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‘Lamide Jasanya: Things to Consider When You Visit the Bereaved

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Perhaps if Friday, December 15 had actually been the popular Friday, the 13th, I would have thought the worst when my father called to tell me he was taking my mother to the hospital.  Her ‘small malaria’ seemed to be defying drugs and injections. But because it wasn’t, and because I had prayed too hard against death, each time the thought crossed my mind, I rebuked it and continued with the press release I was writing even though I barely concentrated. Fast forward to the morning after, I was at my family house sprawled on the floor, in tears, trying my best to wake my mother up.

I called her the sweetest of pet names, psyched her to pity my brothers and I. I even called her by her first name, hoping she would feel insulted as she normally would and react, but rather she laid still, her head in my hands, stone cold. It was then it dawned on me: she had really left us.

As I struggled to come to terms with the new reality, it became obvious I had more than her death to deal with. I had the many relatives and sympathizers who had by now thronged our sitting room, singing same song, that really won’t help my situation.

Everyone had something to say to me and it only made the situation worse. Every time I asked to be left alone, they would insist I shouldn’t be, for fear I may go drastic; but, deep inside, I really wanted to yell at them to keep quiet. They were beginning to sound empty and doing more damage than good. However, I kept my cool; they obviously didn’t know better. As soon as I was able to have some sanity, I asked for my phone and began scribbling my thoughts. So here we are:  seven major things you must avoid, when you go visiting anyone who has just lost someone, or is bereaved at all.

Don’t make the call, until you know what to say
If you are still in shock or lost for words, please delay your call till you find yourself. DO NOT call and keep mute, as though expecting the bereaved to start the conversation. It is rather distasteful; and when you find your voice but are unsure of what direction the conversation should go, better to keep it really short and straight to the point than to go on and on repeating yourself.

If you think perhaps you didn’t make a good impression with the call, please do not make a promise to call back, especially when in fact you won’t.

“I know you feel” – No, you don’t!
Whether over the phone or in person, avoid bragging that you know how they feel, because in the real sense of it, except you were a part of the relationship the person shared with the deceased or are privy to their conversations and memories, you really cannot know how they feel. Should you mistakenly say this, please DO NOT repeat it.

This is not the time for saying “Be strong; don’t cry”
While it may seem like the right thing to do, avoid asking those grieving to be strong and NOT cry. Understand that they are not actors on set whose emotions you can direct; they are reacting to the loss of something they hold special and there is every likelihood their reaction will increase in its intensity as reality hits them.

They likely will continue till they feel empty. Asking them to bottle it up is a very insensitive thing to do, so please allow them express themselves whichever way they feel. A lot of times, it’s their emotions running, not logic or common sense.

Understand there is no recommended time span for grief intensity
Perhaps the most fundamental on the list. When you call or meet a bereaved a few days or weeks after the incident, DO NOT ask ‘how are you or how are you feeling?’ as though time should have made them forget the pain. Pretend not to be inconsiderate, and try to understand that grief won’t wear out in 1 week or 1 month or even in years.

This is not the time to score popularity points
Be it a service of songs or during random conversations about the deceased, DO NOT attempt to earn cheap popularity trying to outdo the last speaker, because you would only be doing a terrible job at hiding your emptiness.

Respect the need for quiet solitude
Understand there is bound to be moments of silence at the house of a bereaved, DO NOT see this as an opportunity to begin irrelevant conversations, or stories that are hurtful. This is not the time to start sharing different tales, descriptions and analogies of how several others died, as though such will make your loss less painful.
Don’t compare any body’s death. No one wishes it, even though we know we will never escape.

Not your stage; not your spotlight
In your bid to achieve some relevance, avoid introducing yourself, when you are not asked to. You have come to mourn with a bereaved, your relationship with the bereaved is irrelevant – except of course you are the killer, and have come to confess. Shut up, sit down and be humble. DO NOT ever let those, ‘Do you remember me?’ type questions slip out of your mouth. It’s a grieving party not an award ceremony.

These are some of the weird things I observed while mourning my mother. I am sure there definitely are more. Please share some other ones you feel are weird in the comment section below.

