Breaking the News

Spreading information about the death of a loved one to relations can (sometimes) be a painful and difficult job among Christians in the Southern states of Nigeria.

In Part 1 of this series, we gave a number of reasons why this is so, and the hesitation to break the news even though such job is accompanied by plenty of storytelling. The bottom line is that the direct survivor of the deceased is always the last person to know of the death of a loved one, sometimes, several months later.

Years ago, a married man with four children who once lived opposite my residence in Okota, Lagos had a trying period in managing the news of the death of his Father in-law. When he got the news, his wife was nine months pregnant, and the delivery date was near.

What would he do? Tell his wife? “Never,” friends and relations told him. “If you do that, you may send your wife into forced labour and that can lead to complications in childbirth and may even claim her life,” they admonished him. Don’t tell her, until she delivers her baby.” The young man obeyed and kept the news from his wife. Everybody in the neighbourhood knew about the death, but madam did not. She go to know several  months after the safe delivery and weaning of her baby, and long after her father had been buried. The information was well managed.

My uncle who is over 80 years old got same treatment when his wife of 45 years died after months of being sick. They live in our hometown, Anambra State, Nigeria. When his wife’s condition worsened, she was rushed to a private hospital near the state capital, Awka. My uncle was constantly kept abreast of his wife’s condition. When it worsened, she was rushed to a University Teaching Hospital for speacialist attention. She died there one week later. Most family members, except her husband, immediately knew of her death. Another uncle in my hometown had to rally round other family members, formed a delegation that went to break the news, days later to my bereaved uncle.

These examples show you how the story of the dead is hesitantly told in my locality. But this is only the beginning.

3. Family Meetings

What happened? How did he/she die? What was the ailment? When did it start? Was he/she given immediate and proper medical attention? How will her husband, or his wife and children take the news? What a tragedy; what a loss!

These and more questions  are the typical enquiries you will hear being asked by relations of the deceased, friends, and well wishers as family members gather to hold series of meetings to plan the burial

Again, this depends on place of death (in the city or hometown), age of the deceased and family affluence, religious and cultural considerations. If a married woman dies, her family has to be traditionally informed, and their consent sought, before a decision is taken on when and where to bury her.

Some communities in Nigeria demand that at death, the body of their dead daughter who is married should be taken back to her family of origin for burial. Many other communities require formal informal information of the death of their daughter and performance of some traditional rites by the husband’s family members before they can get the consent to bury the woman.

Breaking the news (with plenty of storytelling) of a married woman’s death to her family is a traditional affair in Igboland of Nigeria. Even if her family has heard of the death through other sources, the husband’s family must go to this family to break the news of her death. The whole affair is largely storytelling which may turn sour especially if her family suspects foul play.

The ceremony goes like this: An emissary is sent to the woman’s family informing them of a delegation coming from their in-laws with an important message. When the go-ahead to come is given; on the agreed date, the delegation of say, three family elders, go the deceased woman’s family who, as tradition demands, feign ignorance about the death of their daughter. And tradition also demands they have to be formally informed, and they will thereafter seek clarifications about the circumstances of their daughter’s death.

If they are not satisfied with the explanations, it spells trouble for the husband’s family. When this happens, every preparation about the burial has to be suspended until the woman’s family is appeased.

That was the lot of a distant relation of mine, three years ago when his wife died mysteriously. He married two wives. Both wives were not on good terms and their husband favoured the other wife and even teamed up with  her to wage marital “war” against this one who died. The quarrels were intractable despite the intervention of both families. The children of both wives also joined the fray taking sides, as expected with their mothers.

Then one day, the deceased wife decided to visit her family of origin in a nearby town. She was hale and hearty when she left home, as the story was told. On her way back, she slumped on the road and died. Her family immediately concluded that their daughter’s death was not ordinary. They suspected foul play; threw a long list of charges, real or imagined, against her husband and demanded explanations. It put the husband and his family in a tight corner. He had to rally many of his family members round him to mobilize support and set up a formidable defense against the barrage of marital charges by his in-laws.

It took four rounds of visits and payment of stiff penalties and compensations before his in-laws could be appeased. That was when they gave approval for commencement of burial arrangements

Eric Okeke is a storyteller, editor, business writer, motivational speaker and author of the best selling book: I Want a Husband. He is one of Nigeria’s most experienced financial journalists. He has published several articles in local and foreign publications and in websites such as, and He is currently running Infomedia Company, a media consulting and information marketing company. Visit his blog at

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