I do not mean to depress. I really don’t, but I wish to write about grief today because I have become some kind of non-academic expert. Now, the title of this article is in itself problematic. Because the very crux of this rambling piece is that there are no rules to grief, but dos and don’ts does sound like rules right? Maybe. Whatever.
Like I have hinted here and there, I lost my closest friend, exactly two months ago, three days ago. To describe it simply, he called me ‘Sparkplug’ but if I was Sparkplug, he was the socket I plugged into; if I stood tall and fearless, he was my spine; if I dared everyone, he was behind the scenes; and if I pulled my punches, his wisdom whispered that not every fight is worth getting into. There is that one person in this world outside of family (if you are lucky to have the kind of family I have, bless them evermore) whom you feel that however bad it gets, whatever may come, whatever challenges life throws at you, if they are there, so long as they are there, you will be fine. You may not always agree, heavens forbid. You will fight. But always with love, a love that is obvious to you two. A love that may be assumed, implicit, but better still stated. Sometimes, they are lovers. If that be the case, lucky you. But lovers come and go. so I was fine with him being my ‘brother from another mother.’ To put it simply, as simple as it gets, I loved him, I was lucky to have him, I was honoured and humbled by his friendship and I was ready to fight nearly anyone. Imagine my elation that he felt exactly the same! Luckily, we were almost always on the same side. So we didn’t fight too often. But fight we did. It was the spice.
Now, these people, they do not die. Simply because they are too big, too full of life, intelligent, giving… yada yada, but for less altruistic reasons, they do not die because they are too important to you and if there is one shred of justice in this world, if the universe loves you at all, then they will keep them here for you.
Unless they do.
And the bottom is knocked out of your world.
When my friend died, when I got the message, I knew. I did not doubt for a second that it was true. I knew with the knowledge of someone who knows that everything good must come to an end for them, I knew with the indescribable knowing that the centre had shifted, that there was a flaw in the matrix, that something was wrong. I knew with the calm that settled instantly, a silent voice that questioned, how did I not know?‘ You talk to someone every single day for three years and if for two days you do not talk, and they tell you they are dead, YOU KNOW IT IS TRUE. The only question is, how did I not know?
So, when a loved one dies, here is what you do;
- Do grieve. If you are lucky, there will be a deluge. You will cry till it will seem like your head doubled in size and your insides caved in. Let it.
- Do reach out to everyone who would understand, who shares your grief, and who would comfort you. Do accept comfort when and where it is offered.
- Do begin to gather memorabilia and mementoes, be it pictures, videos, messages, chats – whatever. In the end, they will be all you have left. In gathering, reach into the inner recesses of memory and bring forth. So you never forget. Do not try to forget. Please read Elnathan John’s ‘A Memory This Size.’ The worst thing you can do is try to forget.
- Do talk about them. Constantly. Until the tears turn to laughter. They will, you know?
- Do find a way to keep them alive, maybe by finding something that was important to them and carrying on with it. It will help you.
- Do attend their funerals if you can, and be involved as much as you can. Put them to rest lovingly, carefully, and fully. This closure is important.
Here is what I’d advise against;
- Do not canonize them. Do not turn them into saints. Please. The fact that they meant the world to you does not make them less of assholes than they were. But they were your Own them, flaws and all.
- Do not put a time limit on your grief. You put yourself under pressure. Grieve as long as it takes. It is personal to you.
- Do not lash out at other people, especially those who genuinely want to help. Unless of course you are me, and unfortunate enough to have someone say to you, ‘Na so atheists them dey grieve, like people wey no get hope.’ Then you may break this ‘rule’ and go at them. Hold nothing back. They are assholes and deserve your full ire.
- Do not be taken by surprise when you begin to find out things about them that you knew nothing about. I don’t know what lays a person bare more than death, more than even their lying-in-state. Secrets are exposed. If anything takes you by surprise, let it be your naïve assumption that you knew anyone so completely. Accept whatever you find. And ‘pray’ for equanimity if your findings affect you directly. But do not judge. It is futile.
- Do not allow anyone prescribe to you. These prescriptions include how long you are allowed to grieve, how you are to grieve, what you must or mustn’t do (and yet here I am). Further, people will also try to classify your relationship with the deceased and from their inferences, suggest how much grieving you are allowed. Shut it down. You do not owe anyone any explanations. You alone know what you feel.
- Lastly, do not feel guilty. You did not plan for them to die. You do not engage with people on the level of the imminence of their death, especially when they are so young, so do not feel bad about the things you did not do or say or give. You couldn’t have known.
On a final note, live everyday as though it were your last; one day you would be right. Please feel free to add your dos and don’ts and by all means share. This list is by no means exhaustive.
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