***
This column is not prescriptive in any way but rather seeks only to, in a ‘playful’ manner, talk about certain issues and recommend how to handle them from a layman’s point of view. As such, the views expressed in the articles are solely of the writers and do not have any scientific or professional backings except otherwise stated.

Photo Credit: Duncan Noakes | Dreamstime.com

Olamide likes to think of himself as clueless about what he really likes but his close friends are quick to mention waist coats, dope shoes and party jollof rice as top on his list. He is a trained actor and speaker and currently plays in the Marketing Communications industry. He likes to write to empty his head and make serious issues light. He is a fun bag and almost never takes himself too seriously. He can be reached via [email protected]

25 Comments

  1. Ugo

    January 12, 2018 at 1:11 pm

    I wish people know better…I remember when I lost my dad and an elderly lady in her own little bid to console me said to me ” Don’t cry eh. Don’t you have friends and people you’ve told sorry before when they loose their loved ones eh? So now its your own turn to be told sorry, that’s how the world is eh, so don’t cry too much.” Oh! how my world shattered! i just couldn’t believe my ears…I mean that was the coldest thing to say to someone mourning a dear one…it still brings tears to my eyes when I think about it. Really, I couldn’t agree more with you, if you don’t know what to say, please by all means keep mute…don’t hurt the bereaved with your words. Thanks for this piece.

    • 'Lamide Jasanya

      January 12, 2018 at 4:47 pm

      Hello Ugo, Thanks for stopping by. I hope she reads this and know exactly how you felt/feel about such a statement. Perhaps, I would have lost it, had any of my sympathisers had said such. Pele man!

  2. Nunu

    January 12, 2018 at 2:44 pm

    Spot on! When my mother passed on, we had to hold the funeral service in a hall and I was working with a decorator since the hall was basically like a plain canvass. After telling her everything I wanted which was simply an infusion of a heavenly white theme with sprinkles of my mother’s favorite color. She kept making some insensitive comments about the choice of aura I wanted to create with the decor which was really a reflection of my mother’s personality. She then went “Don’t you think all this will be too much?” That was the last straw and I simply told her “When your mother dies, you can do what you want”. Of course, she didn’t do the decorations eventually and I worked with a better vendor who understood the concept and delivered excellently well.

    • Olamide Jasanya

      January 12, 2018 at 4:51 pm

      Thank you Nunu! Can you imagine the effrontery, Asking if that wasn’t too much! Your response was dope tho! Too dope!

  3. Ajala & Foodie

    January 12, 2018 at 3:11 pm

    I agree with most of the points stated but after losing 2 people close to me, I have no problem with people asking “How are you”? Or some are more precise by asking “How are you holding up?” I actually find it more thoughtful. A friend who lost her dad now suffers from depression i.e medically diagnosed and on meds, she lived quite a ways from family and those around her thought it inappropriate to ask “How she was doing” by the time a neighbor raised a red flag depression had not only taken a strong hold but was almost taken her out. So when people ask how you are doing? In my perspective it is not because they expect your grieve to have magically disappeared. I see it as a question asking about how I am doing in the face of my grieve. For the most part I am honest. I remember my boss asking me that question after I lost my sister and I told her “honestly, I don’t know, I just want the pain to go away”. That day she told me something that has stayed with me. She told me the pain will subside but never go away completely, she told me that life has I knew it before had changed and my perspective on life and life in general was now different i.e without my sister and I just have to come up with healthy ways to handle this new life. That was and still remains the most honest conversation I have ever had. So No, I think it is ok to ask how people are doing? But more importantly to care and listen to their response. We see suicide rate going up and we wonder how we missed the signs many times it is because we either don’t bother asking or we assume it is inappropriate.

    • Olamide Jasanya

      January 12, 2018 at 4:55 pm

      Quite a length one, Ajala and Foodie. Appreciate your response and your feedback is valid. I quite agree with you. A friend of mine, who coincidentally had lost her mum too about the same time told me, ‘Olamide, it will never be okay. We are only going to find another type of okay’. Your Boss is 100% correct. So sorry about the losses. Pele dear!

  4. Omo

    January 12, 2018 at 9:18 pm

    Hi,my dad die on the 4th of Dec,but I havnt cried at all,o wasn’t able to go for the burial, beacuse i dnt live in Nigeria pls is this normal,Part of me blocks what happed to him out of my head.

