When my father died, news of his death filtered out slowly.
We let close relatives know and of course, they began to tell other people. My younger sister was doing her masters in the UK. We decided to get in touch with her fiancé so that he could go and be with her when the news was to be broken to her. Living abroad can be so isolating and processing grief alone can be catastrophic.
Unfortunately, a cousin who had been told by her father quickly called my sister and broke the news to her.
Funnily enough, the cousin never called my mother and even when she visited Nigeria never made any attempt to come to our house to condole with us.
A lot of things happen when people die. Nothing can be done about death when it happens. But a whole lot of things can be done about how we handle death and there are things we can do differently not to make grieving worse for the bereaved. I hate that I have some experience on loss, but I do. I have compiled a list of what not to do when someone dies.
1. This may not have applied a decade ago but it is important now. Don’t rush to social media the moment you hear someone is dead. Unless a family member breaks the news, kindly be constrained. There is no reward for the first to inform people. Wait a couple of days first. Some folks are not even close to the bereaved, yet they put up pictures and sit by the side of these pictures on social media collecting RIPs and revelling in sad emojis. Chances are, they will not call the family, they will not be at the burial and nothing about their daily life has been interrupted. Stop this nonsense.
2. Still on the social media matter. There is another group of people that need details for no reason. “RIP to the dead… but what happened?” Some will even admit not knowing the dead and will still ask for details. The person is dead. How do the details help you?
3. When someone dies, family members get a lot of phone calls. It is an overwhelming time because you are also battling your emotions. There are moments that you are not just up to picking up phone calls. When eventually you do see or speak to the bereaved, I beg of you, do not accuse: “I was calling you, you refused to answer.” If you genuinely care about this person, you should place any feeling of offense aside and not make reference to the calls.
4. Crazy power hungry Aunties and Uncles need to back the eff up! Some choose these moments to assert headship or authority or become custodians of the ancient traditions of Egbaland…etc. These are usually people that never made any impact in your upbringing. They begin to create difficulty and create protocols no one was aware of. “Our brother must be buried in our ancestral burial ground…” “In our culture you must shave your head…” “Your first born should have travelled to my house to inform me and not tell my on the phone…”. The funny thing is that all these dos and donts do nothing about your grief. They compound things by making a difficult time even tougher.
5. I don’t know if this happens everywhere in Nigeria, but once a person dies, the family house suddenly becomes a restaurant/buffet. People just move in and camp in the house till the burial is done. I remember my siblings and I had to do daily budgets because we suddenly found ourselves feeding so many people. We had very lovely aunties who gave up their lives and were cooking in huge pots outside every day for guests. I think that is inconsiderate. Eat before coming to visit the bereaved. Buy your bottled water before you come. How will we be crying and offering you food and drinks that we have no appetite for and you would accept, touch the bottle to see if the drink is adequately cool and wolf down food? It hurt me every time I saw people pop in just for food. Sometimes, friends come over and spend a whole day with you. Understandably, they eat with you. But 30-minute visitors asking if there is ‘swallow’ is unacceptable. I remember when my dad passed, the people that had been camping in our house revolted one morning that they were tired of eating bread and eggs. They wanted yam. My sisters refused to give them the key to the store. They asked my Mum, who was permanently seated in the sitting room to order us to release yams. Shamelessness.
6. If you have nothing to say, then say nothing. No need to aggravate anyone with silly talk. It is not more comforting when you keep trying to find silver linings in a death:
“At least na una dey bury dem… that is how it is supposed to be.”
“At least she reach 70, my own mama die when dem born me.”
“Death must to happen to everybody. It is nothing new…”
“AH!!!!! You for tell me he was sick… if Pastor Adeboye had prayed for him, e for no die.”
“At least una don rest now. All the money wey una for dey spend for hospital…”
And the list goes on. There is nothing you can say to the bereaved that makes losing his/her loved one easier or more acceptable. So you can pray, you can hug, you can even say “You will be alright one day…” But just know that very little you say makes a difference and silence can be golden.
7. When a parent dies, some people begin to create rivalry at once. What is the point in pinpointing who is the person in charge? Some cultures say the first son becomes the head. Some say the first child. Some will work out what is best for them and their immediate family. It has nothing to do with you. Do not give any advice on the estate without being asked. Do not ask where they will live unless you are offering to help them. Mind your business proper.
8. If you really want to help, you can offer to pay for things that need to be done. Mortuary fees, burial programmes, flowers, cook food and bring… etc. My Aunties organised a dinner for us. They whisked us away before the burial. Prayed with us. Advised us. Told of their own survival stories and told jokes. It normalised death in a sense and made us determined to stick together. Don’t bring a burden. Help lift a burden.
9. Some people come to steal. They raid where they can raid and pick things when no one is watching. The thunder that will fire you is sitting patiently in WAZOBIA FM waiting to be captioned by Nedu.
10. Do not cry stupidly or do any theatrics. How will you roll on the ground shouting that your life is over and be eating hot amala and drinking beer 10 minutes later? Who are you fooling? There was one visitor that was crying so much when my Mum died that my sister and I tried to console her. She started saying “You will not understand…. She was like a mother to me….”. My sister and I looked at each other… but wait… she was OUR biological mother. We left her. Of course, she was all chirpy moments later.
11. When the burial is done. People fade away. If you do care, keep in touch. The first Christmas after our father died was the first Christmas in our lives that we received not a single Christmas card or Christmas hamper. It was unbelievable. It was also a lesson. A lot of people are friends for what they can get. If you are not one of them, keep in touch. Not just hang around for a burial.
Because I am Nigerian and talking about death is morbid. I feel the need to end this with a prayer. May God keep you all and never allow what you cannot bear to come your way, in Jesus name I pray.
Go and sin no more.
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