FEATURE ARTICLE

Fr Pat Amobi ChukwumaTuesday, June 6, 2017
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CONDOLENCE VISIT

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certain poor widow died mysteriously in a remote village. To avoid unnecessary pointing of accusing fingers, her corpse was taken to a city hospital for autopsy. After all medical examinations, it was discovered that she died of acute hunger. Later, her remains were conveyed home for burial. Her children and other relations wept bitterly as her coffin was lowered into the grave. The village youths covered the grave mercilessly as they drank from green bottles. The funeral ceremony was fixed for a later date.

On the funeral day, her three children who were not well to do borrowed money to cook assorted food items and bought also assorted drinks to bid their deceased mother farewell. Tongues started wagging. Those who still breathe from their noses and think from their brains asked: "Why didn't they borrow money to feed their mother when she was alive, since she died of acute hunger?" Perhaps they would take their late mother's share of food and drinks to her grave, thereby feeding her posthumously. The in-laws of the deceased woman came with bags of rice, cows and assorted drinks to pay condolence visit to their late mother-in-law. They were dancing and jubilating in the midst of the marvelous gifts they were carrying. They presented those condolence gifts to the deceased family who received them with gratitude. Afterwards, they were served with different dishes and assorted drinks. Other sympathizers also ate and drank to their satisfaction. Having being satisfied, they prayed that the deceased woman would surely rest in peace because she had a befitting funeral. Remember that the woman died of acute hunger. What a contradiction! If I were the dead woman, I would come out of the grave and deal with them severely.

Somewhere else, a miserable man's wife died after three years' protracted illness. The husband who was a retired gateman was summoned by his in-laws to come and collect the list of indispensible items that he must provide for them before the burial of their late daughter. The list read: Two giant cows with extra-ordinary hunchback, 24 cartons of assorted beer, 15 crates of malt, 12 crates of minerals, 2 elephant tusks, 5 bags of rice and 7 bottles of Gin and N200,000 cash. He was sternly warned that unless he provides the above items, their late daughter would not be buried and they would not come for condolence visit. After going through the list, the poor widower's eyes turned upside down. He slumped and lost consciousness. He was rushed to a nearby hospital for medical attention. The nurses hurried with a stretcher and conveyed him into the emergency room. The doctor on duty did everything he could to revive the unconscious patient. Unfortunately there was no positive response to treatment. The doctor checked his heat-beat and shook his head. He confirmed him clinically dead. What a double tragedy! For me, he was murdered by his in-laws who presented to him exorbitant condolence list. They should be arrested to face the wrath of the Law. The EFCC should investigate them and bring them to book.

According to Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, Condolence means "sympathy with another in sorrow." We should not wait for our friends, relations, associates and the needy to die before we pay them condolence visit. Condolence visit is best paid when the beneficiary is still alive. Please if you know those items you will use to pay me condolence visit when I die, kindly come and present them to me now. What I need at death is nothing else but prayer for my eternal repose.

In Nigeria today, hunger is mesmerizing people here and there. No wonder people rush to places or families where any ceremony that involves eating and drinking are included in the agenda. So, whenever you are planning for entertainment (item 7), kindly make provision for invitees and gate-crashers. Let us pay condolence visit to the hungry before they die. It is a corporal work of mercy to feed the hungry and give drink to the thirsty. Our Lord Jesus Christ on the judgment day will say to those on his right hand (the elect): "I was hungry and you fed me. I was thirsty and gave me to drink" (Mtt.25:35). On the other hand, Christ will say to those on his left hand: "I was hungry and you did not feed me. I was thirsty and you did not give me to drink" (Mtt. 25:42). Whenever we feed the hungry or give drink to the thirsty, it is Christ that we served. Do we take cognizance of the mad people around us? Have we fed any of them or allow them to eat from the dustbin? Instead of feeding them, some men lure mad women into their houses to impregnate them and abandon them to their fate. This is sheer wickedness.

There are many sick people lying in hospitals and at homes. Do we devote time to pay them condolence visit at their sick-beds? Or do we wait until they die and then we pay their families condolence visit with material gifts? Sickness can befall anyone of us at any time. No condition is permanent. If you have no time to visit the sick, when you fall sick yourself, then you will have time to lie down on sick-bed indefinitely. Some of us have no time to look after their sick ones, but when they die, they have time to return home for their burials and funerals. I visited one old sick woman sometime ago. She was alone in the house, lying on her urine and excreta. She was crying for having being abandoned by her children. If eventually she dies, the children will return from their places of abode for her burial and funeral. They will spend many days receiving condolence gifts. Often they quarrel while sharing the condolence money. There was a story of an elderly man who was abandoned at home by his children and relations. Later he caused them and died in tears. When the children and relations were smiling and sharing their huge condolence monetary and material items, the dead man appeared suddenly with 'koboko' and beat them mercilessly. They ran away and have not returned till this day. Maybe they ran into hell and were chained by the devil for neglecting their father on his sick-bed.

