Dying In America

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It has been said that I have a fascination for death, dying and darkness. The three books I currently have published are titled Darksongs, The Living & The Dead, and Darkvisions. I may have read too much of Edgar Allan Poe, Kurt Vonnegurt and Stephen King. Yet, I love to laugh at/with life and all the absurdities that swamp our daily existence. Are you confused yet?

About ten years ago, I did an article captioned How Would You Like to Die? Written for the now defunct Crown Prince men’s magazine published by Muyiwa Adetiba, the piece humorously explored the many pathways that lead into the cold embrace of the grave, a theme I have revisited in many a short story and poem. What you’re about to read is not a poor clone of that piece. Indeed, what you’re about to read could also be titled Where Would You Like to Die?

Okay, Death is still not and will probably never qualify as dinner table conversation, unless it is served by the unbiased hands of fate. We know we’re all going to be caught in its cruel trap someday (not too soon please!). It is inevitable, however.

It used to be in the past when Nigerians passed on abroad, the body got flown back home for a “proper” burial. The economics of the times have made that difficult for most families now. It isn’t cost effective to die away from home. Or does it have something to do with who will mourn us? After all, if you pass so far away from your children and family, who will cry beside your grave?

But dying here in America is against all that “here” represents for many immigrants. We didn’t come here to die. We came to live! Many of us were dying elsewhere, physically, creatively, professionally… That’s what really prompted our decision to risk it all by coming to the US. Dying has no place in that plan. It never was a clause in the contract. We are all here to live and sow and swoop on the spoils. I think at some deeper level, that’s really why we don’t want to die out here in the Diaspora.

Someone observed people interviewed on US television use the word “shocking” and “tragedy” so much when they react to death and disaster. That’s exactly how to capture the very idea of the foreigner passing in America. The Yoruba people say when you travel all over the world, you eventually return home. That’s why when your family sends you off to the US, they only visualize you going there to take the land. They don’t anticipate you lending the bucket a god-almighty kick.

Ask me where I would like to die and I would quickly say NOT IN AMERICA. I mean a miniscule percentage of what it takes to ship my body home is what it will take to give me a quiet burial in Nigeria. Yeah, I do mean quiet. And I don’t want to die alone. Nobody wants to die alone. Dying in America could be tantamount to dying alone. You may have your wife around. You may have your children and some of the friends you have made in America by your bedside, but you don’t have your country anywhere nearby. That, for the kind of animal that I am, would be dying alone. It will be just as bad as dying without family or friends.

Statistically, most American deaths do not occur at home. People die in hospitals and other institutions. That’s why we have them…not just to save lives. They also take them! Yet, the same statistics reveal most of us would prefer to die at home surrounded by family, preferably at an advanced age. We will like to die feeling fulfilled, at peace, above all, without pain. The latter is very important.

We all pray that we would have attained a ripe old age and most of our dreams when Death come a-calling. Many Nigerians in America probably hope they would have returned home too. Not that it matters after you’re long dead, but why would you want to be buried in a cemetery full of strangers? Did I hear you say the cemetery in Nigeria is also full of unknowns. Yes, but they’re Nigerians! Ha! There is a difference. A cemetery in New Jersey will be so cold (and I detest the cold with a passion!). Cold earth. Cold reception. Cold! Cold! Cold!

What got me thinking these grave thoughts today? Five names.

Tolu.

Tomi.

Dunni.

Kola.

Bimbola.

I saw their photographs today. Young smiling faces that looked like the world was at their feet. I saw their photographs and I am suddenly reminded of my mortality. I am still here, still breathing and wondering how – in spite of the fact that I am twice as old, I am still here and they have gone away.

When I first heard the news of the accident that claimed their lives on American television, the reporter said it was not “drug or alcohol related”. Obviously, when teenagers die such deaths around these parts, those are the usual suspects. The reporter should have asked us. Nigerians don’t die such deaths in America. Today, we now know – like other Nigerians in American schools – they were excelling in their classes and communities. They were indeed good students as most Nigerians studying in America tend to be.

We are painfully reminded that Death takes no heed of person, age or status. The Dark Angel has come close to all of us at some point or the other… Father, mother, brother, sister, daughter, son…everyone everywhere has lost someone sometime. Age, too, is like a supernatural eraser deleting the distance between us and Death, and the older we get, the nearer we find ourselves drawn to that place of no return.

