“Don’t you know I’m the queen,” she would tell her two boys and daughter. “The queen did her job.”
The chores that came along with serving the queen of the Bronx’s Ocrans included cooking food, washing dishes and massaging her majesty’s tired feet after hours-long shifts at the hospital.
Those sometimes dreaded childhood experiences created a deep bond and love among her children, 28-year-old Kwame K. Ocran, her older son, said as his sister, Maame, 19, laughed about their mother’s after-work routine.
“We have this very entrenched love for one another,” he said. “It’s been our saving grace.”
The trio of siblings finds themselves praying more for one another and eating more meals with their father, Joseph, after Freda Ocran died of coronavirus complications on March 28. She was 51.
The psychiatric nurse and nurse educator at New York City’s Jacobi Medical Center still clocked into work unmasked to care for her patients until March 23. She was admitted to Lincoln Medical Center with virus symptoms the next day.
Kwame A. Ocran, 25, her younger son, said he was in awe of his mother’s ability to love so many people, including those she cared for at work and family in Ghana.
Her work ethic and zest for travel and knowledge was inherited from her beloved late father, Fredua Amo-Ansah.
“They came from a place that wasn’t Beverly Hills,” said Kwame K. of his parents’ proud Ghanaian background. “They labored and they labored with each other.”
From sweet bread to the Big Apple
She met her husband at the Ghana Library Service in 1987. She was studying for an upcoming exam but there were no open seats. Joseph, an employee at the library, gave up his so she could focus.
Faces of the dead
She scoured the city for the best sweet bread she could purchase to fully show her gratitude, Maame said.
What she didn’t know was that he planned on asking her out. What they both didn’t know at the time was that they’d be married in a cultural ceremony in Ghana the summer of the following year.
The graduate of Ghana’s Institute of Journalism skipped her own commencement ceremony because America — and Joseph — were waiting, her older son said.
Joseph headed to the United States in the winter of 1988 and worked a number of odd jobs to save money for Freda’s December 1990 arrival in the cutting chill of a New York winter.
The new climate was a shock to her. She explained it to her father by telling him to place his hand in a refrigerator for five minutes to get a sense, according to her older son.
She worked as a home health aide for a number of years before going to nursing school at Lehman College in 2000, where she would sometimes have to bring her children along so she wouldn’t miss anything.
Along the way, she found time to beat thyroid cancer in 2001, but her kids remember her educational pursuits being filled with surprise treats from her school’s cafeteria, habitual Saturday visits to McDonald’s or Burger King and quarters so her children could buy Doritos and other snacks at their local corner store.
By 2004, she had her nursing degree in hand and started her queenly behavior that never ended, her older son said, chuckling.
As head nurse at Jacobi Medical Center, she was the type of leader who could always be counted on, said her friend of 10 years and fellow nurse Dinah Bampoe.
“She was a friendly individual and a professional nurse who put patient and staff needs above her own,” Bampoe said. “The nursing education and behavioral field have lost a gem, and I’ve lost a very good and dear friend.”
Ocran enrolled in a master’s of nursing program at Walden University in the fall of 2018 to become a nurse practitioner like her husband. She died before completing her program.
Sunday rides to the Bronx’s Word Enlightenment Church, where she had been a member for seven years, were filled with gospel songs and back-seat driving.
After-church rituals often included trips to Harlem for Maame to get her hair braided and Chinese food, Maame said.
“Mom would tell my brothers, ‘Your sister, her hair hurts [from braiding], so treat her with care,’” Maame said.
Freda Ocran’s children said she was a woman who fought her battles on her knees through prayer. When she was too weak to utter words to her Lord because of the new virus that was spreading throughout her city, she asked a family friend to pray on her behalf, Maame said.
Her last words to Bampoe in Twi, a Ghanaian language, were, “This virus is serious. Please take care of yourself.”
“Within 10 days she was gone,” Bampoe said.
Freda Ocran died shortly after at 4 a.m. on a March day.
The sobering reality of the pandemic left her children with only five minutes to see her in her casket and a hefty bill for the service, her older son said.
The family has set up a GoFundMe page to help cover the cost of her funeral and to try to fill the financial void she left in her wake for her family abroad.
Weeks before her passing, she told her older son that there would be a time when she and her husband would no longer be around but that everything would fine.
“I believe that she’s in heaven,” he said. The Ocran queen had ascended.