    • Ajala & foodie

      January 13, 2018 at 2:11 am

      @ Omo, I actually do not find it odd/weird that you are yet to cry. We all grieve in different ways, I remember when my sister first passed, even before they pulled the plug (she was on life support for a while ) my little sister had started crying massively. I cried once but it was a short burst, it was only at the funeral since my little sister insisted on staying till the very end,( i.e the lowering and until the last dirt was poured) did I really cry. There was something just really final about that. Before then i just felt she had traveled somewhere I could not reach her, rationalizing it that way was my coping mechanism. My brother was unable to make it for her funeral and did not cry for 2 years, until he visited her graveside. My little sister probably cried every day for at least 6 months. I cried only twice, my brother only that once at her graveside 2 years later. I also think it is easy to rationalize things in a more “favorable” way with distance.At least it was for me.

    • Olamide Jasanya

      January 13, 2018 at 7:53 am

      Hey Omo, thank you for stopping by. So sorry about your dad. Pele. Crying has never been the only way to grief, it just is the major way especially for emotionally expressive individuals. That you haven’t cried doesn’t make your pain less. What I would advise against though is you blocking what happened and pretending it didnt. It has Omo, and we have to learn to deal with it. Holding back and bottling the emotions won’t be of much help, so when you can, please take some time off and let it all sink in. You really don’t have to cry but by doing that you would have gone past the first and perhaps the most important stage; acceptance. Will be happy to discuss further with you if you don’t mind. You can shoot me a mail [email protected]

    • HMD

      January 13, 2018 at 8:02 pm

      Hello Omo, it’s not weird at all. My mum died in my arms and for 3 weeks I was numb. I did not cry or throw myself around like a lot of people thought I would. Then I started having panic attacks….. (I still have small bouts) I realised it was cuz I was internalizing my pain and it needed an outlet. So it’s perfectly normal to not cry but like Ola ideas said, don’t bottle it up inside. There’s no guarantee you’ll feel better if you cry….. But in your sadness, live in their good memories and when the flood of emotions hit you, let it out and take each day at a time.

  5. carlos

    January 12, 2018 at 10:04 pm

    i agree with a part of your point that i shouldnt ask a grieving person, ‘how are you feeling?’ but what is wrong with, ‘how are you?’

    • HMD

      January 13, 2018 at 7:55 pm

      In Nigeria, there is an unspoken trend where statements like “how are you” are conversation starters/fillers with “fine” as default answers. A lot of people are not really interested in knowing exactly how you really are and for someone like me who understands this dynamic but dislikes it anyway, it rings false. But when you ask me “how are you holding up” that tells me you acknowledge my grief/difficulty and are genuinely checking in with me.

    • Olamide Jasanya

      January 15, 2018 at 12:23 pm

      Well Carlos, may be because I expect the person to know that I just can’t be feeling okay, so I really can’t be too.

  6. HMD

    January 13, 2018 at 8:32 pm

    Olamide Jasanya, God bless you for this piece.
    It’s amazing how insensitive some people can be. Half the time I’m on zombie mode, numb and just going through the motions. Then 1 person I don’t know from Adam will now come and be asking me what happened, then be comparing how they lost their aunt or neighbour. The most annoying (that still gets my boiling) is when they say “it’s ok”. I’m like which part is ok? That my mum is dead is ok? It’s never going to be OK. My life has just been upended and it’s supposed to be Ok? Hmmmm.
    Oh 1 amusing one. “Pls accept my condolence” I got hundreds of those and I’m yet to know what to do with them. Maybe someone can tell me. I’d rather you just pray for me and if your aren’t the praying type, just send me good thoughts…… Whew Lots to say.

    One thing I know that helped me was when I was home with my family. Now that I’m back to my base away from them, it’s so hard. I’d stare at the wall for hours. I’d wake with a start, my heart beating in my chest, crying out my mum’s name. Sometimes it’s with my tear soaked pillow……….

    Then I tell myself “One day at a time baby. One day at a time “

    • Olamide Jasanya

      January 15, 2018 at 12:15 pm

      Awww dear. I can totally relate. Like you rightly mentioned. One day at a time and we will grow into the new type of okay we have been forced to live with. Whats most important is living the legacy these women left behind.

