When I was younger I dreamt a lot. Those dreams I later came to understand where nightmares because they involved mostly negatives and nothing could be more negative than death (though many would like to disprove this) and I found myself dead a lot in those dreams. There was never a reason why I died, only funerals and friends and family passing over my “prepared” livid body in a casket with rigor mortis already set in, and until as recent as a decade ago, I had these dreams, up from the time I was a little boy and able to reason to some extent.
At the point at which I started having these dreams, my concept of death was vague and largely undeveloped. I hadn’t even attended funerals personally, with my experiences drawn from events I witnessed from a distance or on TV. It was even after the death of the Yòrùbá icon and statesman, Chief Obafemi Awolowo in 1987 who died and was laid in state in a glass coffin (the picture of which I saw in a Sunday Times Newspaper frontpage), that I began dreaming about myself as well so draped, though I’d heard about something similar done with Russian revolutionary, Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov aka Lenin who had been embalmed and presented for public display over a long period of time.
The interesting thing about those dreams of mine, was that much later I came to be one of those passing over the coffin containing me to pay my last respects to my dead self, and because the people around appeared not irked by my presence I fathomed that either of two things must’ve happened, it could’ve been my ghost through whose eyes I was seeing my corpse, or my face was that of another as I can recall being prodded by one behind me (who apparently didn’t recognize me) not to linger. The varying heights, I had at the various times (as I grew older) I had these dreams kinda posited that the me looking at the me-corpse was about the same age, as the guests at the funerals also changed over the years to include the people I had come to know for any of the particular times I dreamt of such.
It felt good in an awkward way to have people come pay respect to my dead self in those dreams because I thought it meant I must’ve affected the lives of those who were there while I supposedly lived. In the early days it didn’t even occur to me that people could die with their bodies incomplete, or not even found because death to me, as with of the old I heard around me occurred while they slept at night either in their homes or in the hospital.
Thankfully, I never dreamt of myself laid up in pieces, without a body part, burnt beyond recognition or in the many dastardly ways corpses appear these days as a result of many of the ills that plague today’s society, besides the effects of nature’s wrath, even though the dreams persisted while I had come to have knowledge of other ways bodies can present at death, no thanks to medical school.
What this did to me, was a total disconnect from the fear concept that death represented for others, it even appeared that I longed for it at some point in my life till I was tempered by the Igbò appellation of death which is rendered, “OGBÚ ONYE ÙBÒSÌ NDU NÀ TÓYA”, meaning “THE ONE WHO STRIKES WHEN LIFE IS AT ITS SWEETEST”, the reminder of which ends up often moderating my excitement and expression of joy when something good happens to me, with the story of the Biblical Rich Man in Luke chapter 12 verse 19, whose life was required of him the same night he decided to rest and make merry after achieving all that he ever wanted, always fresh on my mind. My seeming insensitivity to the sensitive issue of death has seen me come to verbal fisticuffs with acquaintances who feel I am placing myself in danger of the Grim Reaper for not showing enough respect, though that assertion is as far from the truth as earth is from Pluto. I have used my ability to easily subscribe to death to my advantage too especially with my friends who are mostly shocked at how I could do that coming from a society where it is taboo to be flippant about death, as for instance once I was into a business deal with a friend and I told him that besides the friendship we shared it was pertinent that we drafted an agreement (which he initially opposed as it may mean that we lacked trust for each other) as I could die today and my people could deny that we had a business dealing thereby reaping the benefits thereof to his own disadvantage seeing that I was the one handling the business and he was major financier only, he looked please that I made the reference to myself and not him in acquiescing to my proposal.
Another friend said of me, that those dreams I had were related with something that may have happened in the life I led before this present one, and it sounded quite funny considering that I had the dreams continuously over a long period of time and each time I “died” it was at the age I was at the time I had the dreams, making me wonder if I had lived that many times to have died at such different times in one year, talk more over the years while those dreams lasted. If I had thus come before, it will be interesting to note that the same protocol for burial was followed, at least to some extent, on all the occasions, and I must’ve been coming to the same place with same culture seeing that at no time was the dead-me considered for cremation or any other method of disposal of my corpse.
Death and the consciousness of my mortality has served at many times as inspiration rather than a source of worry and depression for me. It reminds me that I do not have much time left, queerly I am more open to attending funerals than being at celebratory gatherings and functions, and that isn’t because I am a necrophiliac but because my interest is more into how people view the one that is deceased over any interest or obsession relating to what the deceased’s face looks like, or any other fetish related to and with the dead and/or death. Many times when I attend these funerals, I only join the “viewing” procession when it is absolutely necessary, especially when a relative is involved, and it may be construed as disrespectful were I to avail myself otherwise.
