Mazi Emeka's Grief Story
As I sat in the vehicle that conveyed me from the airport down to my village in Enugu, I was restless and scared. My wife thought it was a ridiculous idea to head out to Enugu on the first inaudible call I received from my best friend, Mazi Emeka, an ‘Odogwu’ back in our village. He had sounded wounded and a little incoherent and that was enough to have me worried because Emeka was a strong man who never let his feelings show and hid his problems very well, so I panicked when I heard his wavering voice, tried calling his wife and couldn't reach her. I cancelled my meetings and got on the next flight out, I knew something was wrong.
Getting to Mazi Emeka’'s Mansion in the village, I hadn't even gotten off the vehicle before I heard the sound of wailing, weeping and the painful cries of mourning, someone had died! I ran, leaving my luggage with the driver, I couldn't bear the thought of loosing my friend and as the thoughts cascaded in my head that's when I saw him, the mighty one, standing in the midst of the weeping kids, a complete shadow of himself, eyes blank and face expressionless. He said no words but his countenance was painstakingly sad, his eyes sagged but were clear without tears, his shoulders hunched and his lips sealed with no words. My 65 year old friend, who was younger looking and agile in appearance, looked exhausted and considerably aged. When our eyes met, I knew he had lost her, Adanma, the love of his life and wife of over 30 years.
I decided to spend a few weeks with him and have some of my duties back in Lagos delegated. I knew Emeka wouldn't say, but he needed me because the funeral rites were especially hard to go through and during this period, he was merely existing, not living. He was so deep in shock, that it took hours to convince him to eat just enough to keep his strength up.
He never said a word asides the occasional thank you and customary salutations to his fellow chiefs who came by and told him to take heart and "be a man, you're the Odogwu (strong wise man) of this village, you can't let this weigh you down", which only pissed me off as I looked on in silent disapproval. One even had the guts to tell him that now that he had lost his wife, he shouldn’t be alone for too long and promised to help him get another wife soon enough.
This man had just lost the only woman he ever loved and their words belittled his grief and pain. This made me mad because tradition and culture always invalidated men's rights to feel these emotions and I saw my friend really struggle. He didn't cry, he didn't speak and when he did it was with very surprising calmness, and then the anger, at the most insignificant things. He took no meals or drinks, at least not enough in my opinion and he often requested to be alone by himself. But no! The mourning party made sure that never happened, they were there first thing in, in the morning and stayed until late in the night. They said “he would be crying and thinking if left alone and that wasn’t acceptable for a strong man as himself”.
His emotional state worsened after the funeral, I couldn't help but conclude that his inability to express his grief properly contributed to this. I watched him as he watched his wife’s body go into the ground, a part of him buried forever, not a tear shed, just a profoundly sad faced man. He went on this way with a drastic loss in weight, gazing emptily into space, occasionally nodding off while receiving the mourners, but refusing to lay down to get some sleep. He showed rage though, anger which was directed at everyone and everything but he wouldn't speak about his beloved wife’s passing. He wouldn't even say her name. It was as if he wanted to forget and carry on like nothing happened, but I knew he had to grieve if he was going to be okay but Odogwu wanted to live up to his title, a wise, strong man. I also suspected he would need professional support, but when he overdosed on sleep medications on the eve of my return to Lagos, because he missed her so much, I had to act very fast in getting him the emotional support.
At this stage, I couldn't help him but I found someone who could. I literally dragged him along on the day of the appointment to meet with the mental health expert, I knew without any doubt that if I left him to it, it was never going to happen, afterall he wasn’t crazy . In the doctor’s office, for the first time since Adanma died, he called her name, wept bitterly and expressed guilt at being alive, while she was lying cold under the ground. I made sure he continued these sessions with the expert after I left for Lagos and checked in with him often and the report was positive. He was healing because he had accepted help for how he felt, I knew he was making progress when I saw healthier pictures of him, he would even share happy memories about Adanma when we spoke and could make jokes about her habits that he missed. His healing process had begun because he let himself grieve, and not ignore or kill off his emotions as tradition dictates.
The grieving phase should be an accepted norm and encouraged in humans. In the face of tragic loss, the Men in our society still feel the need to be self-contained, live in denial and express little or no outward emotion. But having seen and held my friend Odogwu’s hand through his struggles, I dare say, men should relearn this healthy behavior and learn to express and discuss their feelings. One major lesson however, from all this for me is that as strong as he was perceived to be, the trauma of his wife’s sudden death was a trigger for him to have attempted to take his own life- because he's Odogwu, not invincible.