Life is for the living: 7 outstanding lessons you can learn from death and cemeteries


It was a bleak morning some time in 2016, and one of my aunties had passed. My father had called to break the sad news; he told me to come visit because we needed to talk. “We need to clean the space we bought for your aunt at the cemetery,” he said to me. This was when I realised that, while life is for the living, there is only one property that matters to a dead man; the place of rest.

I agreed to some financial compensation. No way was I going to be cleaning in a cemetery for free. One thing that baffles me is that my Dad never doubted my ability to deliver on the job. This was a graveyard we were talking about here! The kind of place where every superstition could prove to be true!

What if a demon lived there? What if you rustle the sleeping dead? Or what if I earned myself a curse or something terrible happens? These are the typical questions anyone would have asked and I also thought about them but I had no fear. My Dad knew I was not afraid of these things without us discussing them and that means a lot to me now, looking back.

That also proved a proverb by the Yorubas that when a son has his father’s approval, he can do and undo. Another proverb says you don’t fear the recipient of a message more than the sender.

This also added to my confidence, after all it’s my father who sent me to disturb the sleeping dead. They have to argue with him, not me. I left home on a motorcycle and took along a spade, a hoe and a cutlass.

On arrival, I went into Pilgrim Baptist Church which was close by and got the access key.

I entered the quiet grounds and it seemed just like any plot of land, walled in and gated to keep trespassers out. Next to the land was a poultry and other residential buildings. The dead were resident among the living.

I found the spot and saw the open interment site. It was a 6 foot deep concrete consignment and I could stand in it after cleaning it out.

While I worked, I battled many thoughts. I thought about how it felt to die, to be silent and closed in with no companion.

I thought also about the fear people had for the dead. I knew a lot of people would even someday associate my work in a graveyard to anything bad that happens to me so I decided to tell no one.

This experience reminded me that some people actually invest in cemeteries. In fact, as an estate management student, we were taught cemetery valuation as a part of special property valuation. My team in practicals picked the Obafemi Awolowo University Cemetery, while others picked shrines or other peculiar properties.

Point is: there is value attached to where you finally find rest. Just like you place a lot of value on where you live and sleep at night, have you thought about how it would be in the place where you finally are laid to rest?

Why is burial attached to silence? Why does it point at ideas like peace and rest?

We “take a minute’s silence” for the dead; and hope the dead “rests in peace”.

Death is peace and peace is death. It’s the final abode of everyone – from oppressors to the oppressed. One day, every story, opinion and idea would rest in silence, never to be heard again. Side by side, both the evil and good will lie in the earth without a voice.

There will no longer be conflict, anger or pain. In the silence of the grave all unrealised dreams become inconsequential.

It would no longer matter that you had Einstein’s IQ or that you were Beethoven, the great composer. All you have in those six feet is silence.

This is the time to create; to use your life’s journey as a composition. We are all headed to a final destination and it does not matter how much is paid to acquire that plot. It does not matter if yours was a shallow or a deep grave. All that matters is the value of the experiences you had while you lived. From working in the house of the dead, I got these lessons which I want to share with you:

1. Choose to live a quality life; to be the best and give yourself the best every moment while you live.

2. Don’t deny your stories. They can only be told while you live.

3. Don’t kill your opinions before they even get heard.

4. Stop being afraid of conflict. Allow people to disagree with you, it’s human to be disagreed with.

5. Accept the possibility of change.

6. Always take a break, rest even when you don’t feel like it. One day you will have no choice.

7. Support your family and friends. Facing death would be a play in the park when you have a support system.

What would it be like if we never had to die? Imagine that we all got the gift of immortality, would we appreciate life as much as we do right now?

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