By John Nkemnji, Ph.D.
The birth of a child brings joy and jubilation to the family and the community. The baby arrives in this world empty-handed before receiving gifts and accumulating material wealth throughout their life. Family and friends lament at the end of life as the deceased leaves all possessions behind, departing as they came, empty-handed. A reflection on the mystery of life and death is written as a result of deep pondering following the many deaths and events that have occurred, and continue to occur in our communities, worldwide – the corona pandemic, the killings of innocent civilians by armed groups, accidents, natural disasters and other forms of senseless death.
Over 136,000 people have died in the USA over the last five months just from COVID-19. A similar number of deaths have occurred from wars and gun-related killings. Death has become so prevalent that some people have lost the reverence for life. Today, you hear about the sale and purchase of human organs for transplantation and other forms of demonic sacrifices and killings practiced by cults and gangs, mutilated or decapitated bodies, drone strikes, and other gruesome deaths.
You are with a loved one today only to find out tomorrow that they are gone. Where do they go to? Will you ever see them again? Medical science says that death is the irreversible cessation of all vital functions especially as indicated by a permanent stoppage of the heart, respiration, and brain activity. The scriptures say something similar but from a spiritual perspective – the separation of the body from the spirit. Why do human beings die and how can we prepare for death? What happens after death? Is there life after death? These questions cannot be readily answered. God, the creator, alone knows the answers.
As human beings, we know that the inevitable will come when we least expect it. It is, therefore, a good idea to live every day as if it were the last day of our life. One should live life to the fullest so that when the time comes, your friends, family, and the community will honestly miss you for who you were and what you did, said or stood for. I grew up in a kind, generous, and loving family. When Pa and Ma Nkemnji passed, they truly had a well-deserved celebration of life. They knew that life would end and prepared for that end carefully. They loved one another and stayed in peace with their neighbors. They left a legacy worth emulating as other good people have done.
When one dies, their loved ones are sad and burdened. It is good to leave survivals with little or no problems. “Get life insurance, prepare a will, and live happily with one another.” Without careful preparations, conflicts may arise regarding the burial site and what to do with the deceased belongings. With the rampant loss of life today it is advisable to draw up a last will, buy life or death insurance and enjoy the limited time you have with family and friends. Many affordable life/burial insurance plans can be obtained from employment or through groups and associations like SAGI for Cameroonians abroad. Such investments are aimed at helping with financial expenditures. If you have a job and do not have health and life insurance your family may be in for a big surprise. At the passing of each loved one, we write well-worded reflections and narrations about the good old days. Make sure that through your good living, you help contribute to an honest eulogy. We can electronically document life with our loved ones in audio or video format.
Death is sure to follow birth at a time best known by our Creator. Death is one of the equal opportunity awards on earth. In some cases, a terminal illness, discovered early, is a prelude to death with an opportunity for the end of life preparation. In other cases, death is sudden or accidental, except when one becomes vegetative (due to Alzheimer’s or other illness) before passing away. At such a stage, your behavior and personality make you no longer yourself. You are seemingly dead though still breathing. Regardless of when or how death comes, family and friends are never prepared. When a death occurs, we wail and cry and take time off from our busy schedules, make travel arrangements, and share memories of the good old days.
These are appropriate things to do in times of sorrow but it is also great to share intimate memories of friends and relatives regularly. It would mean a lot for family and friends to get regular notes or phone calls more often, especially today with lots of social media for keeping in touch! Most people own smartphones and have WhatsApp for networking. Only a few countries block social media calls. And how wonderful would it be for us to extend the traditional social values of visiting with friends and relatives occasionally? That could even prolong life.
The problem today is that though we know that life is fleeting and that every person we love will surely take that eternal trip, we are not wise enough to slow down, call, write, visit, hug, or take memorable photographs more often. We have not yet learned our lesson, and we may not be cherishing each moment as a precious, irreplaceable gift. We are usually working harder and longer but can we slow down? We hear the excuse that “I am too busy” more often than we should. God is a great teacher, and we are the students. Let us learn, reflect, and live peacefully to succeed at the Life and Death Enigma.
- Dr. John Nkemnji is Professor Emeritus, Educational Technology. He is an educational consultant and a proponent for life-long learning. Prof. Nkemnji dedicates this contribution to the blessed memory of Pa Nkemnji Achenjang and Ma Agnes Nkemnji. Thank you for the everlasting love that continues with: www.nkemnjiachenjang.org.