Burying the Dead ~ Tinuola Olateju

I remember moments from the funeral. Just these flashes of images and sounds. I remember weeping. There was lots of weeping. I remember someone speaking of Jesus and singing to Jesus and I really didn’t want to think about Jesus. I wanted to remember Tinu. I wanted to cry. I wanted to hug Lola. I did not want to sing a praise song. To direct my emotions like that at times felt manipulative. But I believe most people need solace in a form higher than them and according to Tinu, her version of that is Jesus. He played a huge role in her life, so it was only fitting that when I wanted to curl up and sob, someone would sing a Jesus song.

A few of her friends stood up and spoke about her. Their memories. Their joys. All the ways in which she touched their lives. I learned that she was silly, delightful, willing to try things, always giving and always so very helpful. I learned about her first kiss, the prank call to 9-1-1, her phone calls to Joke and her elegance from Peju’s speech.

There were a sea of people at her funeral. Its amazing how so many people could love and cherish one little girl. She wasn’t the pope, she wasn’t the president. She’s a daughter, a sister and teenage girl and yet so many people poured in to see her one last time. So many hearts were broken. I’m not sure that my heart can fully mend after this. I’m sure it can heal but there will be scars along the places it ripped into a million pieces.

There is the image of the five siblings sitting in the front pew alone and standing at the podium alone. I mean, not entirely alone. There was some extended family there. There were a sea of friends there. But there was a huge absence. Sunday and Yemi Olateju, their parents. If you know the Olateju’s story, you know why Yemi could not be there. Well, even if she were physically able to be there, because of their Yoruba customs, neither parent was there. According to Yoruba customs, it is considered such a greivous event that a child would die before their parents, that the parents do not attend the funeral. They stay home and receive visitors during and after the funeral.

I CAN NOT IMAGINE! I mean, I know its customs. And rituals and ceremonies go deep into the bone and fabric of being human. There are things I do and believe and act based upon customs that people would never understand. But I need my mommy. When tragedy hits, when I’m scared, when I’m alone, when I don’t understand what’s going on, somehow I resort back to a five year old and I just need my mom to hold me and make it all make sense. And I could not fathom in a MILLION years going to the funeral of a sibling and not having my mother hold my hand.

This makes me realize that every single child in their family, Lola, Peju, Joke, Kola and Sola possess a strength that must come directly from god. A strength, a resiliance and a capacity to hold it together that none of us could imagine.

At one point Joke walked out. It made me sad. I wanted to cry. I wanted to find her and hug her and say THIS SUCKS! LET’S BREAK SOMETHING PRETTY. But moments later she came back composed and ready to handle the rest of the service. That is that strength I was talking about. My strength does not run that deep. I stand in awe of their entire family.

Maybe everyone else is to nice to say it but nice was NEVER how I was described but there was a man taking pictures at the funeral with the freaking FLASH on! WTF?! I know I wasn’t the only one who saw it. I didn’t say anything because I didn’t know if he was their family or not or some respected figure in their church. But I don’t care. And it turns out he wasn’t. And he came up right to the front row taking pictures of Tinu’s casket, and of the kids as they stood there crying and of us. WITH THE FLASH ON.

I know some people photograph funerals. It’s still weird to me. But goodness, turn the flash off and be discreet. Right when the kids walked up to speak about their sister…and I mean, they are literally holding each other up because I think they all wanted to collapse..this man walks right up to them, like literally under their nose and just keeps flashing pictures. WTF? I was one flash away from going up to him and grabbing that camera.

The burial was heartbreaking. I can’t comprehend children dying. Children being buried. I just can’t fit it in my mind. There is no file folder for that. There is no space in my understanding to get that. As they lowered her into the ground, Jeremiah sung a song. Once he was at the end, he stopped so we all stopped. Lola in the same breaking voice she called me with that night said, “Could you please keep singing.” I cry as I write this. You wouldn’t understand unless you were there and you heard her pleading. And I get it. If my sister were being lowered into the ground, I’d want angels singing. I’d want something to happen. I wouldn’t want her body to go down in silence. I would need to call on god and I’d need him to show up and do something.

It did rain that day. If you’ve read about James or Maura on my blog, you know the signifiance of that. Even Lola referenced my blog when we saw it was raining at the burial. If you don’t understand I will write about it in a later post.

After Tinu’s body was lowered, the kids each took a turn shoveling some dirt into her grave. AAAAAHHHHHHHHH! I just can’t think about this right now. The image. The heartbreak. Sola sobbing. Peju holding him. Lola losing her mind for a moment. Kola stoic face. Every time I recall that, I’m on the verge of breaking down. But I can’t forget it either. I can’t forget the heartbreak that happens when despair causes you to take your own life. You take your own life and you take a bit of everyone’s heart and it gets buried down their too. When I have depressed days I must remember the sadness and heartbreak that happens if I don’t seek help and healing.

Shovels and Dirt and Graves also reminded me of Boneyard Prayer. If that ever reemerged, each night of the performance might just crack my heart beyond repair. There are clear images in that production of the gravediggers shoveling dirt to dig things up or to bury them. Shit, the opening scene of that play is the process of burying a baby. That is what we did in the real world on Saturday. We buried a baby and now the most intriguing show I’ve ever worked on hurts my heart to think about.

At one point Lola collapsed. I saw Brianna holding her head up to the sky letting the rain pour down her face. Drew’s girlfriend, Kelsey and I took turns literally holding Peju up. Sola just cried. We all just cried. We all stood around this family, this grave of a child and we couldn’t keep it together. How do I recover from this?

Its been a few days now and I find myself in a state of shock. I have to pretend nothing happened in order to function. In order to work. In order to drink a glass of water. I am dazed and numb and whenever someone ask me how I’m doing, I say I’m ok. Then I feel like a hypocrite because its not the truth. So I have to excuse myself.

I should know better than to be so screwed up right now. But my coping mechanism, my belief system, my faith in metaphysics isn’t stopping these tears. So for now, I focus on a task. Type this post. Just finish the sentence. Drink this water. Put your hand around the cup. Grab the cup. Bring it to your mouth. Hold your head back. Pour water in your mouth. Swallow water. Do not choke. Place glass back down. If I fully focus on executing a task, it leaves no room in my brain for my mind to lose itself again.

Don’t even turn your flash on at a funeral. If I’m there, I might just break your camera or your face.

If you search hard enough you can find the audio recording of Tinu’s funeral. This may be helpful for those who were not there.

I should also mention that when it felt like the room was at a breaking point, Ava came to the piano and she sung us all a lullaby and it put a calm over the room, if only for a moment. And Ava, it made all the difference. Thank you for that wonderful healing gift.

Tinuola Olateju

February 15, 1995 – May 29, 2010

Facebook Group: In Loving Memory of Tinuola Olateju

Facebook Group: R.I.P Tinu

Relevant issues, sites, & topics….

Out of Darkness Overnight Walk

American Foundation for Suicide Prevention

Suicide Awareness Voices Education

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  • […] Burying the Dead – I’m not sure that my heart can fully mend after this. I’m sure it can heal but there will be scars along the places it ripped into a million pieces. […]

  • […] North Oaks from her job in Austin, Texas. Her best friend came to Minnesota to help bury Tinu, and write about the suicide of her friend’s sister. On the day of the funeral, it […]

  • […] Once during the S Factor Immersion.  In which I wore a white dress…the same dress I wore to Tinu’s funeral. I was blindfolded and I danced to “Devil’s Thunder” by Rachal […]

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