In this post about my wife’s funeral, I describe my feelings and recount how I coped with one of the most difficult days I have ever experienced, the day my loved one’s body was laid to rest. I also highlight what the funeral in the time of coronavirus feels like.
I have found some topics easier to write, and some have proven challenging. Almost like when each strand of hair on your head is being plucked with a blunt tweezer.
I had planned to write about the funeral of my spouse in two posts. I had earlier written about Planning the Funeral of My Wife During Covid-19 and intended that the second post would be about the funeral day to follow directly.
You may wonder, “Tolu, must you share about the funeral of your wife, especially because you’re finding it difficult?”
I enjoyed playing a lot as a child. I particularly enjoyed playing games like “Boju, Boju,” or playing football with “ka ka not felele.”
We know your age, if you know you smiled when you read “ka ka or felele”
We played football frequently with our bare feet on the uneven red soiled ground. Did you ask about football boots and green Astroturf? I laugh in Pidgin “Ha ha ha ha”
To avoid getting caught or our school uniforms, particularly the shoes, getting dirty, we mainly played with our bare feet. If you got caught, you would hear “whin!” Getting caught playing football was a punishable offence.
While playing football, someone would occasionally rough tackle you, which would leave you bruised or scrape scars on you. You would also attempt to hit this hard leathered ball “ka ka,” only to miss and, with the full swing, hit a rock! Ouch!
We mastered how to hide the injuries, particularly from aunties, uncles who were ready to punish you for playing football.
One thing I did a lot growing up was checking if a wound I had suffered was healing. “Dr. Tolu ” would check by either poking the injured place or, other times, picking the mass on the scar to see if it would bleed.
If the place was still tender, then I knew I hadn’t healed. Likewise, the intensity of the pain I feel when I examined it would show progress towards healing.
I found that each time I sat to write about the funeral day; it proved difficult. I would stare blankly at my computer screen for 30 minutes without being able to write more than a paragraph.
Writing this post is my fourth attempt, and I can honestly say that even after writing, I was conflicted about whether or not to share.
I went back and forth about it as I was particularly triggered by the recent event of the sudden death of Oluwadamilare Adeboye, fondly known as PD, a missional champion in the Redeemed Christian Church of God. Like many, I found the news shocking and sad.
Although I never knew him personally, the tributes and words I heard about him in the past two days certainly highlighted what an incredible person he was. His death has triggered what is known as communal or collective grief.
As I sat and I watched, I felt like I was processing through two lenses, my own experience and the funeral I was watching. I began to analyse my decision on whether to post. I was tempted to postpone but then I remembered that the aim of these posts are to help.
So, I am determined to share this part of the journey with you. So that those grieving or triggered may find some solace in the many emotions that come on this kind of day and through sharing our stories we are able to heal and grow.
I’ll open the floor and share mine, hoping it offers succour and helps in some way. Please feel free to share yours, let me know if there are any similarities or anything that resonates. I really want to hear.
My spouse, Chidinma, died as the UK went into the first lockdown. All industries, including the funeral directors, were reacting to the impact of the pandemic, and their guidelines changed weekly.
One of the significant changes that affected the funeral was the limitation on the number, the age of people who could attend the funeral and the type of funeral ceremony.
The funeral home informed us we couldn’t conduct a full burial service. We could only hold a committal service. The committal service usually takes place at our loved one’s graveside and is accompanied by prayers and readings. The coffin is then lowered into the ground.
I am grateful for the support of friends, family and church who held me during this period as we completed the program for the day.
Now that we had confirmed the funeral arrangement, there were further questions that poured into my heart. Such as how do we select the 20 people who would attend the funeral service?
What can we do to help those who cannot attend feel intimately present and involved on the funeral day? Should and would the children attend the funeral service? Should there be a dress code for the funeral?
I had spoken with a few people to understand their opinions and broadly read on this too. I will share this in another post.
I could not decide whether our children will attend the funeral until a couple of days before the funeral. In the end, I decided our children will not attend the funeral and made provision for them to be looked after while we were away.
The week leading up to the funeral was exceptionally challenging. My emotions were all over the place, like when a dog bites a toy and shakes it violently.
Sleep had gone AWOL. My appetite was on an extended holiday. I didn’t understand and still struggle to describe my emotional, mental and physical well being fully.
The pangs of anxiety, the intensity of fear exponentially increased as we drew nearer to the funeral day. My heartbeat drowned every other sound.
I finally picked what I was going to wear on the day before the funeral. Before this, my friends and family had asked me almost “a thousand times” about what I was going to wear, but truth be told, I couldn’t care less about that.
It wasn’t like I didn’t know that my wife, Chidinma, had died, but it dawned on me that she would no longer be here to make life decisions with me. My heart overflowed with mourning at the thought that she’ll no longer be here for the big and small decisions.
