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The great undertaker

By Debbie Olujobi

The litmus test for any successful relationship or association is growth. I have always believed that a good relationship calls us up higher, we rise to become better, because of the nurture and encouragement we receive.

Some people bring out the best in others but there are some extraordinary people who can bring out the best in you when you are at your worst. Kindness and humility is a very rare combination; they go hand in hand but they are not easily found. Now if you go one step further and add generosity to that combination you would get an accurate description of the subject of my thoughts this week.

The major reason I write the column is to capture my moments and document the happenings of day to day life for myself and hopefully posterity. This past week was not a great one; an accident changed the landscape of many lives; mine included. A life, in fact many lives ended and it is with pain that I document a most remarkable life and personality; a man I had the pleasure of knowing for most of my life, a gentle, caring, compassionate, down to earth, humble and very generous soul.

The business of funerals and undertakers is morbid, even scary. Most people come across an undertaker at the most painful times in their lives, when they have lost a loved one. They look to an undertaker to make their pain a little less tedious; to take over the grim tasks they cant handle. He sells them a coffin, organises burial lots, tombstones, pall bearers and in some cases handles the entire funeral proceedings.

*The late Tunji Okusanya
*The late Tunji Okusanya

 

An undertaker is not someone anyone prays to see, for it would mean there is a bereavement. That would be a generally accepted fact if you didn’t know the beauty, the kindness and the compassion that was Tunji Okusanya. The world became a lot darker this week with the death of my big brother and friend. I think we all meet people in our lives who transcend friendship into family and Brother Tunji (as I always called him) was one of those. He was my older sister’s friend when I was a teenager and became a fixture of my childhood and adult years. He always treated me like I was a little girl and I am not ashamed to admit I enjoyed it even into my forties.

Brother Tunji took his work like it was a ministry and he never ran out of comfort to give.He ran MIC Funeral services like it was a charity. I remember sitting with him in his office when I lost my mom and he managed to calm my hysteria and give very wise counsel. Like most grief stricken people, I was determined to give my mother what I thought was the best. I pointed to a shiny green coffin, that looked more like a showpiece luxury bed than a casket and was determined to buy it. He said no problem and led me to his private office and in that gentle voice of his started to ask me some questions that had me crying. He always called me Baby mi or baby girl and I still remember his exact words. “Baby mi, what do you need a fire proof, bullet proof coffin for?, It wont bring auntie back!” He knew it was grief and not common sense that attracted me to that casket and he steered me in the direction of a white one, that wouldn’t have cost the fortune I didn’t have. He made sure the lying in state was beautiful and did his best to lighten our load in that awful time. We barely paid a cent for all he did and I remain forever thankful for his kindness to me and my entire family.

Over the years, I have had course to run to him when the need arose and I am often teased by friends as a mini undertaker. Spending time with him meant I could reel off the requirements and things to do for a funeral to the last detail. A few years ago, after I twisted his arm to knock off 1million Naira off a 1.5million funeral bill; I asked whether he actually ever made any money and he just laughed. He said it would be hard to make money with baby sisters that always came begging for people. On a sober note, he went on to say, he always met people when pain had brought them to their knees and it was his calling to stand with them and not take advantage of them. I am a person of faith but this really hurts! It hurt even more that he died with Jnr, his son. They were among the 13 people who lost their lives in the ill fated Associated airlines plane, which crashed in lagos on the 3rd of october 2013.

Tunji Okusanya was a great undertaker; the best undertaker but he was an even better man. He was a father not only to his own children but to others, he was a mentor, a role model. To me, he was my brother Tunji; he read my columns, never failed to call when he read about my achievements. He would say how proud he was of me and was always there to listen; he had my time!! I write this with a broken heart to honour my big brother; our loss is heaven’s gain. God bless you my Egbon, God comfort your family, and all you leave behind. Thank you for demystifying death; it was never a big deal to you; you said it was a natural passage. Its an irony that I would have come running to you when heartbroken by such tragedy but I take solace that you are in a better place.

Rest in peace brother Tunji…. till we meet again.


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