I’d never been to a funeral here before. Yesterday, a man died in my village. He’s not the first death that’s occurred since I’ve been here, but I always stay away from the ceremonies when they happen. It always seemed too intimate or intense for me to go.
This morning, in talking to Oumy, I realized who it was who had died — Tombong, the husband of a woman I’m very close with. Before I had time to change my mind, I told her I wanted to go and show my support for his wife, Isatou.
I donned a scarf to cover my shoulders and head, then grabbed some money, a common offering to help pay for all the food, fabric for burial, etc.
We walked toward their compound, and as we did, I could feel the darkness of grief settle over us. The women spent the night crying, but some still wailed that morning too. When we arrived, each face I saw looked as though it was in physical pain. It was as if the loss of a husband, a brother and a father caused bones to break and bruises to form.
I realized immediately that the grief and sorrow I saw was too concentrated for me to stay long. With each stare I returned and hand I held I felt the weight of of mourning on my shoulders, in my heart.
We walked into Isatou’s room and at first I didn’t see her. She was huddled in a corner on the bed, her knees held tightly to her chest. Her entire body was covered in cascades of black fabric and only part of her face was visible. She looked totally broken. They think he died of malaria; he wasn’t old and tired nor chronically ill. He left behind Isatou, his only wife, and their young children. Seeing Isatou’s sadness brough tears to my eyes. “Allah dorong s’a noo,” they whispered. Only god knows. Many woman entered and the room got smaller.
After a time we moved to Tombong’s sister’s room. His mother was also there, and equally devastated. As we sat, a woman came in and collapsed on the bed. She started crying and they said “Kana kumbo, a kananta.” Don’t cry now, that’s enough. She muffled her sobs as they again spoke of Allah. Another woman entered and sat next to me, the only open seat on the bed. She began to cry, to scream and to wail.
Her sadness was tangible and her wails filled the room; no one could speak or hear. I hugged myself as she screamed, and tears welled up in my eyes. None of us was immune to the weight of her emotion. After some minutes, I stood, unable to maintain composure with her crying and grieving so close to me. I left the room and was again met with the pained faces of those villagers who’d come to pay their respects. Their movements were slow, like they were all under water.
My arms still held tightly to my torso, I walked out. Oumy came behind me and thanked me for coming. “A diminta,” she said. It hurts. So much, I said. She stayed and I started home, and felt like I was leaving behind death itself.
I was shocked at how much the grief of others affected me, how quickly it enveloped me. Never has losing someone seemed so life-altering as those moments in that small hut.
I’m glad I waited so long to attend a funeral. I’m glad I went to support Isatou, but the intensity of the sadness clawed at me, even hours afterward.
I might prefer the way they grieve, where all completely open themselves to the weight and sadness of losing a loved one. It’s shocking and uncomfortable, but it’s honest and intense. They’re raw, vulnerable in the wake of tragedy, and it shows great respect for those lost.