I imagine that every young couple on a new parenting journey will primarily think about planning for the good things that life has to offer such as holidays, finances, family, house move.
Planning maybe three to five years into the future, but planning the funeral of a spouse in my experience has also been one of the most difficult undertakings that one can do.
I never imagined that a day would come so soon that I will plan life without Chidinma. What I never thought would happen too early in life was that I will plan her funeral while in our 30s.
I deflect to share this aspect of my grief journey, as I catch myself pole vaulting this topic each time I sit to write because of how overwhelmed I was with conflicting emotions. I struggled to put ink on paper.
I suspect that sharing my honest experience with grief and loss without sharing about the funeral is imbalanced.
Subsequently, I will share my experience of Chidinma’s funeral in three parts. Pre-funeral, the funeral day and post-funeral day.
So, what I intend to do with this post is to take you on a journey of what planning the funeral of my wife felt like during the first covid-19 lockdown in the UK.
Chidinma died on the 30th March 2020, UK had just announced the national lockdown, which made a lot of things strange, difficult, and different.
Everyone was trying to figure out what this meant, and we were trying to figure out what it meant for us who were experiencing the greatest pain of our lives.
Each time I thought about or someone mentioned the word funeral, it felt like multiple paper cuts into the cells of my skin with the nerves around the cut being exposed to hot chilli pepper.
It was unbearable.
I was too terrified about decisions relating to the funeral. I desperately wanted to avoid any decision about the funeral.
I found temporary relief each time when I mentally avoided thinking about the funeral. I could liken the feeling of temporary relief to using a green banana leaf to hide from the torrential rain of grief.
I couldn’t have survived this process, let alone carry this burden alone without the support network of friends, family, and faith circles who took on the heavy lifting of administrative and financial responsibilities.
I remember attempting to read up on what needs to be done when someone dies and found myself stuck reading the same first paragraph repeatedly.
I remember sharing with one of our friends who I had delegated to lead on registering the death and funeral arrangement about what I read if the death of a loved one isn't registered within 5 days.
She assured me we were exempt and unable to register the death because the coroner was still investigating the death.
Related Article: What Needs to be Done When Someone Dies?
I found any conversation about the funeral difficult. Lockdown was in full swing and the thought of our families not being present at the funeral was demoralising.
By now you know I ask a lot of questions and you’re wondering, Tolu, what were some questions on your mind?
I will share some questions with you.
If you’re familiar with the Nigerian culture, you know that Chidinma and I are from different cultures. She’s from the East and I am from the South-West.
I know that in Yoruba culture, parents don’t attend the funeral of their children. I began to wonder, “are there protocols and customs that I must follow?”
I found out that the Igbo funeral culture was different, and parents can attend such funerals. That leads to the next set of questions.
Do I postpone the funeral to a later date when lockdown has been lifted, say September when families can fly into the UK considering that most of them live outside the UK?
We weighed the possibilities of what if the lockdown extends beyond September? This option was off the table because the new regulation didn’t allow embalming.
Whilst these thoughts and conversations were ongoing, being the chief mourner meant that there were decisions that only I could make and I had to make them.
I am not afraid of making decisions, but these decisions about the burial of my wife were tormenting.
I found the weight of the decisions dense and exhausting. The pace at which decisions needed to be made was too fast, too furious for me.
Before I knew what was happening, I had to decide on the funeral home, especially because the allotted time given by the hospital to make the transfer was also fast approaching.
There were several factors that I had to put into consideration. Such as how can families who are far from paying their last respect?
I settled for a funeral home that allowed viewing of the body before the funeral, hoping we can, through technology, arrange a private viewing for this to happen.
I found anything that had to do with decision-making challenging. I mean, who thinks about a pre-answered funeral question before they happen, especially when you’re in your 30s?
You are wondering what other decisions did I have to make?
I remember our friend asking me a genuine question, “Tolu, where would you like Chidinma to be buried?”
I found two things wrong with the question.
The thought that we’re having a conversation about my Chidinma and funeral repeatedly felt like being stabbed in the chest, and the second is that how would I know where to bury her.
I don’t know where I want her to be buried.
Several thoughts and questions about where to lay Chidinma’s body raced through my mind.
How long are we (the children and I) likely to remain in the same county where we currently live? Are we going to move to a new house soon? How do you decide where to bury your loved one?
Could she be buried in a church cemetery? How do I decide on which of the two public cemeteries nearest to us as a place to lay her body? Are there other alternatives? Could she be buried in a Jewish cemetery? Etc.
We were already holding a conversation on how we were going to gate-crash her parents’ trip to Israel in the same year, and I thought perhaps a Jewish cemetery or church cemetery would be a befitting place.
My hope was dashed when I realised we didn’t meet any of the criteria for the options I wished for.
I remember making several rounds of telephone calls to all the churches in the environs of our village to enquire about the possibility of burying my wife in their Cemetery.
I found those conversations draining, especially as I narrated about the loss of my spouse, about my desire, and as each clergy courteously explained why it was not possible.
I observed the bravery of our friends and families as I saw how braced they were each time they were to broach any conversations about the funeral with me.
I could hear it in their voices and in the way, their body appeared tense.
They had allowed me to see the body of my wife before they took her to the hospital’s chapel of rest, but other family members hadn’t the chance.
Now that we had chosen a funeral home that would allow viewing of Chidinma’s body, the next mission was how do we make the viewing available.
We concluded that an interactive 360-degree type experience that allowed each remote individual full control of what they saw as if they were in the room physically would be ideal.
He explained how it was going to work and showed a demonstration through one portal. We made arrangements towards organising a 360-degree.
I had informed families about this alternative plan. It sat well with everyone. What we were yet to agree on was the viewing day.
Some friends had volunteered to accessorise Chidinma’s body, and we had agreed who would select the outfit.
Preparation for the viewing was in full swing.
Could you imagine the absolute shock and disappointment to everyone when I was informed that we could no longer view Chidinma’s lie in the state because of new regulations?
We felt robbed of the opportunity to pay our last respect. Every other suggestion offered was outrightly rejected.
During these intense periods mixed with disappointment, I also saw the online spread of information that Chidinma had died from Covid-19.
This made me visibly angry. I thought for the love of God! Where did they get this information from?
I didn’t know that some friends had already approached various quarters to try to squelch the spread.
I observed one of our friends who visited the following day looking quite uncomfortable as she wasn’t sure how to break this news to me and advise me not to respond to any site concerning this matter.
This fake news felt like we were being kicked when we were already on the floor.
Next on the key decision was choosing the coffin.
My brother is naturally chilled about things, I haven’t seen him frazzled before. No one knew how I was going to react. I didn’t know how I was going to react, especially with these goal posts that kept shifting.
I remember one afternoon, he walked into my dark grieving den, summoned courage as I watched him uncomfortably say in his deep slightly trembling voice that
“Tee-man we need to choose the coffin, an email has been sent and we need to get back to them”
Those words felt like a large stone had been tied round my neck whilst being thrown into a freezing river.
I became lightheaded and as gently as I could respond said “I will let you guys know by tomorrow evening”
With a heavy heart, I opened the email as I browsed through the catalogue of coffins.
Each picture I saw sucked the life out of me.
That night was rough. I will share in a different post the journey of that night. It’s not a night I can ever forget.
Death sucks. Period! It is rudely rude!
I feel that planning a funeral of a loved one is a communal responsibility. I knew I wasn’t the only one affected by the death of my spouse. Families and friends are also grieving.
Where I can, I allowed everyone who mattered to us to contribute in ways that they thought best to honour Chidinma.