The same person I wanted to talk to desperately about my thoughts and feelings is no longer here. My mind flashed back to our wedding ceremony preparations. Chidinma always picked what I wore on important occasions. I am choosing what to wear to this significant occasion, only that this occasion was my wife’s funeral.
The intrusive thoughts that we were to commit her body to the earth in a few hours overwhelmed me. My mind became foggy with unrelenting aches. I broke down into silent shrieks as I picked what to wear.
I lay on the bed with both hands cupped behind my head, staring at the chandelier hanging on the ceiling till daybreak and eventually hearing movements in the house.
The funeral was scheduled to begin at 2 pm. The 30th of April 2020 was the longest day of my life as each minute crawled by.
I wished I would wake up and find her lying beside me to tell her about the most horrific dream that I had about her death. The more I wished, the slower the time, the more people, friends and family arrived.
I hid upstairs in our bedroom, earnestly wishing and praying that what we are about to do isn’t true. I would ask myself, “is it true that we are committing Chidinma’s body to the earth today? Is this how it’s all going to end?”
I would hear a knock on the door. Each eye I saw was teary, but they put on a brave face to not make me cry. Almost like they were reserving their tears for their private closet. I reciprocated by not shedding tears in their presence so that I don’t upset them further.
Occasionally, I would escape to the toilet only to flush the toilet and run the tap. So that I could release some explosive pent-up emotions by releasing quiet sobs as I stood burying my head into the washbasin.
In this deep sorrow, there were moments of humour. Anisa and Spencer (Anisa’s favourite teddy bear) escaped to see me in the morning, and Spencer was in his swimwear. Our Pastor from Coventry gave a surprise visit. Josiah was drooling over me.
I don’t think I was in denial that we were going to commit Chidinma’s body to the earth in a few hours, but I think I was in great shock. Like a broken record, my mind played on an endless loop today, the 30th of April 2020.
During this fierce mind battle, my brother knocks on the door and comes into the room looking a little frazzled with his deep voice. He said, “Tee-man, the funeral directors are here; they are downstairs. They have arrived 30 mins earlier than planned; looks like we have to go now.“
I couldn’t breathe after I heard the words “….we have to go now.” My stomach churned. My heart raced like someone who had been sprinting, and, I felt like someone pierced my heart with a thin, long and sharp object.
I asked for five minutes to gather myself. Eventually, I began making my way down the stairs. I felt my legs would buckle any minute, and I wasn’t sure if they could still support my body. Each step drew strength where there was none.,
When I got downstairs, I saw many sorrow-filled eyes staring back at me. They, like me, were unsure which words to say. Their eyes said it all.
I felt like a zombie.
I went out of the door and saw the funeral director waiting to walk me to their hearse parked opposite our house.
I was not sure that my legs would fail as I felt wobbly with each step that I took. The first thing I saw on the window were the flowers split out in her name “CHIDINMA.”
As I walked to the hearse, the thought that filled my mind was, “God, no, please wake me up. Let this be a dream. Please, please.”
I asked the funeral director if it was okay to touch the coffin as I approached their vehicle. He nodded okay.
Seeing and touching the coffin re-shattered what was left of my broken heart. I could no longer hold back the tears that freely escaped from my eyes. My voice betrayed me with the loud sobs that escaped.
My brother held me to the car while we waited to ensure that everyone was ready to go.
It had been sunny in the morning. It rained as we were about to leave for the burial site. The temperature had significantly dropped by the time we got to the burial site.
I couldn’t believe that we were truly committing Chidinma’s body to the earth. As soon as we got to the burial site, I left everyone behind me, walked to the freshly dugged grave. I don’t know why I did it. I walked around a bit and then returned to where we were assembling.
Before the committal service could start, the funeral directors and the pallbearers decided it was best to lower the coffin into the ground because of the rain.
Funeral: commital service.
The committal service had started. I occasionally distracted myself, looked around and mostly looked into the coffin sitting in the grave. Tears freely flowed of their own accord.
I was in awe as I observed our close friends serve with their skills whilst also coming to terms that their friend turned sisters’ body was being buried.
I watched Seye from Samon films fight back the tears as he captured the video recording of the day. I also saw Aghudum from Wilok pictures struggling with taking pictures.
The weather was wet and freezing. I wondered how Gideon remained stoic to ensure that he had steady hands so that those joining via zoom could take part. I also wondered how our other friends who were behind the scene were doing.
I saw two friends (Kemi and Kemi) turned sisters to Chidinma sing their hearts out in deep sorrow. I heard the random burst of sobs and sniffs during the service. I would let out occasional long and deep sighs.
My brother was standing beside me, ensuring that I am okay. Steven standing beside me reminded me of our wedding ceremonies. He was my best man at our wedding, and now he’s standing beside me as best man at Chidinma’s funeral.
