• Tuesday, April 16, 2024
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Substituting elder care for befitting burials

Substituting elder care for befitting burials

Nigerians love celebrations, especially burials. We spare no expense on what we call a ‘befitting burial’. Though the children of the deceased might be hand-in-glove with poverty, they do not mind borrowing heavily to give their departed father or mother a befitting burial.

One has heard stories of people who borrowed to bury aged parents that they never cared for in their old age. Some older people suffered, but the children were far away, leaving their sick and senior parents to the benevolence of the community, only to turn up for befitting burials after they passed.

Some say befitting burial is only ego-tripping and a waste of hard-earned money on the part of the bereaved. The dead are gone and unaware of befitting burials. They won’t share in the merrymaking, so why use them as an excuse to party? It is we, the living that are grandstanding.

There is an anecdote about the Nobel Laureate, Professor Wole Soyinka, explaining why he refused to spend lavishly on burying his mother several years ago. Asked why he opted for a low-key burial, he was said to have retorted, “I can’t lose my mother and lose my money”.

Well, nobody is contending that people who have the resources and who took care of their parents should not organise decent burials with a lot to drink and eat. It is those who, as we say in Ibadan, ‘sun Beere si Mapo’, meaning hold a loud, ostentatious burial for parents they never cared for in old age, that are being called out because care for elders in their lifetime is crucial. It is a duty expected of all children and state institutions. However, the number of well-run and adequately funded care homes for elders in the country is very few.

One doesn’t need the gold in Fort Knox to ensure their aged parents live decent and respectable lives. Even the government, especially states and local councils, must prioritise this. Sadly, this is one area we only regard a little in Nigeria. Many people are apathetic to elder care but won’t mind becoming heavily indebted to hold befitting burials.

In this light, one particularly applauds the O.B. Lulu-Briggs Foundation, a leading non-partisan not-for-profit based in Rivers State and its focus on elder care through its Care for Life Program. Through the initiative established 22 years ago, the Foundation chaired by frontline industrialist and philanthropist Dr Seinye O.B. Lulu-Briggs, has extended comprehensive support, including healthcare, monthly sustenance, housing, and spiritual care to over 600 elders across 12 Local Government Areas in Rivers State.

Apart from taking care of senior citizens’ spiritual and material needs, the O.B. Lulu-Briggs Foundation also organises parties, including Valentine’s Day and a New Year event that commences its activities annually.

Further demonstrating the Foundation’s concern for senior citizens is its purpose-built Biokpo Recreational Centre for the Elderly. It opened in 2007 for lonely and isolated elders to mingle, socialise and receive spiritual guidance, meals, and medical attention. Though it was closed in 2019 because of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is now open.

Commendably, the O.B. Lulu-Briggs Foundation has always respected its duty of care to the senior citizens, ensuring all their needs are met and constantly celebrated. It was a most delightful sight on January 1, 2024, to see senior citizens dancing to the melodious music from Afy Douglas, the choir from the Chapel of God International, Port Harcourt (which Dr Lulu-Briggs pastors) and children from Saint Augustine’s, a primary school adopted by the Foundation.

The senior citizens enjoyed the event, a vibrant mix of praise, worship, and dance. But even this was not the icing on the cake. This came when Dr Lulu-Briggs announced the institution of an annual N250,000 congratulatory award for elders turning nonagenarians under the Foundation’s care. The joyous peals of laughter that rang out were heartwarming.

With Christ as her cornerstone, Dr Lulu-Briggs didn’t forget to pray for the elders, saying, “May you continue to walk in faith, guided by God’s love and inspired by His word.”

Now, this is as it should be. Our senior citizens should be celebrated in their lifetimes, and we should generously care for them just like the Foundation does. It doesn’t make sense to abandon one’s aged parents only to turn around to roll out the drums for their burial. There is no justification for that. Even as the economic pinch continues, care for elders is sine qua non. The Good Book admonishes us to respect our parents, and caring for them in their old age comes under this. It is time we eschew ‘befitting burials’ for quality, comprehensive elder care corporately and individually.

 

Abodunrin is the manager of La Sien Media.