I had never truly understood why people visit the graves of their loved ones. I suppose it’s one of those things you never truly know understand until it happens to you. I had always had this idea drawn by my limited knowledge of the bible that once a loved one has been buried, there’s really no need to visit their burial place.
Why do we visit loved one’s graves? Is visiting the grave of a loved one an essential part of the grieving process?
I always thought about that part in the bible when an angel appeared to Mary on her way to Jesus’ tomb when he said, “why are you looking for the living among the dead,” I had also prematurely concluded that visiting the burial place of a loved one is grave worshipping.
The days and weeks that followed after the funeral were particularly challenging. My head believed the facts. However, my heart was either reluctant to accept or was slow at catching up with the fact that we had buried my wife, and there was no return, no miracle.
It also felt like I left her out in the wet and cold weather all by herself while I returned to the warmth of a home. My head believed that it wasn’t true, but my heart struggled.
I felt the constant push-pull from the tug of war between my head and my heart like two toddlers competing and squabbling for the same toy. Then there was a third tug, which was my spiritual understanding of what living with loss was meant to be like.
I believe in the afterlife. I believe that the next time I will see my loved one will be on the other side of eternity. I had a little hope in me that some miracle could still happen, that my buried loved one could somehow come back. This hope was like the bright ember light and smoke from a freshly blown-out candle.
Easter Sunday was on the 12th of April. I wondered if what the bible recalled about people who were resurrected still happens in the 21st century. I thought, “was it that only those who were buried after Jesus died that resurrected? How about those who had died and were yet to be buried?”
I had hoped that some miracle would happen on the fourth day after my loved one died, that we would experience what is known as the Lazarus effect; that didn’t happen. The Easter story replayed in my mind day and night since the day of the funeral. I wrestled and reasoned with the story over and over again.
I mean, we were still in the Easter period. The bit that caught my attention the most about the Easter story is that people who had been buried were raised back to life, and their relatives recognised them.
We had buried my loved one’s body before 3 pm on a cold and wet Thursday, the 30th of April 2020. I wondered if, by some miracle, she was going to resurrect three days later. I remembered Mary waking up early to visit Jesus’ grave as recalled in the bible. What did I do?
I woke up early on Sunday, and found out when the cemetery opened. I got dressed and hurriedly left the house like someone who was running late for an important appointment. I got into the car, shut the door and as I was about to start the engine, I saw the mud stains from our shoes on the carpet. The funeral day was wet and cold, and the carpet stain mud was from the graveside.
Then it hit me like a ton of bricks. I found myself inclined to cry as I held on to the steering wheel as if my life dependend on the tightness of my grips. I was already in the car, so depended I was determined to visit the graveside.
What was I hoping to see when I got to the graveside?
Well, I was hoping to see that the well-covered grave had been unburied, and the coffin opened and my loved one sitting on one of the benches with angelic smiles ready to share what had happened on the other side. I had a million questions that I was going to ask her.
I can’t remember how I got to the cemetery. I remembered turning at the second roundabout after our house, and the next thing I remember was that I was about to drive through the black gates of the cemetery on my own. I was driving on auto-pilot mode, lost in deep thoughts.
The drive between the cemetery entrance to the plot where my loved one is buried was a 3 minutes drive. A frightening sensation overcame me as I drove through the cemetery gates. I recollected Nollywood movies that I had seen about spooky things that happen at burial places. I also recalled some Hollywood movies about zombies crawling out of their graves. The short drive felt like forever.
All I wanted to see was the final resting place of my loved one despite these cold and distressing thoughts. I am glad that the steering wheels are designed to withstand strong grips and jolting. I gripped the steering wheel as tight as I could and occasionally jolted and hit the steering wheel as I finally approached the section of her burial place.
Time stood still.
I sat in the car for some minutes to compose myself before walking out. I don’t know why I tried to compose myself because tears flowed out of my eyes of their own accord as I saw the laid wreath and flowers from afar as I walked towards her final resting place.
The weird thing was that I came to the burial site because I wanted to see Chidinma. I had hoped that a miracle would have happened. As I stood by her resting place, it felt like I just realised that we had conducted the funeral.
I muttered several times, “so it’s true that we buried your body here.” I was overcome by an intense feeling of sorrow and convulsive gaps. I found myself welling up.
I was lucky to find a bench close by as I found my legs betrayed me as they began to buckle. I sat watching at a distance, and I emptied my tank of tears while muttering statements like, “so it’s true, so, indeed, I will no longer physically see you.”
In the midst of my sobbing, I found myself occasionally laughing as some fond memories we shared smuggled themselves in. Sometimes, I would say “not now” as if there was someone beside me trying to cheer me up. I wanted to be left alone. But my’ memory companion’ was persistent.
I decided to return home when I felt I had exhausted my tears and reminded of fond memories.
My return home was shorter. I felt lighter. When I got home, I ensured that my eyes were no longer red and walked into the house with a smile.
I tried sneaking in through the back door like a teenager who was sneaking back into the house in the early hours of the morning but was caught by my sister. When my sister asked me where I had been, what do you think I told her? I told her I went out. Of course, I knew she knew where I had been.
I don’t know why most people visit the burial place of their loved ones, but Chidinma’s final resting place became a place I went, especially during the times when I needed to cry but I couldn’t. I went there to remind myself that I am not making up my loved ones death. I went there to help my heart accept my new reality.
On one visit, I walked around reading the names and ages of other people buried on the burial ground. I realised that many lives are represented in each: marriages, divorces, losses, financial struggles, successes. I would stop to spend some time reflecting in front of those who were as young as she was.
I returned home with freshly recalled memories on most visits. I initially visited my loved one’s burial place regularly weekly, then often and now occasionally.
My thoughts of leaving my Chidinma out in the cold and alone were replaced over time with the thought that I am visiting a place where her body was laid to rest.
I would occasionally say, “I know your spirit and soul is not here, but I know your body was laid to rest here”, in anticipation that one day God will call forth the dead from their graves into the fullness of resurrected life.
I have concluded from my experience that visiting the burial places of our loved one is an essential part of the grieving process.
To Be Continued Next Wednesday…
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