23.4.13

The funeral that changed my life - Deji Osobukola (July 22nd 1981 - April 10th 2012)

Bright eyes,
Burning like fire.
Bright eyes,
How can you close and fail?
How can the light that burned so brightly
Suddenly burn so pale?
Bright eyes.

Watership Down 1978 - Soundtrack: 10 Bright Eyes: Simon and Garfunkel


A year ago today, I left home at the crack of dawn. I was on my way to Harlow for my cousin's funeral. I knew it was going to be a tough day emotionally. What I didn't know was how it was going to shake me to my very foundations.

Deji had been living in the UK for some time. He came over just before my wedding in 2005. In fact, on his flight over, he was sitting next to another friend who was flying in for the wedding. They struck up a conversation, and were surprised to find out they were both flying to London for the same wedding. They kept in touch till he passed away. That was Deji for you, very affable, and full of life.

He died on the Easter weekend. He was admitted to hospital on Good Friday, and died on Tuesday. 

I will have to admit we weren't particularly close. I had him on Facebook, and I could see that he was running a magazine and seemed to be doing very well. The occasional Facebook message (What's up, how are you doing?) about twice a year. His sister was in touch with me (and my wife) while studying in France. We were meant to meet up, but never did. You know how it is. My mum stayed in their house in Abuja for a while when she first started working there.

My 'job' as it were, was to represent the family. To support his sister, who had travelled to the UK to finalize the funeral arrangements, and pack up his stuff and take it back home. Burying a person so young is heatbreaking. And I've been to a few of these type of funerals. It's never easy. But boy oh boy, I had no idea what I was about to witness.

The memorial service was at a hall at the University of Hertfordshire. The pastor leading the service was actually someone who Deji had interviewed a few months prior for his magazine (he did work with former prisoners, which was of interest to Deji). They had become friends after that. His magazine staff were there as well. And friends. The hall was standing room only when we started.

The Vice Chancellor of the University was one of the first speakers.

"The Vice Chancellor's office is located at the end of a corridor that is designed to be difficult to navigate. This is to keep people away. Deji navigated this corridor many, many times........."

He spoke about how Deji worked hard, and how he got his magazine off the ground with the University's support. He liked him a lot, and considered him a friend.

Another speaker was a man called Terry Mansfield (CBE). He had come for the funeral with his wife. Deji was introduced to Terry when he wanted to start his magazine as a possible mentor. With over 50 years of publishing and advertising under his belt, and contacts in the industry, Deji was very lucky to have this introduction. But it turned out to be so much more than a mentor/mentee relationship. Terry became like a father to Deji. When Deji's family came to visit from Nigeria, dinner at the Mansfiled's was a major part of the trip. Every single task he set for Deji, every single person he sent him to meet, Deji surpassed all expectations. People called Terry back to tell him how impressed they were by the young man. By the time he walked off the podium, him and his wife were in tears.

And that set the tone for the rest of the service. His lecturer from the University. His friends. Every single person talked about how Deji made such an impact in their lives. He was an inspiration to everyone who met him. A true friend. His work ethic was second to none. He not only broke the mould, he redesigned it. Every single person walked off the stage in tears.

It was after the Pastor's address that it happened. He spoke about how he had met Deji, and how the 'interview' led to a friendship. The imapct Deji made on him, and those around was clear to see. But when he was done, it was announced that Deji had posted on Facebook that he wanted three songs played at his funeral a few months prior. They had already played one at the beginning. (Amazing Grace - Amy Grant). We sat in silence to listen to the second one.

I can only imagine by Mercy Me



I can't remember exactly what I was thinking.

How stupid was this boy? Why tempt fate with that kind of silly Facebook post? How could such an impressive human being die so young? Why didn't I keep in touch more? Why didn't I know all these wonderful things about him? How could someone touch so many lives in such a short time?

I broke down, literally. I was sobbing, loud crying, like an animal.

Some background. Towards the tail end of my time in university, I lost a very close friend and former room-mate. This is the first of 5 friends and classmates to die in a period of 5 months. At every funeral, I didn't shed a single tear. But I was messed up inside. Emotionally, I was a wreck. For one of the funerals, we were at the graveyard till very, very late, digging the grave. I got back to my room, and was so upset, I wrote a letter to my parents, telling them I was going through hell. But I did not cry, not once. Not because of any macho nonsense. I was a wreck. It was like an emotional dam, and the pressure was building.

That dam broke on April 23rd 2012.

I cried for Babs, I cried for Buki (Melody), I cried for Kayode, I cried for Aramide, I cried for Oke. All cut down in their prime.

I cried for the young man who would never get married. Deji would never have children. He would never own a house. He would never build a home. I cried because after listening to everyone, I felt inadequate. I did not deserve to have everything I had. Deji deserved this, and so much more. And he was now dead. 

The Pastor was in tears, the entire room was a collection of people weeping, sobbing.

I honestly cannot remember the rest of the service. I know his sister was the final speaker, and she spoke on behalf of the family. She read out a biography written by their parents. She spoke about the brother she had lost.  I still cannot remember the third song (which was played at the end).

Deji shone like a star. He blazed a trail that is still burning today.He touched so many lives. Every single person that met him was blown away by his enthusiasm for life, his passion for his work, his drive, his personality. On April 10th, 2012, this world lost out. A young man who would have grown into legend was cruelly taken away from us.

The reception at his family friend's house was packed. As in, there were so many people, you could not walk across the living room. Everyone came to pay their respects.

When I drove home that night, I was in awe. Deji's short life was nothing short of amazing. I made a decision.

I would hug my kids a little tigher, every day. Everyone I love will be in no doubt of my affections. My church, my job, organisations I volunteer with, it was time to turn my life around. No more complacency. Every second is precious. I will wake up every morning, determined to seize the day. I will live the kind of life Deji would be proud of. His life, his death had inspired me. I would, and will do better.

If you read the book "The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People by Steve Covey" one of the 'activities' is to imagine your funeral. Imagine what the people who speak will say. Your family, your friends, your work colleagues and your community. I cannot fathom anything better than what Deji got.

I'm not where I want to be. But I'm not where I used to be.

Thank you for everything Deji. Thank you for being such an inspiration in life and in death. Your magazine is still going strong. Your friend still post on your facebook profile almost every day. So many people miss you.

I know you're watching from heaven. We won't let you down.



“Lighthouses don’t go running all over an island looking for boats to save; they just stand there shining.”- Ann Lamott

4 comments:

  1. Heard about Deji from a friend who used his picture as her BB profile last year. And then I read up about him online and it felt like I knew him. He definitely lived a short but purposeful life. I know you are still grieving, but please rejoice in the fact that he set a good example for us to follow and was indeed a light to darkness.

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  2. May God continue to grant the repose of his sould and comfort his family and friends.

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  3. I met him a few times in Hatfield and had short conversations with him, he was always putting on a smile and ever willing to help total strangers. I thank God for his life.

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  4. Oh blimey. Only just seen this. He sounds like a truly awe-inspiring guy. I hope you're starting to heal from these wounds, dude.

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