As told to Kunle Ologunro
When the subject of this story reached out to me — ‘I have a story, but I don’t want to write it myself. I have never told anyone because I have been in denial about it, and it’s time I unburdened myself’— I wondered what their story would be.
How does it feel to lose a parent to addiction? Or worse, to find out that the family members are working overtime to make grieving difficult for you?
What do you do when you find your father’s body posted on Facebook by someone who is not a member of your family?
This person’s experience gives you a glimpse of everything that could possibly happen.
For five years now, I have tried denying the fact that someone posted pictures of my dad’s body in his casket on Facebook, and he captioned it: “Vanity upon vanity.” This person isn’t a family member, but he felt it was okay to take these photos and share them on Facebook for everyone to see.
My father was a very responsible man. He had a successful military career and a great stint as a two-time special adviser, but he battled with one thing: alcohol addiction. Often, our loved ones go through difficult things we have no idea about. Usually, these things hide in plain sight. Sometimes, we love them so much that we see it, and other times, that same love blinds us, keeping us blissfully unaware of their struggles.
With my father, I think it was a mix of both: love that helped us see him, and love that blurred our vision. We were uninformed about the addiction; we loved him so much that we could not address it. And to be fair, we never had to address it. Though he drank a lot, he never lost his cool, and the drinking was a part of his life that he kept separate. But you can only keep an addiction a secret for so long.
The first time I became aware that my father had a problem was the day I found, in his library, books about addiction and how to fight them. That day, I saw that he had acknowledged the problem and was willing to fight it.
One night, my dad and mom went out. When they returned, he was in physical pain. He was vomiting and could barely walk, he had to be carried to the hospital. After days of testing and treatment, it was confirmed that my dad had Type 2 Diabetes. Everyone thought it was hereditary because my grandfather had that same illness. But those who were close to my father knew it had to have been the alcohol.
And yet, despite how much my father struggled to quit, he always failed. He drank until his diabetes led to a heart problem and then liver failure. I and my mom didn’t think he would die because money for treatment was never the issue. But one day, inside the intensive care unit of LUTH, my dad had a heart attack. And just like that, he was gone.
Grieving him was the next stage for me and my siblings. I was the closest to my dad and even though I was hurt, I spent a lot of days in pure denial. I was happy, bubbly, and people that came to console us were confused about this level of ‘normalcy.’ That was the only sane period we had before my father’s family came around and scattered everything.
My father’s family members are proper assholes. Planning his funeral showed me that. As soon as my father’s death was announced, I launched into alert mode. I was 16, and I remember hiding my mom’s wedding certificates, the land documents and other receipts because family will always be family. And they stayed true to character. The moment they arrived, they let us know they were broke. They didn’t stop at that. They made inquiries about my father’s properties, and even though I had gained admission to study Law by then, one of them asked me if I could consider working as a house help.
The military handled the funeral cost and we had to bury him at home because we didn’t want to fight about the property with his siblings. My father was buried in front of the house. We tried to convince them to bury him in the backyard, but apparently, it’s against Yoruba customs to do that. My mom’s room faces the part where his grave is. She no longer opens the curtains in that area. It hurts a lot to see your father buried in a place you used to call home with him. But what hurts, even more, is seeing people treat that part of the house as a taboo. I have a complicated relationship with the gravesite. Sometimes, I don’t want to go home because it is the first thing I see. And sometimes when I am alone in the house, I go there to sit and just talk to him. Doing that brings me peace.
But let’s go back to his funeral and how his family members put on the greatest drama since Fuji’s House of Commotion. During that funeral, my dad’s youngest sibling had a fainting spell that was easily cured with a can of Malt. One of his younger sisters fought because of party packs and Jollof rice, and yet these people didn’t drop a dime.
I should let you know that my dad’s siblings are educated. And I mean Masters level education, so to see them act like this was beyond all of us. At some point, my dad’s sister asked us (again), about my dad’s properties and said my siblings and I should send our account numbers. That was the end of it. To date, I haven’t seen any of them, and that’s fine with me.
A few weeks after the burial, we found out that someone carted away all my dad’s wristwatches, about twenty-something designer pieces, and perfumes. His designer shoes and shirts, all of them gone. Even his car battery.
After the funeral, tensions cooled down. It was then that my siblings and I came to accept the truth that we were now fatherless. Our lives would definitely have to change. One day, I was bored and I remembered how much my dad loved Facebook. While he was alive, we blocked him, but now that he was late, I wanted to see what he used to post about.
I couldn’t find his account, so I ran a general name search. The first thing that showed up was my dad’s body in his casket with the caption, “This world is vanity upon vanity.”
At first, I was shocked. There was my father’s body, laid bare for the Internet, a world of strangers, to see. Why would someone do that to him? Why show him at his most vulnerable? I closed the page and I never returned to Facebook.
Later, I found out who posted it: one of the guys that used to perform with the live band my family used at our events. I never mentioned this to anyone. Not even my brothers.
Forget all they say about Igbos and their burial rites, Yoruba culture isn’t any better.
My mother couldn’t leave the house for 42 days. She wasn’t supposed to watch TV for that 42 days too. We, her kids, were told not to sleep on the same bed or on the same couch with her because it would affect our luck. She was only fed ogi (pap) and eko for a long time, and she had to use different plates and cups, not the general plates at home.
She was supposed to wear black for one year. No makeup or partying for the whole year, and she had to seek express permission from her in-laws to stop wearing black, or dark clothing after one year, and then the clothes she wore were burnt.
As her children, we were also not allowed to see our friends off because, according to the family, it would bring bad luck.
My father’s family held on to these ‘customs’ so much. Once, I asked them if a man whose wife died would be put through the same thing. They said no, a man was to mourn for just 3 months because he’s a provider or something like that.
The military never paid my father’s pension. In fact, some members of the pension board issued a death threat to my mother when she tried to push the issue.
I no longer communicate my emotions properly. I hate pity, and at that point in my life when I lost my father, pity was the only thing everyone wanted to give me.
I remember now, how a close family friend called us immediately after my dad’s funeral.
“You all should remain close to each other now,” he said.
“And, please, be vigilant oh. You know how your father’s siblings can be.”
And then he called me to one side and said, “Take it upon yourself to ensure that your siblings stay away from alcohol, you hear?”
“Always talk to them oh.”
“Yes, sir. Thank you, sir.”
This man had good intentions, but the entire conversation was poorly timed. And yes, I was so scared of alcohol but life works in mysterious ways.
Now, I outdrink everyone in my family.