Where Will You Die?

by Sabella Ogbobode Abidde

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.

You may also like


enitanmason@gmail.com November 7, 2006 - 5:04 am

I have enjoyed reading your articles over time, but I am rather concerned about your mis-statement as regards aging in a foreign land. This article if taken seriously would have all foreigners panicking and returning to their country of origin enmass causing international chaos.

Please provide accurate and helpful information so that people can make educated choices about where they will age and about planning for their demise.

The most important thing as we age is making sure that we have our paperwork in order, take good care of ourselves and admit to ourselves that we may no longer be able to do all that we were able to when we were younger. This statement is not to encourage anyone to become a lame duck.

Prepare your will. Let your significant family members know your plans. Life insurance is very handy. Good financial planning is wonderful. Be sure to explore avenues for good healthcare. Be in the know.

Tut! Tut! Nursing homes cost money. Someone pays for it. You only get to spend time there if you can afford it via your insurance or other sources. Old age is not an illness. Healthy aged people are not welcome to live in nursing homes. Sick aged people who are unable to care for themselves, perhaps.

If you choose them, there are adult communities for older people. These range in style and cost as do our regular homes. The difference is that you cannot live in such communities until you reach a certain age. Some have planned activities included in their fees. Others do not. The only privilege being that you get to live among a group of people in your own age group. You will have to live where you can afford.

If you have lived all your productive years in the United States chances are that you will have acquired family – a child at least – and some friends in the interim. You will only be as lonely as you choose to be. You can not depend on your child or children for everlasting company. They will grow up and build their own lives. Reach out to other people. Join clubs.

Be a part of the society you live in. Become socially active and you will find some of the brunt of loneliness dissipate. This works for both the old and the young. The less active you are, the more loneliness becomes a factor.

Hopefully you would also have worked long enough to have purchased a home of your own. These days, you might even be able to explore creative financing that will allow you to remain in your own home until you die. You may also be able to tap some social services if need be.

Aging anywhere in the world is not easy – The diminished ability to acquire high income,change of routine and activity,increased isolation for some, decreased mobility etc are all part of aging in the world we live in.

No matter where you age, you will experience certain problems. It is up to you to choose where you will face old age. As for where you die…it's a toss up. Not everyone will die blissfully in their beds as in a movie. Death comes when and where it will.

When you consider the cost and expectations that are involved in a Nigerian funeral, you might want to die and be buried where you will not leave your family in financial ruin, unless you plan well and leave the money for your own funeral.

As for me, knowing fully well what happens to some of the remains of some dearly departed at Atan Cemetary in Lagos in those instances where people cannot afford private burial grounds, I personally opt to be cremated. My papers are presently in order. I encourage everyone to explore information on aging in America.

Rosie September 9, 2005 - 5:23 pm

It is a double edged sword indeed. At the same time I applaud the offsprings of Nigerian immigrants who have not put their graying parents in the nursing home. a lot of my friends have elderly parents staying with them. I point this out to my American friend "this" I say to them "is the African way."

Anonymous May 21, 2005 - 11:39 pm

This is a wonderful presentation. As I was reading this article, I asked myself, how proud am I to be an Africa precisely a Nigerian?I would rather say: Asobella is contemporary prophet of our time. I have gone through many of his articles; none is without inspiration. From: Moses Nwosu, Ontario.

wilson May 18, 2005 - 11:47 am

thought provoking

Anonymous May 16, 2005 - 11:35 am

Well written article but lives more questions than answers.

adejarelegal@yahoo.com May 16, 2005 - 9:43 am

The truth is that a community of Nigerians in the diaspora has been built – Just like you have Indians Chinese and others. I concede that there is a dilemna for some but basically its good to have an option.What is good for the goose may not be good for the gander in this case. Life after 60 is lonely anyway no matter where.Prof Chike Onwuachi built a great career here in the U.S. but has now retired home to Nigeria also Chief Emeka Anyaoku and many lesser-known but successful Nigerians.Dr Nnamani is unlikely to return to his Florida Practice if he gets a shot at Nigeria's Presidency 2007.My rule of the thumb approach is this: If you came here to acquire education or skill go back once you're done.If you have kids stay till the kids enter college.If you're still angry with Nigeria because of Biafra or Abacha go there and make the difference.But those who choose to die here are not ipso facto worse of.There could be a good life among strangers and returning home is no guarantee of "death with dignity". As depressing as this place sometimes is, it is still a better option for the majority whether to live or to die.

Anonymous May 15, 2005 - 7:17 pm

This article makes no sense, it is how we live our life that matters not how we die or where we die. Live an exmaplary life, teach your kids good from evil and they will continue from where you stop,regadless if itis ikoyi cementry or in califonia, at the end of the day, the dead will take care of their own.

Anonymous May 14, 2005 - 7:46 pm



Anonymous May 14, 2005 - 7:46 pm

So, after all the things you've pointed out, what action should those nigerian parents who are reading take?

I mean, should they haul their kids off to nigeria with them by force?

should they just be aware that they are going to die alone and thus be resigned to such a fate as the penalty for leaving nigeria?

should they show this article to their children and beg them to not leave them alone?

what is the take-home message?

Anonymous May 14, 2005 - 4:34 pm

This article is well rated, there is some home truth in preparing for once last few years before death.

But the last paragraph discounts the fact that some parents are happy to spend the last few years with their family (children & grand children) regardless of whether they have spent the better and most productive years of their lives in the United State.

A very good article, spoilt by a closing paragraph that was not well thought of.

Anonymous May 14, 2005 - 11:44 am

One thing I have learned in life is that some people don't like hearing the truth because to them it hurts. This article clearly spells out the truth.

Anonymous May 14, 2005 - 10:34 am

That was an excellent writeup!


Leave a Comment