What in the world got the Dark Man walking in the direction of these kids? The SUV they were in swung off the Interstate and landed on its roof. When car designers build impact resistance into their vehicles, they think of the front, back and sides, not the top. These kids, all in their late teens, are no more today… And their parents have all received that reverse phone call we all get here occasionally. You know the one I’m talking about… The out of nowhere call with the long distance burps and static that you instinctively know has arrived to shatter your world.

Can you imagine how the parents feel now? They wanted the best education for their children, and so they sent them to America to study. How were they to know that they were also sending them to their death? How they would have fought all the demons of Hell to keep them away from America If anyone had even remotely suspected Death was lurking in “God’s Own Country…”

Wherever we expire, whenever we do pass on to the other side, what is most important is that we have done deeds in this life that will make one (or two, or three) remember us with a smile. After all, as Albert Pike said, “what we have done for ourselves alone dies with us; what we have done for others and the world remains and is immortal”.


Comments posted on the Abilene Christian University Guestbook

Adewale Oguntona April 19, 2002 01:34:05
Dunny, In as much as I want to see your face one more time, it is just not possible. Till tomorrow, it is hard to believe that you are gone. Known you for only four months…. seems like it was ten years. Touched the bottom of my heart, and even encouraged me when i needed. May your sould rest in perfect peace. Your face shall never be forgotten because you were loved by all. All the five that died in the same crash you will not be forgotten. Dunni Beautiful, Graceful Gone. Quiet, Lovely Gone Life Like Grass that withers away Gone We mourn Yet a Little While For Soon It’ll be over We Know It is in Glory you rest In the arms of your Maker Who loves you like none else But your life we shall live through our lives till we come to you An on that Glorious Morning WE SHALL COME REJOICING BRINGING IN THE SHEAVES! BRINGING IN THE SHEAVES! Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. Though you hear not Rest Sweet Child. Rest. From Demola

Andrew Edebor April 17, 2002 17:44:45
It’s so hard to believe i’ll never see my 9ja brothers and sister Dunny my one and only friend in school Kola we are always making deals.Tomi, Tolu, and Bimbo my good friends i love you all may your soul rest in peace. I know that one bright morning when the world comes to an end i’ll see your guyz faces again. for those of us who are still walking let’s keep our heads up look into the sky and remeber one thing the wise man learn but the fools never will. R.I.P my homies.

Joe Martinez April 17, 2002 15:52:08
I don’t know what happened to these students, or who they were, but what you all have written has touched my heart. I know that all who read these words of love and care will touch the right person in the right place. You’re words may not have been to bring others to the Lord, but that is how God will use them. God bless you in your hour of need.

Sola Osofisan About Sola Osofisan
Sola Osofisan is the author of Darksongs (poetry) and The Living and the Dead (short stories), published by Heinemann, and DarkVisions (Malthouse short stories). Several of his screenplays have been produced for television and the movies. He has also written extensively for newspapers and magazines. A film, television and theatre director, Osofisan is also a poet, film critic and computer freak. He has received a few awards, including the Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA) 1990 Poetry Prize, 1990 Prose Prize and the 1992 Prose Prize. He is the founder, webmaster and editor of this website and a handful of others.

Posted in: Life Abroad

14 Comments

  1. patrick says:

    Thanks for pointing out a hidden, sometimes scary fact. My uncle did what is considerably, a good job-raising me, cousins and siblings in isolation. To his peers and immediate society, he accomplished a feat. That feat stripped me off the social building block that has left me on my own in America for the past 25yrs.

    Yes, I have witnessed first hand the fear and torment of isolation especially in times of sickness,challenging difficult economic and emotional hard times.

  2. Charles Ekakabor says:

    @#8, please speak for yourself, have you ever graduated from University with a second class upper and being unable to get a job, have you ever had a job where your boss has little or no qualifications but is over you because of his ethnicity. I left Nigeria 22 years ago and I am glad I did. I have built a life here I cherish.If I die here, bury me in Forest Lawn in the beautiful City of Los Angeles. As the African Americans say”Home is where you’re at”.

  3. sampson iroabuchi onwuka says:

    I wish we visit this issue more often. You cant get sick in US and you cant die here. Our country should be looking to creat a small Island of top Medicine in our home towns were our remains would finally let go.

