Diaspora Diary: Is A Tombstone The Legacy Of Death?

4 min readJun 16, 2024


What you leave as a legacy is not what is etched in stone monuments, but what is woven into the lives of others.~Patti Davis

Legacy is something I'm sure many people think about because we all live our lives in the shadow of its finitude.
It’s a fact that we are always consciously aware of— yet somewhat unconsciously — bedim through life's daily hustle and bustle.

However, when this finitude comes closer, it leaves little choice besides an immediate actuation of that obscure awareness to the fore. And that is even if you are lucky enough to have the time, for death can be sudden in many cases.

Some common triggers can be;
1. A sudden realization that having spent over half of the average life expectancy, we are potentially more equipped to better influence the remaining days.

2. It may come in the form of losing a loved one.

3. It can be profoundly imminent via a gloomy diagnosis.

Whatever shape it takes, we suddenly find ourselves in a reflective melancholic mood rummaging about life, its meaning, and the LEGACY we would want to leave behind.

Yes, legacy.

For many, legacy means in simple terms that a "good name is better than silver and gold". For others, it translates to amassing enough wealth, titles and other material possessions to leave your name echoing decades after your death.

Still, some consider it meaningless. They just want to go through the motions and be content — not necessarily happy or sad — with what life brings, since nobody knows what the great beyond looks like.

I know it’s easy to claim the first group but if we want to be honest, we’ve all had inspired moments when we craved to be like the Gates and Musks of this world, or times when were so overwhelmed that we’d rather let life just happen.

So what is a worthy legacy in your definition?
How should we approach this matter of leaving a legacy?

After reading an Irish Times article on “When Breath Becomes Air”, I resolved to read the book itself.
From the sample of Paul Kalanithi’s book, he didn’t plan to be a doctor let alone a neurosurgeon. At least in his early days as a teenager leaving home for high school, he hadn’t given any profession a serious thought but would rather be a writer if given the choice.

Yet he would go on to graduate from Stanford with a Bachelor of Arts and a Master of Arts in English literature. He added a Bachelor of Science in human biology in 2000 and then attended the University of Cambridge, where he studied at Darwin College and graduated with a Master of Arts in the History and Philosophy of Science and Medicine. After considering a doctorate in English Literature, Kalanithi then attended the Yale School of Medicine, where he graduated in 2007 cum laude, winning the Dr. Louis H. Nahum Prize for his research on Tourette’s syndrome.

Quite an impressive academic CV for a young man at 30.

Today, he is better remembered as a bestselling cancer patient than a neurosurgeon.

Life! Having gone to the lengths to attend the best schools and attain lofty heights in medicine, fate still found a way to smuggle in a literary legacy.

Last April, we gathered in Paris from different parts of the world for my friend’s funeral.

As he was interred, I marvelled at the tombstone.
Gleaming in the afternoon sunlight, it was beautifully sculpted to last a long time.
Yet a cursory look around the New Éragny Cemetery showed some other tombstones were unkept and derelict.
They once shone like this I thought.
Could my friend’s own possibly lose its shine in time to come?
Perhaps, but that would matter if the tombstone represents his legacy.

Edu Ekpe as we fondly call him IS one of the only 2 friends I know who NEVER gets angry.
He embraced life with uncommon equanimity and often said “Don Mo rapu ifea (Cmoni leave that thing)” whenever I raised an issue.

When God needed him, he gracefully welcomed the call.
No fuss, no request for any group to come to his aid.
Indeed, many of his close friends weren’t informed about his ailment.
He preferred to go quietly, and I dare say, peacefully.

The funeral turned out to be a solemn celebration of his beautiful life.
His family showed strength amid pain in hosting an idyllic reception.
Tributes were many and varied.
But all the honours carried a consistent theme—Chinedu Ikelionwu showed his love for God by positively impacting the lives of others.
That is his worthy legacy, and that is the legacy I want to leave too.

I have placed his pic on my desk and as I said in my tribute, I still have the Polo shirt he gave me in 2013. I wore it to pay my last respects and will cherish it for the rest of my days.
These little acts will always remind me of his legacy and the finitude of life.

In the words of Adebayo Salami; We all need to have a life purpose beyond the daily grind in pursuit of material success. When we are all gone, that’s what will be most remembered of us.

May Chinedu’s soul continue to rest in eternal peace🙏🏾

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