” – Timi