When it comes to certain issues, most Nigerians, like most Africans are very superstitious. Most will not discuss certain subjects for fear it might come true. They have a long list of subjects that are off limit, taboos, and abominations. For instance, death is not a subject most are comfortable with and even though, as humans, it crosses their minds, it is not a subject they freely and willingly discuss. The fear is that if they think about it, it will happen; that if they speak about it, it will happen; that if they dream about it, it will come to past. Oh, nonsense! But death is like the wind in that it blows any which way and can touch anyone at anytime.
We live and so we must die. Living and dying are two certainties of the human experience and existence. So, why are we afraid of death? No one can escape it. Sooner or later it will happen to you, to your friends and family and enemies. It will happen to kings and queens and paupers; it will happen to presidents and to all those who spent a lifetime in pursuit of wealth and all things important or trivial. Without fail it will happen; but how and where one dies matters. Will it happen to you in a foreign land away from your friends and family; away from the familiar; and away from the land of your birth? Will you die alone and lonely?
Will death come when you are alone and lonely in a nursing home, at a hospice or in a hospital ward away from the love and gaze of your people? When death comes, will your children be around you or away tending to their own lives in far away places? As eerie as these questions might sound, it is a reality most Africans and indeed most Nigerians living in the United States have not come to grip with. This is especially true of Nigerians with foreign-born children who have no affinity with or a desire to return to their ancestral home. And even for children who were born in Nigeria, but raised in the US, America is likely the only country they will ever come to know. It is the only country they will come to love. Nigeria for them will be, or would have become a distant memory, an alien land, and a fuzzy recollection.
But not so for the parents who will occasionally think of and romanticize their original home. And in fact, the fond memory and romanticism will become more heightened, as they grow older. With the passage of each year, these graying Nigerians will long to return home. But unfortunately for most, they will not be able to because they have spent the better and most productive years of their lives in the United States and elsewhere. Haven grown accustomed to some of the finer and steady things in America, retuning home becomes an unattractive option. Sadly and cruelly, they will be reminded, every so often, of where they belong, that they are strangers, that they are immigrants, that they are foreigners in America. These graying Nigerians may become fearful of retuning home and at the same time may become saddened for being “forced” to remain here.
By the time these Nigerians get grayer and older; their children must have left home — just like most Americans at the age of 18, 19 or 20. They will leave in search of their own lives and destinies. They will leave in search of their own identity and happiness. And occasionally, especially during the holiday periods, those children may call home to wish their parents God’s grace. Yes, they will send cards and flowers. And yes every so often they will make the perfunctory 5-minutes phone calls just to say, “Pa, I love you…” or “Ma, I miss you…” but in the end life may become lonely and despondent. There will be none of the social contract that has sustained the Nigerian family in Nigeria for generation after generation after generation since the beginning of creation.
The social contract was simple: parents carried out their parental “duties” for about two decades. And for years after that, they continue to love their children. They and other members of the family (extended or not) become the backbone, the anchor, the pillar of support and stability. This was never an obligation or a duty; it was simply part of being a parent. And when the parents get older, much older, the children devices a way of taking care of the parents. This way, raising a child or taking care of ones aged parents becomes a family affair. The birth of a child is celebrated just as old age is celebrated. Children usually do not grow up alone just as parents usually do not grow old alone.
It is this unwritten social contract that has helped sustained the African way of living. For generation after generation since the beginning of time, this system has worked and worked well for Africans. In this “strange land” called the United States of America, this sort of contract has not existed, for most, in the last one hundred and fifty years or so even though it was a common feature of the family life during the earlier years of this republic. But with industrialization and modernity comes a new set of family rules. These are rules Nigerians and everybody else living in this country must abide by. But must they?
For those who choose to return home in their sixties and seventies, the re-acculturation process may be tough and daunting. Some will make it while others will fall by the wayside — the consequences of which will be depression, loneliness and regrets and confusion. Now, will their Americanized children return home to be with their parents? Will these children return to Nigeria to parent their own parents? Will they?
Are you ready to live the rest of your life with just faints and whispers of children and grandchildren who live miles and miles away and who only remembers you periodically? If the answer is “yes,” then, you may die alone and lonely, unacknowledged and uncelebrated.
But of course, not everybody care
s about how and where they die; not everybody cares whether they die amongst strangers or amongst loving faces; not everybody care whether they die in a stormy weather or atop a mountain. Death is death. But to the extent that you care, it is better to die amongst friends and family. It is better to have your life and death celebrated by all those whose life you have impacted. If you don’t act now, your future may be bleak, uneasy, and painful and hollow like an empty rolling shell. And by the way: when you die, how do you want to be disposed off — six-feet down under or cremated?
Yes, this may be an uncomfortable subject, but don’t worry. Death will not come without a cause. Death will not come because you talked or read about it. Death will not come simply because you thought about it.
Oh no, that is not the way of death. Even so, you must think and plan for your own mortality.
You must be prepared when death comes knocking — expectedly or unexpectedly. To not plan is to be foolish. If you lived all your productive life in this country, you are likely to end up in a nursing home amongst strangers; you are likely to die alone and lonely and be buried in a cemetery with unknown ghostly faces. Even the earth and the worms and the moisture will wonder about you. You will not be acknowledged. You will not be celebrated. Your life would have been in vain, meaningless. So, please die an African death…with dignity.