Yesterday I got the sad news that the brother of a friend took his own life and his body was found in the river. Today I am preparing to go down to the house and help with the funeral preparations. I have been emailing another friend about this, and remembered how differently death is treated here from in my home in a developed country.
I wanted to share this with anyone who is interested, as it means a lot to me, and I will post updates out of respect for my friend, and for his loss. I have taken out names for the sake of the family.
I have just copied some of my email text below:
Me: In any case, you can all get a bit of a rest from me today, as sadly I have to go and help a friend prepare their home for a funeral. His younger brother took his life after having an affair and his body was found yesterday in the XXXX River so I had better get showered and get moving.
My friend:Oh my goodness, how awful. Good luck xx
Me:Weird that people can actually set out to commit suicide by drowning themselves, but here so many people can’t actually swim. Fiji has one of the highest drowning rates per capita in the world
My friend: Yes, I remember reading some on your blog about swimming. Seems so strange as I thought it was all about the beaches! That was until you told me otherwise. Suicide is a terrible thing. Can’t understand it. So hard on the people left behind. To be so sad is tragic. So is the funeral today after only finding him yesterday? Much quicker than here. No autopsy or investigation?
Hope you’re ok today, and all the family involved.
Me: No, the funeral will be some time next week I guess when the wife and the mum return from xxxx (overseas). They have just been told that he is sick in hospital and wants to see them so that they are not too distressed to travel. The man lived in xxxx(overseas) with his wife and the mum just travelled there last few weeks to visit for 2 years (also how it is done here). He came back to Fiji to check on the farm, do some planting and then go back. The cassava and dalo crops are planted and then harvested after a year, so many people do that. Just plant and forget, maybe get a caretaker to do some weeding and look after the house.
Anyway, he took up with another woman for a month while he was here and it has somehow all gone pear shaped!
His brother is my taxi driver, Mr XXXX, who is one of my two real friends here in Fiji.
I am going to help the ladies (cousins, aunties etc) to clean the house, clean the compound, start cutting firewood, digging up cassava and dalo for the funeral. Here, death is very real, and burial is very down to earth. You really know that the person is dead when you stand beside the grave which is dug in 6 feet of clay mud, and watch people actually pat down the earth by hand and with shovels. It sounds horrific, but actually it is quite calming, and there really is a sense of closure for people.
Often the inmates from the prison do the grave digging and filling as part of their community service, so there are also prison guards sitting on nearby graves with guard dogs. The inmates wear their orange jumpsuits, and the ones I have witnessed are really kind and sensitive in their treatment of the gravesite and the relatives, and do it really “nicely” as they say here. People always say, “do it nicely” for anything important which translates to “put your whole heart into it, as if it really matters, and go over and above what you are expected to do”.
After the funeral they all get together and have a big feast to remember the passing and as they say here “cover the person’s footsteps”. A bit like a wake, but more a feeling like a huge casual Sunday BBQ at home, as all of the relatives from all over come and it is often the biggest celebration the person has in their whole life, even though they have passed.
Anyway, I am actually off to shower and prepare as my friend is collecting me soon in his taxi to take me down to the house. This is a sombre topic, and my thoughts and apologies go out to anyone who is reading this and currently dealing with loss of their own.