The Need to Grieve

by Rosie R.

I am intrigued with the grieving process. It is not some morbid fascination of mine. It’s just that I don’t recollect ever being able to grieve properly. I am never appropriately upset at the death of a loved one. I am too cold, distant or nonchalant or I am too affected – I become obsessed about the afterlife. I relate my closeness to the deceased and start to think I may be next.I feel ashamed most times when I receive news from home about the death of a relative. Sometimes I feel I am disappointing the news bearer when my statements go like, “Oh really…what a shame.” Problem is most times, I barely remember these people. So my grieving for them lasts approximately five minutes. When my grandmother died, I was hurting inside so bad, yet I found it hard to cry. We were close, my grandmother and I, yet I could not give her a tear. When I finally cried, it was the quiet regretful kind, that I never saw her again. Other than that, my thoughts went to how much I was financially responsible for her funeral. Back then, I did not give my strange behavior any thought. Then my elder brother died. He was the eldest of us all. His death enraged me because of the strange circumstances – as he was estranged from the family. No one knew where he was until the news came late. I was surprised at how angry I was, not sad – angry.

To my relief, lately I have come to find myself quite capable of grieving – I just do it in the most unusual way. Call it self-preservation if you like. When I watch sad movies, or see news broadcast of some fallen soldier in Iraq, or the latest atrocity in Darfur, I find myself moved to tears. Not the drip-drip-drip kind. The bawling- so- hard-my-eyes hurt-for-hours kind. The first few times this happened to me, I was shocked.I did not know any of these people, yet I hurt for them. I wondered how I could not grieve for an aunt or a brother, yet empathize with strangers. I felt I was a bad person.

Nigerians are well-known for our grieving prowess. We go as far as hiring professional grievers – an amusing tradition. We bury our loved ones with such pomp and pageantry that I have dreaded answering my phone for fear my bank account would be short a few thousands due to one person’s funeral costs or another. I honestly sometimes feel this makes me a bad person to thank God for my parents’ good health, as this will allow me not only to enjoy their presence for a while, but also puts me at financial ease – for now. Has life battered my psyche so much that I am incapable of putting my emotions where they belong? Has my being removed from my African upbringing uprooted my basic need to hang on to dear departed ones till they are put in the earth? Am I emotionally bankrupt?

In my search for the path to grieving, I found that certain kinds of music make me cry for no reason. It’s like whatever I have been holding in for so long comes out and I feel lighter afterwards. So a few times a month, when I feel my heart turning heavy with stress or fatigue, I pop me a good slit-your-wrist music and settle in for a good cry. It is a weird ritual. But it works. I am open to any one’s advice on their coping mechanism when it comes to grieving. I really need the help.

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uniben82 November 10, 2006 - 5:04 pm


Let me begin by saying that Enitan pretty much covered all the things I wanted to say. There's nothing wrong with you. You're not a bad person. Many years ago when I received that dreaded "late at night" phone call from my elder brother informing me that my father passed away, my first response was "thank God, it's not my mom" And when my mom moved on as well, years later, I didn't fall apart. My brother kept asking me to send huge sums of money for the burial ceremony. He wanted to repaint the entire house. He needed to hire a band. He needed to repave the driveway. When I asked him to explain to me what all of the above had to do with burying our mother, he became offended! Anyhow, as far as mourning for a loved one, I think that as we all get older and realize that no one really gets out of this world alive, then our views and attitude become somewhat toned. Till this date, I have video cassettes of my parents burial ceremony that I'm yet to view. So, if you think you're weird, think again girlfriend!

Reply October 25, 2006 - 12:31 pm

I personally do not think there is a right or wrong way to grieve. The grieving process is unique for many individuals. No one can feel what another feels exactly; we can only empathize. A good cry at a movie or when listening to a song is not uncommon; it simply means that one is touched at that moment perhaps even reminded of an experience or a feeling. Crying and feeling pain or anger at another person's pain and suffering simply says you are human and able to empathize. This is healthy. The ability to relate to another person's feelings make us human.

Grieving for a good number of Nigerians is a competitive feat; a continuation of that desire to best others. Too often it is largely pretention and an opportunity to display our affluence or at least to create a semblance of affluence. It involves crying louder, recanting the many ways in which we were closest to the deceased during his/her life time; repeating to all who will listen the significant final conversations shared with the deceased right before his/her death; providing a listing of all the signs and omens that flashed in the sky just before that final hour of death and the list goes on. All of this while the corpse of our "loved one" lies in the morgue.

We Nigerians, as a people, are often so engaged in the comercialization of death to the degree that many of us have forget what it is to truly pay respect to our dead. While we dazzle our audiences with our latest lace outfits, head ties and extravagant banquets, we distract those who truly mourn the loss of their loved ones by visions of bankrupcy and undue obligation to those who bought our "aso ebi".

For some people the fear of death reminds them of their own mortality. Human beings give meaning to things that happen. Death is neither good nor bad. It does not demand a particular reponse. You are in my opinion responding honestly to death. I much prefer an honest reaction to death than the discovery I made of my friend who cried so long and hard at a funeral only to confess that she was so upset because her car had broken down on the highway on her way to the funeral.


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