In May 2017 in a specialist hospital mortuary in Jos, Plateau State, an extraordinary event happened. The story has it that two brothers of the same blood quarreled over a piece of land left by their late father. They entered into enmity and were not in speaking terms. Eventually one of them became sick and was hospitalized. The surviving brother never visited him in hospital. Eventually he died. The former deposited his brother's corpse in the mortuary. On the day fixed for the burial, he went to the mortuary to clean and dress the body of his late brother for burial. As he was about to raise the hand of the deceased, the deceased himself raised his hand and held his living brother's hand very tight. The surviving brother did all he could to get rid of his late brother's hand but it was all in vain. Then he raised an alarm. The mortician ran to the scene and saw the living and the dead in a duel. He tried his best to separate the two hands but to no avail. Then he brought a hammer and used it to knock off the dead man's hand. The surviving brother ran away to avoid further wrath of his dead brother. Perhaps the late brother was angry for what his surviving brother unjustly did to him while both were alive. He did not want his brother to bury him and then sit at table to collect condolence gifts. Why didn't the surviving brother pay his sick brother, who later died, a visit in the hospital? Please if you have not visited any of your sick ones, kindly do so now before it is too late, to avoid postmortem embarrassment.

Have you paid condolence visit to those in prison? Many of us believe that the prisoners are suffering for the offences they committed and therefore require no mercy. We that are going about our daily businesses, are we innocent? Some of us commit offences worse than what those in prison committed. Often innocent persons are dumped in prison without trial. They languish without hope. You and I may find our way in prison one day. Even the politicians parading at the corridors of power can become prisoners tomorrow. Let us devote time to visit prisoners so that when we go in there, guilty or innocent, others will pay us condolence visit. The Apostles of Christ languished in prison many times for preaching the Gospel. Nelson Mandela of South Africa rose from prison to presidency. Chief Olusegun Obasanjo was taken from prison and elected Nigerian president. Of recent the leader of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), Mazi Nnamdi Kanu, was unjustly imprisoned for months by the powers that be. Many innocent people are languishing in the Nigerian prisons. May God deliver them!

If you watch at the table of the deceased family, you will see bundles of clothing materials packed serially or hung on a long rope. It may not surprise you to hear from standby sympathizers that the deceased died naked. Now that he or she is dead, relations pay condolence visit with costly some yards of clothing. Why not clothe the naked when they were alive? Those numerous articles of clothing lying idle in your wardrobe for months do not belong to you. They belong to the needy walking about naked or almost naked. Even though we came to this world naked, we live in it clothed. Clothes are worn by the living and not the dead. The clothes used to dress the dead are just mere cosmetics and an act of respect. Therefore it is better to pay condolence to the naked around us with clothes now they are living than when they die. "I was naked and you clothed me," (Mtt. 25:36) said Jesus Christ. How many people have you clothed with good clothes and not worn out clothes? If you give out worn-out clothes, you will be worn out by yourself soon. Look at the mirror to see if you are worn out already.

Have you taken time to visit those around you? Some of our neighbours are living in leaking and dilapidated houses. Even some are squatting in others houses because they have no place to lay their heads. To shelter the homeless is one of the Corporal Works of Mercy. Some sleep in abandoned buildings or vehicles. One day the government towed away abandoned vehicles into a deep gully located somewhere. One homeless man was sleeping comfortably in one of those abandoned vehicles. He was towed away with the vehicle. It was when his vehicle-house was about to be lowered into a deep gully that he woke up suddenly. He shouted on top of his voice, "Please, don't kill me-o!!!" The towing assistant workers heard the distress shout and called on the driver to halt. They searched the abandoned vehicle about to be thrown into the gully and found a wretched man sleeping inside it in a raffia mat. Luckily, he was taken out like a rat. He thanked his God for his deliverance. The government later built him a three bedroom bungalow. When an envious greedy man heard of it, he went and slept in an abandoned vehicle about to be towed into the gully. As he was shouting for his dear life, no one heard him. He perished in the gully. I doubt if he would be able to rise from there during the final Resurrection as his body was crushed beyond recognition.

The incumbent Catholic Bishop of Awka, Most Reverend Paulinus Chukwuemeka Ezeokafor, is championing a crusade against exorbitant burial or funeral expenditure. For him and for me also, we should all campaign for befitting living rather than befitting burial or funeral. Is it not foolish to give a person who died wretched a befitting burial? In befitting burial or funeral, it is the sympathizers that benefit by eating and drinking. But in benefitting living, the recipient lives and dies happily. The Anambra State House of Assembly is about to pass a bill against exorbitant burial or funeral ceremony. The best thing to do for the dead is to pray for his or her eternal repose and then look after those he or she left behind. Let us resolve today to pay condolence visit to those in need so that they can have a befitting life and die a happy death.

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