Cultures like that of the Igbo are wont to celebrate death over life, and you can see it in how birth is generally downplayed over death when it comes to celebrations. In fact, most gatherings of Igbos whether on the homeland or in diaspora within and outside of Nigeria appear to have elaborate plans regarding giving the dead a befitting burial and a bit of som’n-som’n for those left behind. This aspect of the need for the “meetings” is so important that even if one donates millions to advancement of causes supported by the groups but fails to pay the stipend that’s collected for “condolence visits” the one’s family is totally abandoned when he dies, or the family will pay a hefty fine, besides payment of the total amount of fees for “condolence” he had defaulted on before passing to the great beyond.
I have always been fascinated by people who are/were bold enough to speak about how and what they looked forward to in dying and even thereafter. Rappers Tupac Shakur and Notorious B.I.G are at the top of my list in this. Tupac didn’t even see himself living beyond a certain age, and he ended up predicting so correctly not only when it will be, but even how, while Big Poppa rapped about what he expected on his death, electing to go to hell over heaven. Tupac favoured the ghetto part of heaven, should he peradventure be considered worthy of it. Maybe knowing that there will be an afterlife makes death more acceptable especially if the afterlife affords promise of bliss, much more than anyone on earth could comprehend (an interesting yet extreme motivation for many a suicide bomber as found with Jihadist and Islamic Fundamentalists) or just an escape from this existence for people who commit suicide supposing that death must be easy, if life is hard (as 50cents proclaimed in his widely acclaimed “Many Men”). Sadly enough we will never know what happens after approaching the so called WHITE LIGHT that leads to the GREAT BEYOND, as no one has been there and back to render a believable account about it, and that is me rejecting all the mumbo jumbo and cacophony that’s been the disjointed and unbelievable tales by those who claim to have been to heaven and back in times past as now, while there are just so much loopholes in the doctrine of reincarnation that cancels it for me altogether.
Woody Allen spoke the minds of many when he said, “I am not afraid of death, I just don’t want to be there when it happens.” Beyond that it will really please me if like my dreams I could waltz around for a while (dunno what amount of time could be considered reasonable enough for this, because “end” is relative, and years after ones roamings may still be inadequate for the wandering soul to find closure) after my demise like in the movie “Ghost” and “Ghost Dad” to see what became of those I might have left behind. I know that some beliefs claim that such wanderings of the spirit after death is the worst thing that could happen to the dead, but I should find the likelihood of it very intriguing, far beyond anything that my dreams of yore could ever avail me. I suppose also that it would be difficult for the “wanderer” to only watch without the ability to interfere in proceedings even if it is just within the realm of protection for ones’ loved ones. Even as I write this I relate my position to that of the leper, which according to an Igbo adage, extends his arm for an embrace after you had offered a hand for a handshake, because certainly, if the above abilities were granted to the “wanderer” he would soon begin yearning for the power to revenge and punish those responsible for his/her killers (if the one was killed intentionally or not) or go after known of even hidden enemies who though played no part in the death of the deceased, made life miserable for same while s/he lived, and you can only imagine what next the ghost may want afterwards; become a superhero? Even that part has been filled by a movie, the name of which skips me now.
Funny how I look forward to “ghosting” about when I die, yet don’t believe in it today, having never encountered one, but if I had my way I’d give anything to see my funeral. I would love to see those who managed genuine tears for the loss I would’ve created in their lives by my death, as much as I would love to see those shedding crocodile tears. Of the number of friends, even of enemies that made out time to come pay the proverbial “last respects”. It would be compelling to know how my wife and kids and the rest of my family and friends will react when knowledge of the secret life I must have led comes out to the open, as usual with the revelations that the passage of a secretly controversial loved one heralds.
If there is one thing I would like to dictate at my wake keep, it will be the kind of music that should be played on that occasion, as well as others outlined to ease my passing in the minds of loved ones, but that I guess will be taken care of in a will (rather a document containing my final wishes, which is to be read immediately after my death, as opposed to my last will and testament, as I’ve now been corrected by Barbara Kay below, in the “comments” section), and if peradventure I am fortunate to die and my body isn’t lost to any tragic ending, I wouldn’t like to be cremated, or left for days on end in the morgue, but would fancy a burial within hours though not as fast as with Islamic Burials, in case by some stroke of “miracle” I wake!