The Chin Chin Man sent pictures of the Ghanaian funeral, which was filled with strangers to Gifty and Nana. When she learned that her father had only told people that Nana was “sick,” she hung up on him. Afterwards, her mother stood in her bedroom door, chastising her for this disrespect. Gifty couldn’t relate to her mother in those weeks after Nana’s death, so she was silent until her mother left to take an Ambien.
The differences between the Ghanaian and American funerals emphasize the distance—geographic, emotional, and cultural—between the Chin Chin Man and his thoroughly Americanized children. Gifty is, however, horrified to learn that in both countries, her brother’s addiction is a shameful secret to be hushed up or spoken of obliquely. And the way that Gifty’s anger contributes to the rift between herself and her mother in the weeks after Nana’s death helps to explain why she feels so guilty and responsible for her mother’s depressive episodes.
The Ambien made Gifty’s mother “loopy and mean.” She told Gifty, “You know I didn’t want another child after Nana,” and “I only wanted Nana and now I only have you.” Adult Gifty knows this sounds hurtful and cruel. But she also wanted Nana instead.
As always, Gifty excuses her mother’s hurtful words, trying to convince readers (and possibly herself) that her mother’s words can’t be painful because they are true. On one level, however, she does recognize that both she and her mother were feeling inexpressible pain over the loss of Nana. Her mother’s Ambien-addled abuse also explains Gifty’s fear and avoidance of prescription medications, which surfaced in an early memory of Raymond: Nana’s addiction made him unpredictable and violent, and the Ambien that Gifty’s mother takes also reduces her ability to control her hurtful words. And above all, Gifty fears a loss of control over herself.
When her mother would wake up from her Ambien-induced sleep, she was confused. One day, she asked where she was, and Gifty told her she was at home in Alabama. Her mother went back to bed, declaring “No” over and over.
The deepening confusion and sleepiness Gifty’s mother displays are warning signs of her growing depression, although as a child Gifty has no idea how to interpret these symptoms or awareness of what’s coming.