    ‘Soul on Ice’ I cant imagine. Icy feet, Icy fingers…eeriely

    If I succomb, leave not my soul on ice…let me rest on that native soil and lower ground that is home. Cast seven peebles on that great sea, place no stones on that grave that I may wander as a free spirit not surpassed by spite. Please leave me not on ice.

  4. olatunji olalekan maroof says:

    i love that, is very great.

  5. Anonymous says:

    I Knew Dunni when she was so much younger, When I heard of her passing, it was devastating.

    I grieved for her family that lost another child in 3 years.

    I cannot forget how my mother cried endlessly asking why o why ..not again!!.

    Time passes so swiftly , It's been five years already ! unbelievable!.

    May her gentle soul continually rest in peace.

    And may we never know the pain of loosing a child.

  6. julius says:

    Just to respond to comment #8, leaving Nigeria for another country to take advantage of better opportunity is not cowardice, infact I see that as courageous. We all have a choice to make, it is the end that justify the means brother. Self-enslavement is actually refusing to change the status quo because of fear of the unknown. Get with the program sir.

  7. pmdaboh@yahoo.com says:

    I really loved reading your article. I am African American, married to a Nigerian, and we are waiting for him to be approved to come to the states. I never thought about how he will feel about the subject of dying in America.

    You know I think we all can say that we want to die in our own country. Although I have come to REALLY LOVE NIGERIA, for my experince there when I got married and stayed there for two weeks was wonderful. I met some of the most beautiful, humble, and loving people that I think I will ever meet.

    Yet, I would prefer to die in my own country, surrounded by familiar sites and sounds . does not that make a difference–to me it does.

    Your writing is very real and to the point. What I like about you is that you talk about things that people think about but do not really verbalize. Since I am a teacher, I also loved the way your article was written.

    I Printed a copy of it, so I can read it again during my Planning Period at work tomorrow. I love websites about Nigeria and Africa, for it makes me feel close to my second home "Nigeria (Lagos and its surrounding countryside in particular).

    Be tuwapereh (blessed/Ijaw)!

  8. Glory Eze says:

    The article is awesome.I love it.It made me think of so many things that i've never thought of.It is amazing.Good job man.

  9. Salas says:

    Dear God, why you chose to take our dear brothers and sisters away from us so soon is unknown but what we do know is that they ares in a far better place. My final conclusion is that the tragic death like this made me question my own mortality and time left on this earth. How would those I left behind feel about me? Would I go to Heaven or Hell?

    Tragic incidents like these make us stop for a second from our hectic, day-to-day schedules of trying to make it in this world, and think about what is important. When was the last time you told your loved ones you loved them and how much they mean to you? This may all seem trite and clich&Atilde, but it is so true. The game of "What If" is something we should all try to avoid.

    Live each day as if it is your last. Remember that God comes first in your life, then your family and friends. All of our days are numbered and no one knows what day will be their last.

    God be with you till we meet again

    Adebiyi B. Adeyemi

    Seattle, WA

    (rite2salas@gmail.com)

  10. DB says:

    Scary..but this is for real. Word !!!!

  11. Dr Chike Igbokwe, says:

    To be honest I do appreciate sola's treatise on dying .It is pertinent to note that most people do not understand the nature of life in the USA and Europe.Most people just live for themselves over here.There is next to no family support system.Life is really lonely.When you are sick you find yourself in the hospital all by yourself.Generally the need for family support can not be over-emphasised.May we live and not die over here in jesus name.

  12. Bong Duke says:

    This is a great article.

    The writer has done justice to the idea in his mind.

    I am very happy to know that there are Nigerians as great as this writer in America.

    Cheers.

    Bong Duke

    234-803-345-3409.

    bongduke@yahoo.com

  13. SMJ says:

    I read your story and it was nice. I have problem reading the last part about Dunny.She was laid to rest in Texas and for those of us that happens to know her, the memory just came back stronger than ever before. I even cried today.

    Intelligent, courteous, and ambitiuos girl from a great family in Lagos. May her soul rest in perfect peace.

    Thank you Femi

    For all friends in Dallas, Texas

    SMJ

    USA

  14. ade osijola says:

    Hallo,

    I love your prose on death which is a topic most people loathe to talk about. Dear, tell them…tell them…,it’S A NECESSARY END THAT WILL COME WHEN IT WILL COME ACCORDING TO WILLIAM SHAKES PEARE.

    You are still a coward for running away from the African continent.To me it is self-enslavement.

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