As I sit to write this, I already have a fear that this piece could span into three or more parts. This is because the lessons I have learnt from my recent bereavement abound beyond what my words could fully describe. I lost my dear mother, an Angel sent from above to hold my hands through the path of life, a woman of love and deep compassion. A woman who gave her all, forgot herself (yes, not self-centered), and sought to do all she could for her children and grandchildren. This is a true description of the woman I mourned, and much more.
However, this is not meant to be a piece of eulogy, but rather an opportunity to reflect on a life worth living. It is an opportunity to share the lessons I garnered from my bereavement, some of which you might connect with.
First, no one plans for death or knows exactly when a loved one will die. Well, you could come up with some exceptions, nonetheless. However, the passing on of a loved one is often a thing of shock, pain, surprise, bewilderment, and sadness.
That early morning my brother called and informed my husband and he tried to take it in before telling me; that moment I realized it just before he told me, yes, that moment…. My limbs went numb, and my physical strength just evaporated for a while as I fell to the ground, and asked, “But Mum, why like this?” Even now, I have no idea what I meant by that question. That moment is usually just overwhelming. Someone who had been part of the only life you know just leaving you in a split second is beyond comprehension.
Second, you begin to think about the immediate course of action. If you are at the place where the person passed on, then responsibilities line up immediately. If you are far away, the next moments could be confusing because immediately you must begin making connections with other siblings and loved ones. You do this for support, to know how they are taking it too, to know what next and next course of action as a family. This goes on for several days and weeks. This is indeed a period of sadness, mourning and tears.
In our case, we did not have the leisure of weeks. Mum passed on in the early hours of 21st September 2021 and by 30th October, we were set for burial on 1st October 2021. A lockdown in the Southeast forced us to move it to 2nd October 2021. I left home on the 22nd of September with a prediction that my mother would be buried on the birthday of my son, and so it was.
On the 2nd of October, mum was laid to rest. So, this short period was so intense that you literally had to put aside the tears and get going with all that needed to be done. The first few days was for travel and just pulling together as a family. And by the time we knew it, we had just one week to pull off everything about the burial. Mum had always mentioned that she would not want her body left in the mortuary for long, so we had to honour that wish. She had also voiced other wishes over the years about her burial. We honoured the ones we could.
Third, given the shortness of time, there are relatives and friends who would blame you for not informing them. This to me was insane. If we had months to prepare for burial, that would be understood. Yet, I tried to understand that they too wanted to be in the know and be able to pay their last respect to a woman they also treasured, and who impacted them. Well, given such time frame, you can’t spend the day on the phone and on social media, except you have older ones taking care of everything while you do social media stuff. Rather than be on the phone or social media, we had to focus on getting burial preparations in place.
Fourth, some burial customs and practices should be abolished. Until you have buried someone in a culture that is financially unsympathetic, heavily demanding, overwhelming, grossly insensitive and, (to me) exploitative, you would not understand what it meant pulling off the burial of an important woman within a matter of days. It is an experience I would not forget in a hurry.
The circle of practices and customs where one dies and the entire village almost live off that family is simply insane, to say the least. Some places are worse than others in terms of the level of insensitivity to the bereaved family. I thought to me, “Well, if the death of a member of the community helps someone’s life, even for a day, then so be it”. And the question remains, “How and when are we going to change these practices and customs that are excruciating to a bereaved family?”
Fifth, I learnt that we still live in a very loving and compassionate world. A world where people who have been through similar experiences know exactly what you need without you saying it. Some of these persons reach out to you in cash and kind. This is what saved us. Yes, my siblings and I pulled together what we could to begin, but mum was indeed buried by her community and the many people who were part of her life at one point or the other. Our near and far away relatives and friends came through for us. Truly, without these people, we could not have met the requirements for the burial, and the stress would have been so much more.
Sixth, money is a good grease, but unity puts it all together. There are many cases where burials become occasions where issues, conflicts and disturbances arise. All the money in the world cannot take the place of peace and unity during this event. In addition, I have come to see and believe that how the person lived and died is reflected in how the entire burial ceremony takes place. A peaceful person who generally had good relationships during life, will very likely have a peaceful burial, and vice versa. Well, you can challenge this if you have had a contrary experience.
Seventh, mourn with grace and move on. The community support, gifts, visits, condolences, words of encouragement, words of counsel and all, are meant to help you mourn with grace so that you do not fall into depression or deep sadness that becomes a problem to you and everyone around you. People come around to reassure you of their love, concern, prayers and support because it is indeed a time when you particularly need all that. Take it in and see what helps you get over the mourning period with some serenity, consolation, fortitude and strength.
Days, weeks and months after my mother’s burial, condolences, visits by relative and friends, financial support and open doors have kept pouring in. With a mother who had lived a good life as best as she could, I feel that her love and support has continued to hover over us even after she is gone.
It helps to just remember and deeply understand that this loved one has lived through their own personal journey in life and the end has come for them, be they old or young. It is something that is largely beyond your control. Death and birth are simply part of life. Only that we pray for a long life, one that is joyful and in which we fulfil our purpose in life before we are called to the world beyond.
Yet, it is all but the mercy and grace of God. The absence of my mother in my life is to me like a whole new journey. Good enough, her love and support taught me how to face life. And with the mercy and grace of God that is ever new, life remains beautiful and worth living.