Catherine Onyemelukwe

Author, Blogger, Speaker


Family Tragedy

I was at the lunch preceding my book talk in New York on Wednesday when our older son called from Nigeria. I told him I couldn’t speak right then. I asked him to call later when I would be home. I had no idea of the tragedy that had struck.

Now I feel very bad that I had to make him wait to share this tragic news.

He called soon after I walked through the door.

Clem and I could hardly believe the tragedy he described. His cousin and dear friend Emeka, my husband’s nephew, had been killed that morning in Los Angeles. We’re still reeling.

Emeka was a wonderful man, warm, caring and compassionate, fun to be around, and completely dedicated to family.

I still can’t believe he’s gone. His death leaves a hole in our family.

People are flooding the house to express their sympathy with this tragedy. Calls from Nigeria come every few minutes.

We flew out on Friday to be with his mother, Clem’s sister, to face this family tragedy together. We’re going back home on Sunday night, since I’m speaking Monday evening at Meadow Ridge in Redding, CT.

Photo Coming 

My granddaughter Nkiru posted a wonderful picture of him on Instagram. I saw it on Friday when we were waiting for our connecting flight at Dallas Fort Worth airport.

Then I lost my phone!  So I don’t have the photo.

I shouldn’t really say “lost my phone,” I guess.

I plugged it in at one of the stations where there are multiple plugs and people charging their devices.

Then I walked away for about 4 minutes. When I came back, the phone, cord and plug were gone.

We boarded our flight at the very last minute after I had run back and forth between the gate and the charging station. I was hoping the phone would magically appear.

No luck. I suspended service as soon as we reached our destination Friday evening.

Yesterday I contacted Apple – it’s an iPhone 6. Now with “Find Your Phone” I have tracked it and watched it move at the airport.

The airport policeman I spoke with says it looks like it’s at the Travelers’ Aid Lost and Found station. They weren’t at their phones when I called today. I left messages and will call again on Monday if I don’t hear from them.

I haven’t given up hope.

UPDATE! 8:20 am Sunday (Calif time)! 

Phone found! Airport lost & found just called me to say they have my phone! 

I will add the photo next time. I’ll ask Nkiru to email it to me so I can share it with you.

I need to send this post tonight, Saturday, so don’t have time to look for other photos. The hotel’s internet seems slow, so I want to give it several hours to get all the emails out.

I’ll be unplugged after we check out tomorrow. And we’ll be flying tomorrow night, still full of the tragedy but glad that we could spend time with Clem’s sister, her daughter who lost her brother, and the daughter’s children.

Responsibility for Children

Kwame Anthony Appiah writes the Ethics column in The New York Times Magazine.

On March 23 he responded to three questions. The third was from someone who said, “My cousin has a 3-year-old son who shows signs of being developmentally disabled. . . we are all aware that early detection is the key to managing symptoms. But my cousin (as I would guess is common) does not want to consider the possibility that her son is autistic.”

The writer asks whether s/he should try to intervene. S/he says, “I’m not sure that having a firm conversation will do anything . . . but I shudder to think that I am somehow contributing to a greater problem by doing nothing.”

As I read this question, I was thinking of the talks I’ve given recently, “Living in Community: Lessons from Africa.” I say in my talk that in Nigeria, and specifically among my husband’s Igbo people, all adults in an extended family, even in the clan, are responsible for all the children.

So I was intrigued to read Appiah’s response. He said, “Identifying the right specialists may be a challenge.”

Kwame Appiah, the Ethicist

Ethicist and philosopher Kwame Appiah

“Still,” he says, “if you’re close enough to your cousin to fear straining your relationship with her, you’re close enough to take a practical interest in her life and her child’s.”

Here’s the part of his answer that I love: “My reaction may be, in part, a reflection of having spent much of my childhood in Ghana, where all the adults in an extended family feel some responsibility for all the children. (Never a shortage of busybodies!)”

He concludes by saying, “But I would worry less than you do about your cousin’s response; whatever your family’s traditions, she should surely recognize that you’re acting out of love.”

Mid 20th Century Interracial Marriage

I went to Appiah’s website after reading his answer.

I found a picture of his parents who married in Britain where his father was a law student. “Their marriage, in 1953, was widely covered in the international press, because it was one of the first “inter-racial society weddings” in Britain; and is said to have been one of the inspirations for the film “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner.”

This was eleven years before our wedding! Ours was also covered in the international press.

(I made a mistake when I tweeted Appiah to comment on this, and said nine years earlier – my math skills were asleep.)

Dishwashing Duty

Clem had written to his friend, a fellow DMGS alum, or “Old Boy” as they call themselves, to complain that the man hadn’t come to our 50th anniversary party in the village.

He replied to Clem. He apologized for not coming, but he was out of the country.

He said, “I hope this will not involve plate-washing duties!” This made Clem laugh.

I asked why he was laughing and he read me the sentence. He said, “Do you understand what he meant?”

Of course I do. When they were students, one of the punishments for any infraction was to be put on dishwashing duty!

Author: Catherine Onyemelukwe

Author, blogger, speaker. Born in New York, grew up in mid west United States, lived in Nigeria for 24 years, back in U.S. since 1986. Advocate for racial justice.


  1. Do not know where it went, but will try again….Sorry for the loss of Emeka and so glad I met him, he was a really good guy and will be missed. Glad your phone has surfaced, u probably know but u can take it to a phone store and they can put everything back on. Enjoyed the tale of dishwashing.! Good reading… to all.

  2. I’m so sorry for your loss, and so sorry we kept you from your phone call when you were speaking to us last week!

    It was, however, a great pleasure to meet you, and I look forward to finishing your book !

  3. I’m very sorry to hear this. My prayers are with you and your family.

  4. My condolences to you, your husband and the family on the death of your nephew. May he rest in eternal peace.

  5. Dear Catherine
    I am so sorry about Clem’s nephew’s death. Please give him my deepest sympathy. I like reading about Nigerian customs with which I’m not familiar, seeing where cultures are the same as well as different.
    Your sadness at his loss come through your wiriting.

    Wishing you peace as you join with others in California.
    Fondly, your friend,
    Jane Sherman

  6. Catherine,

    We are so sorry to hear about the tragic and untimely death of your husband’s nephew Emeka. It’s been a chaotic few days for you and I send you prayers for acceptance of things that make no sense and courage to live lovingly through this painful period.

    With deepest sympathies from your friends and board members of US National Committee of UN Women.
    Lalita Janke, President
    US National Committee for UN Women.

  7. I am SO sorry for your loss. The violence in this world makes no sense to me.

  8. I was saddened to read of this tragedy. Please accept my condolences on your loss, Catherine.