Encountering loss as we get older

I had been musing over this topic and a friend randomly tagged me in a memory that fits right in.

If memory serves me well, in the first 30 years of my life I only attended 5 funerals
The first was my cousin, Efuru's, grandpa
While I don't remember anything about the funeral, I have since converted the kaftan I wore to it into a nightgown
And in the way of pieces that you have had for longer than 15 years, it is soft, comfortable and familiar - like my skin
I wasn’t allowed to attend my mom’s sister’s funeral, 4 years earlier as I was only 10 at the time. I’m not sure I understood the gravity of death at the time. I had never met my aunt, so while I knew it was a solemn time for our family, it was hard to mourn her. Unfortunately, I remember being sad that I had to miss a party because it was a difficult time for my mom. At the time, I couldn’t understand what that had to do with my party
The next funeral I went to was in 2010 - 12 years after Efuru’s grandpa, when a friend lost her dad
The next was 2 years later when a friend lost her sister
The next one was a year later when a friend lost his father
And the one after that was a year later when a friend lost his mother
Apart from Efuru, the friends referenced above were really dear work colleagues of various ages and all the funerals were either in Lagos or one day road trips to Ogun State


I've been back to Nigeria for a little under 2 years and in this time I've been to 6 funerals - my grandfather, Efuru's grandmother, but mostly friends losing their parents
What struck me is the frequency and accordingly, the length of time between each one
I'd wager that barring special circumstances, our individual connections to death from one year to the next should be random, because, all else equal, death is random
I'd also wager that as we get older, the frequency increases
As with all data, one can plot a graph of the number of people you know who passed away in any given year
And I'd wager that if we took it in 5-yr increments over the course of our lives, it would plot a bell-curve
It appears to me that my friends (age mates) and I, have more than likely entered the rapidly accelerating part of this curve

Funeral2.jpg


We don't like to talk about death, and so we don't know how to talk about death or how to act around people dealing with loss or how to be there for them
11 years ago as I was heading to the airport to catch a flight to the US for my sister's graduation
My dad called me to tell me that Efuru's dad had passed away
My parents don't really give me family gist, so the only reason he called me is because he appreciates that Efuru and I are very close
At the time, Efuru lived in the UK, so I took a moment to pray for the repose of this soul and continued on my journey to the airport
I must have spoken to my mom after I completed the check-in process
I don't remember what we discussed
But I do remember that after checking-in I tried very hard to get off the flight and change my travel date, but ended up unable to do so
It had finally occurred to me that Efuru losing her dad was a monumental thing and that I needed to postpone my trip - the graduation wasn't for another week, so I had the leeway to do so
Thing is if this story happened today, I wouldn't have made it to the airport at all


Last week, I was conflicted about whether to go out of town to attend an event in relation to a funeral
Would my motivations be misunderstood?
I felt deeply that I needed to go, so I was successful in quieting these apprehensions
I told Efuru that you do what you think is right and you move on, we can never control how our actions are viewed
We both attended the event and without a doubt, I am happy that I went
I learned that the pettiness of life disappears in the face of death


I’ve often heard a dialogue similar to the one that appears below from my dad's end of a phone conversation
"I'm going to [name a town in the east] on Thursday, we are burying someone, xyz lost his mother/ wife's father/ sister and on and on"
My parents are more likely to make the trip east to attend a funeral than to attend an engagement party if they had to choose between two events
And conversely, I am more likely to to attend the engagement party over the funeral
This is not only due to the fact that my age group is getting married and theirs is passing away
It seems that historically, my parents have placed a greater emphasis on being there for people in their loss and I for being there in their celebration

Funeral3.jpg


Prior to loosing my grandfather, I had only experienced loss once - and I wasn't even at his funeral
Like with a lot of things, I think we understand more about loss when we ourselves experience loss
My father has lost his parents and my mom lost her sister, when her sister was only 42
Unfortunately, I was either not born or not emotionally developed enough to appreciate their experiences at the time and to learn from them
In contrast, I understand what it means to my grandmother to have lost her husband, and so now I understand a little better what it means to be a widow - and my granny is a poor example of a widow, she's 94, doesn't need to worry about her children, can't really mourn un-lived years with her husband seeing as they had 70 years together and has more than enough to take care of her needs
All the same, I see the devastation caused by the instant and permanent erasure of a person, a way of life and a way of living through her eyes


Last year after he attended the funeral of my aunt (which I didn't attend),  a friend said to me:
It's good to have people, when it is all said and done, only your true people will brave the 7 seas to travel to the east for your funeral
I think I finally get this

Funeral4.jpg


Despite my limited experience with death, I have found the following approaches to be helpful when loved ones are dealing with loss:

  • Show up - your presence and your help in handling minor tasks related to planning the funeral, but also with keeping their daily lives going will be make a huge difference

  • Show up - especially after the funeral, when most people have gone back to their lives. In Nigeria the days between a loss and the funeral can be loud, full of activity, with many people in your home, and then immediately after the funeral, it’s so quiet, you can hear a pin drop, and are finally confronted with the full extent of your loss

  • Show up - when my grandpa died, without asking, my friend sent money to my account, it was a thoughtful gesture that I really appreciated

  • Be quiet - people always get tripped up about what to say, I've always known that there are no words that can help. This is a time to listen, to feel, to sense, to be attune to the needs of others and the best way to do that is to be silent. If you must speak, keep the cliches to a minimum and share wonderful or funny anecdotes from your reservoir of experiences with the dead person

  • Be patient

  • Don't make anything about you

May the souls of the faithfully departed, through the mercy of God, rest in perfect peace. May perpetual light shine on them. Amen.

What are your thoughts? I’d love to hear.