  7. Nengi

    January 13, 2018 at 9:18 pm

    Nice write up. When my dad passed, i hated when people say he was even old………In my mind i am thinking ” Parents are never too old” and there is no such thing as he/she was old now. I honestly cant deal with that statement I totally hate heating it.

    • Olamide Jasanya

      January 15, 2018 at 12:17 pm

      Gbam Nengi! Epp me ask dem o…Who is ever too old? A lot of times, they say these things out of ignorance mixed with not-knowing-what-to-say. Lets just forgive them, Only us know how we feel. We will be fine though. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  8. Olumuyiwa

    January 14, 2018 at 1:01 pm

    Thanks for this piece, Olamide. I think people who try to feign empathy have not been there. They have not felt it the way some of us have. I remember when I lost my aunt, the dearest and closest. I left the crowd of other bereaved (family and all) and in a secluded place, held my chest, stared into space endlessly, tears rolling down my cheeks, sang a song and that was it. My heart was seared. Everything empathisers said, I cared not to listen. It was useless. Since then, when I hear of someone’s demise, I don’t empathise with the beareaved, I DO NOT cos I know you need to deal with it. Sweet words won’t do, Time? maybe. But ultimately, YOU.
    So, like I said, blame them not. The pain of losing someone cannot be transferred nor assumed.
    IT IS WELL.

    • Olamide Jasanya

      January 15, 2018 at 12:19 pm

      Perfect words, yours are, Olumuyiwa. God bless your brain and thank you for your comments. True. Through.

  9. molarah

    January 14, 2018 at 6:43 pm

    Agree with some of the points, however, its best to remember we all have different personalities. The banter and comments and mannerisma you resent may be well appreciated by another just bereaved person, so I don’t think there’s a hard-and-fast rule here. Everyone is hurting and trying to process their grief in their own way – and this comes out as silence, “its okay” (yes, as annoying as that sounds) and “i know how it feels” (they don’t have to have been in your shoes to know: some people have a curious ‘gift’ of empathy that makes them deep like that). Funny enough you omitted one of the most annoying ones typical to our clime: “Tell us how it happened”.

    • Olamide Jasanya

      January 15, 2018 at 12:21 pm

      LMAO! ‘That tell us how it happened’ part killed me. Someone ask me and I just will lose my manners! Yes, you are right, there are no hard and fast rule, these are just some I observed. Glad you shared yours too dear.

  10. Kikelomo

    January 15, 2018 at 11:58 am

    Hmmmmn. Can relate totally with your post. Thanks for sharing,.

  11. Hmmm

    January 18, 2018 at 3:25 am

    I don’t even know how to express my thoughts on this issue as I have a lot being that I have lost my dad, mum and sis. With my dad came depression… I was a teenager and it was hard, i was in boarding sch and went through guidance and counselling but in the end I had to be withdrawn however my uncle insisted I wasn’t depressed but something I knew for sure was do not tell me you know or understand how I feel, you don’t even if you’ve lost someone. When my sis died someone called and was asked how she died, when, where? A series of questions that at that moment because she had just died were unnecessary and I believe I must have been sacarstic and only then did the person had the common sense to pretend to show some form of sympathy. So yes if you have nothing to say or even if you do but it adds nothing to the bereaved, pls don’t make that call. With my mum I was basically like a zombie, zero emotions, numb but they were internalised and still are, sometimes I wake up crying, and yes now the tears are flowing. Grief never goes away, there’s no formula (IMO), you just learn to wake up each day and yes be your own kind of okay. And with each death is a different kind of pain, then do you want to add the external factors like society and extended family to it? Sometimes there is anger, hurt and betrayal that emanate from different things added to your grief…. let me just leave it here biko

    • Olamide Jasanya

      January 20, 2018 at 8:02 pm

      I am so lost for words but I assure you of my prayers. Loosing 1 loved one is a blow but 3. Wow! I pray God strengthens you.

  12. Hmmm

    January 18, 2018 at 3:26 am

    Excuse the punctuation pls and typo… asking not asked.

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