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LOUD WHISPERS: The Etiquette of Mourning

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Friday, April 12th, 2024
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I apologise in advance if what I am about to say comes across as a scolding from a school principal to unruly teenagers. Many times, adults who are supposed to know better do behave like teenagers, even like toddlers. At least a toddler has an excuse. There are many teenagers wise beyond their years, and even when they make mistakes as they are bound to, they can be forgiven because it is understood they will learn and grow. What is the excuse of an adult who hears about the passing of a young person, and without giving it a second thought, rushes to social media to break the news to the world within seconds? In what capacity are you announcing the news? As a family representative? As a close friend? As an employer? At the time you are making your ‘announcement’, most family members, sometimes even the children of the deceased, have not heard. Those who are very close to the deceased are too shocked to post anything, so it is not likely to be coming from them.

I am aware social media is bound to continue affecting the way we communicate and behave. I however find myself increasingly frustrated with the sheer lack of empathy and common sense these days. The first time it hit home for me was a few years ago when a close friend of mine passed away. The family decided to wait for a few hours before making the announcement because one of the daughters of the deceased was mid-air. The idea was to wait for her to land then contact her with the news. As soon as she landed and switched on her phone, there it was on Facebook. News of the passing of her mother. You can imagine how she must have felt.

In the early hours of August 31st 1997, I was still up watching television when the news broke that Princess Diana Spencer had been involved in a tragic car crash in Paris. At the time of the announcement, it was not stated that she had died but as I got into bed, I told my husband that I believed she was dead but they did not want to announce it. It turned out I was right. The Queen and her family needed to be informed before an official announcement. I doubt if that kind of restraint is possible in today’s world.

When we hear of the death of someone, young or old, let us show restraint. Let us pause and ask ourselves, have their loved ones been informed? Do I have the right to announce this? If I am acquainted with the person concerned, is it right for me to rush to Facebook and Twitter with the news, before I have shown the family the courtesy of a phone call or text message? If I find myself next to a corpse, is it right to take photographs and worse, post them online? Again, I am sorry if this sounds like talking to children, but what I have seen lately makes me wonder if there is now no longer a distinction between adults and children.

We all know about the life-long debt we owe. We pray, spend money, get lucky, treat, and tip toe around it throughout our lives. Yet the debt collector is very patient, knowing that one day the inevitable will happen. Death is never interested in addition, only subtraction and this will continue till the end of time. However, this does not mean we should continue subtracting from our own humanity.   The arrival of death triggers reactions relative to the person concerned. Some deaths cause profound suffering and misery. In the cases of older persons, after the initial grief has worn off, the families get down to preparing a grand celebration. People often wonder, what is worse or better, a young person dying suddenly, without notice, or after an illness, with enough time to say goodbye? I have experienced the pain of very close friends either dying suddenly or fading away in my arms. I wish neither on my worst enemy. We simply do not know when our time will be up. All we can do is live the best life we can.

From what I have observed about these issues, I have the following suggestions to make:

For those wondering how long is enough, I usually wait for at least twenty-four hours before making any public comments.

    When you hear the news of someone’s death, please don’t call the bereaved directly ‘to confirm’. Call to commiserate not to ‘Confirm’. It is very insensitive. There are other places you can confirm from.

    If you visit a household where there has been a death of a young person, don’t go there caterwauling more than the bereaved. Your visit is meant to soothe and assure the bereaved, not agitate them further. If you need to wail, do that before or after.

    Please don’t ask the bereaved directly ‘What happened?’ You will find out soon enough. If you have to be given the details, think of how many other people want the same information and the story has to be told over and over. In the days that follow, everyone will have the information. If they want you to know, they will volunteer the information.

    Look after your parents and grandparents. Take care of them the same way you would like your children to care for you. Some people spend more money on the funeral of their relatives than they ever spent on them in their old age. If you are able to do so, spend time with your old folks and get to know more about them. It will surprise you the things they will tell you in their old age, that they would never have done when they (and you) were younger.

    There is a Yoruba proverb that says the death that takes away your peers is sending you a message. This means if you find yourself attending funerals of people close to your age, start taking your health more seriously and take steps towards putting your own house in order. If you are over 40, you should have a Will. Don’t be superstitious and say having a Will means you are inviting death. Death does not work on an invitation basis, it works on a time-table only God knows. Forgive those who have offended you and ask for forgiveness if people claim to be aggrieved. At a certain point in our lives, peace should be more important to us than being right.

    May we all live long enough to be celebrated by children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. I commiserate with all those who have lost a dear friend or member of their family recently. May their souls rest in perfect peace.

    Bisi Adeleye-Fayemi is a Gender Specialist, Policy Advocate and Writer. She is the Founder of, an online community for women. She can be reached at

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