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When A Loved One Dies, Does It Matter How They Died?

Does it matter how a loved one died? We often ask someone grieving about the cause of their loved one’s death, but why is this? What effect does asking about the cause of the death of a loved one have on the way you support a grieving friend or family member? 

What I intend to share with you in this post is perhaps among the many things I found intensely irritating, especially the early months following my spouse’s death.

I remember feeling irritated when someone I wouldn’t consider close asked how my spouse, Chidinma, died. I also remember earnestly wanting to defend her death and passionately explaining each time anyone incorrectly mentioned how she died.

I hope the story below helps you understand what I mean.

I had finished reading a book I started during the day at about 3 am and still couldn’t sleep, so I searched online for a new blog, with the belief that I would drift to sleep whilst reading.

I am selective about what I read and couldn’t decide what to read, so I found myself lost as I scrolled through several websites. While searching, I stumbled upon a video clip that had Chidinma’s name and picture on it.

An organisation called Nigerians in Diaspora Commission released the video on April 9th, 2020, caption,

“Today we remember our brothers and sisters in the diaspora who have died from #COVIDー19. You are never forgotten. May their souls rest in perfect peace.

Screen shot of NIDCOM's claim of 13 Nigerians who died of covid-19 in UK, which includes the false cause of Chidinma olajide's death. When A Loved One Dies, Does It Matter How They Died?

They released this video three days before I saw it. Boy, was I enraged when I saw Chidinma’s picture among the thirteen people they claimed had died of COVID? Of course, I was.

I remember shouting at my screen that she did not die of Covid!

The video profoundly irritated me. What did I do next? Well, I spent the next few hours till daybreak jumping between different websites as I read how other websites reported the same inaccurate information with their twist.

I used words and language I cannot repeat as I moved from site to site. Some websites wrote about how the Federal government or commission honoured the Nigerians who died.

Some websites went on Chidinma’s social media pages, copied some messages, and made up their interpretation of what she wrote.

I asked questions like how and when the Federal Government and Commission honoured Chidinma’s death and wondered how they came to this conclusion about her death.

I considered getting online to respond myself, little did I know about the impact of the misinformation about my spouse’s death on family or friends who also felt the need to correct the information.

They shared this information about how my wife died online ten days after she died.

What do you think happened next?

The number of phone calls and text messages I received increased, as some covertly or directly asked me, “is it true that Chidinma died of COVID?”

Three days after I saw the video, one of our close friends visited, and I noticed that something wasn’t particularly right in the way she spoke. When you have known someone for a long time, you know when something isn’t right.

I watched as she struggled to share what they had discovered online because they were unsure how I would react. She eventually hurriedly said, “there’s this information online that Chidinma died of COVID, and we have been contacting as many sites as we can to pull it down.”

At this point, I had some relief because I thought I was overreacting to information that I had read online about my wife’s death. Some say that how a loved one dies doesn’t matter, that the critical thing to focus on is grieving the death of the loved one.

I tried to psych myself as best as I could that the information I read about covid being the cause of Chidinma’ death wasn’t important, that we (family and close friends) know what the cause of Chidinma’s death was.

Did that work for me? No. Psyching myself didn’t work. The more I tried to suppress the thought, the more it lingered on like a foul fart. The more it irritated me.

This ongoing internal conflict led me to read into deeper meaning each time anyone covertly or directly asked me about how my spouse died. It made me feel like dying of COVID was a stigma and a shameful thing.

I asked myself questions like, is it a bad and terrible thing if someone died of COVID? What was their actual intent behind asking how my loved one died? Would it affect how they help? Would this mean that they wouldn’t relate to us any longer? Etc.

Why do people ask about the cause of death?

A few months ago, I spoke with a friend who had experienced a close family member’s death. The conversation went like this “……… I have just been told that XxXx died two days ago.”

I empathised and found myself about to ask, “……… have they told you what he died from?”

I had to caution myself. For a moment, I asked myself, “Tolu……… why do you want to know the cause of her loved ones’ death? Will it change the fact the Xxxxx is grieving or how you can help?”

Photo closeup of serious african american man working with laptop and thinking in living room

At this point, it dawned on me that perhaps those who asked me in the early months about Chidinma’s death impulsively asked, as it appears to be the following flow of question to ask when some tell you about the death of their loved one.

I suppose what we can learn to do in those moments is to capture our thoughts and remember that it’s not about us in that very moment. It’s about the person grieving.

Recommended reading

One specific thing is that death is inevitable for everyone. None of us is going to make it out here alive.

But the knowledge of this does not make losing a loved one any easier. The death of a loved one is often the worst experience we can ever encounter. But more painful sometimes is how the person died and how those near and far report it.

Whether we saw the death of our loved one coming or whether it took us by surprise, the death of a loved one leaves us in agonising pain. Various emotions accompany this pain, none of which is easy to bear.

More often than not, these emotions of grief are influenced by how that person died. The cause and manner of their death most times determine the tides upon which our emotions will swim.

Why is cause of death important?

The truth is that how a person dies affects our emotional reaction to a death. For example, the way a bereaved person will grieve the loss of his spouse, who died after a brief illness differs from the emotional reaction of another bereaved person whose spouse committed suicide.

I couldn’t let go of the thoughts in my head, so I researched understanding grief, loss, and bereavement and wanted to know if there are other causes of death and how this affects their grief journey.

One article I found interesting to read was a body of research done in 2017 on what do people die from that revealed that the leading cause of death is death from cardiovascular diseases (CVD). These are deaths caused by heart attacks, heart failures, hypertension, etc.

It turns out that as our world develops, so also do causes of death change.

It shocked me when I found that cancer is the number two cause of death, with over nine million people losing their lives every year. Other leading death causes include auto accidents, drug abuse, alcoholism, homicide, suicide, cause unknown, in the line of duty, malpractice, etc.

The death of a loved one automatically triggers the grieving process. The way and manner a loved one died can heighten the grief experience and prolong the normal grief to complicated grief.

The bereaved person can easily slip into complicated grief, especially when the cause of death is severe, sudden, the body can’t be found or gruesome.

sad black ethnic millenial lady sat in a hospital corrider with her chin resting on her fist. When A Loved One Dies, Does It Matter How They Died?

May I urge you to be a little restrained when you feel the need to ask someone grieving about the cause of their loved one’s death?

The bereaved person will volunteer the cause of death if they want you to know, and it’s also okay if they don’t share the cause of death with you.

What do you do if they tell you about the cause of death?

Some people go into shock mode and remain awkwardly silent, some exclaim and begin to lament, some people either go into advice or preaching mode.

For example, when I say Chidinma was first admitted in early March last year because of pneumonia. Some people proceed to tell reasons why they don’t drink anything cold or have ice etc. Which I must say is entirely unhelpful.

I’d love to share your coping with grief story too.

I intend to expand the blog and resources on the website to include stories of other people who have lost a loved one, not limited to losing a spouse. I’d love to hear about how you handled grief. Would you please let me know if you would like to share your story.

I am also open to having anyone anonymised if that’s your preferred option. Complete the contact us form with the text “I would like to share my story.”

 

To Be Continued Next Wednesday…

I would like to hear from you. Would you please share your thoughts, comments and reflections below. Thank you.

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