Uduak Ubak: Mourning the Death of a Loved One in Africa

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Recently I lost a loved one. He would have been 80 years old by July the 4th.

I thought it was going to be easy to see him go. At least, the thought that he was at last free from being sick but it wasn’t.

I was going to miss him, his gentle smile, good-natured humor and just him being him.

No wonder my reaction when a friend in a bid to sympathize and console said “abeg, let the papa go and rest jo, he’s lived a full life”.

I didn’t find it funny at all but I once upon a time must have thought the same thing, if not said it myself.

It raised the question, just how old is old enough to miss a loved one?

I still shed some tears, going meant gone. I still don’t understand our burial ceremonies though; these days it is called “Celebration of Life”.

I still remember watching a Nigerian Video with an American lady and there was a scene in which an old person was being buried and in our usual way, instead of everyone wearing black and mourning, they all wore white and there was singing and dancing.

She just didn’t get it.

‘Why are they dancing?’  ‘Why the jubilation?’  She asked.

So we got into trying to explain the whole “Celebration of Life” concept which celebrates the life of an elderly person, who has lived long enough to see his grand-kids / next generation. It is believed he/ she has lived a good life.

So, instead of the black, mourning and sadness is the celebration thanking God for a “for a life well lived”.  It seemed like a “noble” celebration if put that way but it still doesn’t makes it easy for some to dance.

Though it is not the norms in all traditions in the country but in some, the behind-the-scene of this “celebration of life” party is the real disheartening part.

In some traditions, the bereaved family is levied by the extended family or community in which the person is from. You have to pay some amount they say, buy some stuffs like tubers of yams, goats, drinks etc. I still don’t understand the reason why.

Most of the response you get is “its tradition”.  In some communities it’s not a serious issue but it some, it is.

There was the story of the man, whose burial ceremony kept being interrupted just because the family couldn’t afford some things and therefore could not meet the obligation of providing the articles required by the community. It just made me wonder about our values for human life versus the traditions.

Anyway, I just learnt its okay to genuinely mourn your loved ones no matter the age. It’s about how much you’ll miss the person and I’ve learnt to be more sympathetic towards people who have lost their loved ones.

It is still a human being that is gone no matter how old!

© 2016 – 2017, Uduak Ubak. All rights reserved.

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