While writing this post, I remember Prince Philips’ funeral, held on the 17th of April 2021. As I watched, one thing that struck me was the heartbreaking image showing a lonely-looking Queen sitting by herself while she said farewell to the Duke of Edinburgh, her husband of 73 years.
While anyone else might have had a supportive hand to hold, the Queen had none and no one standing beside her. The pain of burying a loved one is universal across age, class and race.
I had completely lost it during the service and was crazily wailing in my mind, although I looked calm and collected from the outside. Occasionally, Steven would squeeze my shoulder and say, “Tee, let it out, man. It’s okay, let it out“, and I would respond in my mind, “if I let it out, I will scatter this place.”
I was zoning in and out of the service. There were moments when I simply wanted to scream. I was already screaming as loud as I could. The screams were in my head. No one else could hear them.
I felt my attention drawn back when Pastor Romeo, who conducted the service during his short words of encouragement, began sharing the story of Lazarus from John 11.
This chapter is one of Chidinma and I’s favourite scripture; we have had discussions and rehearsed what our reactions would have been if we were there.
He had my full attention as he paraphrased from verse 34 of that chapter.
I was closely following what he said, “Jesus asked where have you laid him.” I responded in my mind, “Chidinma is here; We have laid her in this grave“ He carried to so say that Jesus wept”, and I was like, “okay, we’re weeping.”
I zoned out again and was caught up in my thoughts.
I thought, is a miracle about to happen here? Is he about to do what Jesus did when He was at Lazarus’s tomb? Was he about to look up and say like Jesus, “Father, I thank you you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me.“
Was he about to like Jesus called in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” call Chidinma back? I fixated my eyes on the coffin that was already lowered into the grave.
The following line of the verse reads that Jesus lifted his voice and shouted, “Lazarus, come forth!” There was a momentary pause, and Pastor Romeo continued his preaching.
Meanwhile, I had zoned out again and was staring at the coffin. I heard what sounded like a knock or rumbling from inside or around the coffin. I continued to look and listened eagerly if what I heard was indeed true.
I heard the same sound again. The funeral director, who held an umbrella for the officiating minister, stylishly leaned over to see what was happening inside the grave.
My mind had travelled and explored the possibilities that Chidinma may come back to life. I had thought about where all the guests would sleep if that happened.
I continued to listen and thought if I heard another sound from inside the grave, I would ask the funeral directors to open the coffin. Sadly, I didn’t hear any sound again.
The hardest part of the service for me was when I was to pour soil over the coffin that says “dust to dust, ashes to ashes.”
This isn’t the first funeral I have attended. I have taken part in a minimum of four funerals of close family members, including my older brother. This one was different.
I couldn’t breathe when I was invited to go first. It also felt like my legs were protesting, and didn’t want to move. I felt a rush of cold shivers run through my entire body.
When we said on our wedding day that “till death do us part”, I didn’t think it would happen this way, too soon. I felt my head was going to explode as multiple thoughts competed for my attention. I felt my body would fall apart as many emotions competed to be felt.
I felt that they might have as well prepared a second grave. It felt like nothing mattered anymore, and life had lost its purpose and meaning. I was unsure of how I could survive another day. We buried a part of me with Chidinma on the 30th of April 2020.
That afternoon at the graveside was difficult, as I could hear choruses of sobs around me. Chidinma was loved by many and gone too soon.
The funeral director invited the digger to cover the grave. Interestingly, I found observing the operator return the soil to cover the grave somewhat therapeutic. There was something about the way he was doing it that warmed and soothed my heart.
When the operator had finished, I went over to thank him for being patient and gentle in the way he returned the earth to cover my wife’s grave.
We returned home, and by early evening, the mood in the house had lightened up a bit. We reminisced about Chidinma and shared memories.
The house was now unconsciously divided into three distinct groups, but having the same conversation about moments shared with Chidinma.
We reflected on the day and had short bursts of laughter. We made fun of ourselves, thought about how Chidinma would have responded to some things that had happened earlier in the day.
I shared about the noise and movement from inside the grave during the service. It relieved me when Steven mentioned he heard the same thing too. We shared and laughed at how each of us would have responded if what I thought was true. The sound we heard turned out to be the shift in the soil.
One key lesson I learnt about today is that deep grief and little laughter can co-exist. Healing of the heart doesn’t have to start with a large fire; it can with a spark. This spark, in my case, is unexpected humour.
Eventually, everyone went to their homes. It felt like I had completed or delivered a project.
The questions that plagued my mind that night, days and weeks after include:
Does funeral bring closure to grief? Now that there is no event to distract my grief, that the funeral is done; what is next? What happens to my grief? Is this the end of the evasive emotions of grief? What does life after loss look like?
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.
- Boju Boju: Yoruba equivalent of hide and seek
- Ka ka: is a tough material used in making football.