Tuesday, February 1, 2011

USA Africa Dialogue Series - Obituary--Keren Patricia Dimah: Photographs and Eulogy

Your humble moderator took some photographs at the event

and posted below is the eulogy by Professor Philip Aka

Tribute to 'Keren P. Dimah (1962-2011)
by Dr. Philip Aka
Dr. Agber Dimah, Yangeh, Wanger, Fanen, and the entirety of the Dimah family here and abroad;
Madam Nwashima Iwar, James Iwar, and the entirety of the Iwar family;
My brothers and sisters,
       We gather here tonight to celebrate the life of a magnificent individual. Obviously, this was not the event we asked God for. Rather, our prayers were for a complete recovery from the illness that, in the end, claimed the life of our beloved sister, Mbakeren Patricia Dimah, whom most of us knew simply but famously as Keren Dimah. Although our sister confronted a dreadful illness, we never for one moment doubted that our God, unfathomable, all-merciful, Alpha and Omega, and consummate miracle worker, would grant us a miracle.
      The event we could have preferred would have been a Thanksgiving service, rather than the one we have been presented with here. The Holy Scripture suggested three scores and ten (or 70) years as ideal longevity. But Keren lived for 48 years rather than the full life suggested by the scripture. We would have preferred the celebration of a full life rather than the 48 years Keren managed. A truncated life of the kind our sister lived does not for me match the concept of celebration.
   But death strikes when it may, without any regard for age, whether young or old or in-between. We are disappointed that God did not give our sister a long life, yet grateful to the Almighty for the 48 years He granted to her, some of which years Keren, most generously shared with us. We are particularly comforted by the immortal word of St. Paul in his letter to the Romans, Chapter 14, verse 8, which states: "whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord's."
     When on Jan. 8, 2011, Keren's spirit left this world, she freed herself from the worries of this life. When on Jan. 8, 2011, the cold hand of death snatched her away from us, she moved to a place better than here where there is no pain; no sickness of any type, including the awful one that claimed her life;-and where there is no death, as the scripture promised us in the Book of Revelation. Therefore what we do here today we do essentially for ourselves. We have assembled to celebrate Keren's life to console ourselves and ease some of the sorrow we feel from losing her. As one Igbo proverb goes, one who participates in the funeral of another, funeralizes herself or himself. 
     How do we evaluate the lifelong activities of somebody like Keren whose accomplishments loom large and who packed so much into her relatively short years on earth? Is it her character, her education, the family she built together with Agber, her professional life, or what? Just where do we begin? I first met Keren in 1997 when, with my then-little two sons, I came to Chicago on a visit. When we moved here in Fall 2000, we had the opportunity, which we quickly snapped, for a closer relationship with the Dimah family. Because I called Agber my brother, Keren most logically and automatically became my sister. It was never something nominal. For as the Igbo say, testimony to the truth that brotherhood and sisterhood is something also found abroad outside the home, nwanne di na mba.   
        Of the many attributes for which we remember Keren, in my assessment, three stand out prominently. The first is that she was an intensely warm person. The catch to this warmth though is that you have to get close enough to experience it. Because Keren was also an intensely private person, you have to do so through her family, particularly her confidant, best friend, and soul-mate, Agber. Keren liked to socialize and entertain people. Whether in their old home in Park Forest or in their new home in Matteson, the Dimahs time and again opened their doors and hearts to visitors, including myself and my family. There was always plenty to eat and drink and numerous issues to talk about in these get-togethers. The best part was always the conversation. In her quiet ways, Keren expressed her position strongly, cogently, and eloquently. Whether it was the volatile socioeconomic conditions in Nigeria or the intrigues of academic life, whatever the topic, Keren always contributed a characteristically thoughtful insight.    
        Second, Keren shared a happy marriage with Agber that no visitor in their midst could miss out. There were few things that the two did not do together. Whether it was work or play, the two were inseparable. Some good things come in twos and it was hard to know one without knowing the other.  To young couples, I pointed up their marriage as the ideal thing,  the very picture of what a good marriage should be like. Like the rock of Gibraltar, their marriage stood firm while marriages around them, fortunately or unfortunately, crumbled. Until our sister's passing on Jan. 8, both kept the marital vow to celebrate their love for each other until death do them part. Agber's dedicated tending to Keren in the 40 days of her stay in intensive care was also testament to the fact that he kept his marital vow to maintain the marriage through good times and bad, in good health and in sickness. This is not counting the rock-solid support he provided her one hospital after another, in search of recovery, before the intensive-care experience at Northwestern Memorial Hospital where she breathed her last. The loss of a spouse is the closest encounter to witnessing one's own demise without one himself or herself being in the casket. But our faith tells us that God does not give us something that we cannot handle. The same God who placed this burden on the Agber and Iwar families will without doubt help them carry it.  
         Third, Keren will be remembered for her exceptional intellectual abilities. Like many of us, our sister came here as an immigrant in search of the golden fleece of education. She found it in abundance, earning four academic degrees in a short space of time-baccalaureate degrees in psychology and political science, a master of public administration degree, and a master of public health degree. Keren started a Ph.D. degree at Purdue University that she did not complete before the Lord called her home on Jan. 8. Keren enjoyed the academic life and she had a passion for research, particularly in the field of aging and mistreatment of elderly people in which she published many works, a good number of them with Agber. Here again, we behold something of an irony: an individual who built her professional life studying old people did not herself live enough to become one. Part of Keren's interest in research is indicated by the paid work that she did; until her death, she co-directed the Office of Institutional Review Board at Northwestern University, where she served since 2004, following a stint at the University of Illinois School of Medicine where she also performed institutional review work.     
     Some people leave such imprints in their journey on earth that the world is never the same without them. Keren falls into this category and we are blessed and thankful to God for the opportunity to meet and know her. We shall miss her. She will live evergreen in our hearts. For her families and for all of us rendered grief-stricken and heart-broken by Keren's untimely death, I end this tribute with the eternal words of Joshua, Chapter 1, verse 9:
      Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go. 

Toyin Falola
Department of History
The University of Texas at Austin
1 University Station
Austin, TX 78712-0220
512 475 7224
512 475 7222  (fax)

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