The death of people we do not know personally can still affect us in many ways. It can touch our mortality. The death of the BBC’s Komla Dumor, aged 41, in January 2014 affected me in many ways. And for some reason I am thinking about it again today.
When Ghana-born BBC TV presenter Komla Dumor covered the funeral of Nelson Mandela, he described this as ‘a special moment’, which he will ‘look back on with a sense of sadness … and gratitude’.
In a very thoughtful interview with Mandela’s daughter Makaziwe the conversation turned to the sometimes long transition of accompanying a loved-one slowly through the pain of dying.
On 18th January 2014 Dumar died at his London home. It is thought he suffered a heart attack.
His passing is a sobering reminder of our own mortality and the unpredictability of death.
One moment we may be reflecting on the loss of a loved one, or even someone we never met, only for it to be our turn next.
Sometimes, there is no obvious clue that death is approaching. We may look and feel well with both feet grounded in life, at work and at home. We may have plans, goals and aspirations. We may have already been tested by life before, and remain motivated to give it our all.
And then our body experiences a short-circuit reaction, something that may have developed over time or not, without our knowledge.
What is worse, for those dying and for those left behind – a sudden death or a long and protracted passing? No doubt the disbelief and pain can be enormous, either way.
When I heard the news I noticed a great sense of sadness, which I have been trying to understand.
I did not know Komla Dumor personally. But I remember hearing his baritone voice for the first time on the BBC World Service, full of self-confidence, energy, intelligence, passion and personality that suggested a rising career path.
I had also come across a TEDx video “Telling the African story” in which he “challenged conventional wisdom about Africa”, full of subtle points delivered with engaging charm and humor.
I enjoyed this video so much. It reminded me of the days I had spent working in Africa (mostly West Africa). It is a very long time ago now. I was in my 20s.
The place I had felt most welcome was Ghana. A friendship kept me connected. A death ended that connection. Dumor’s death also reconnected me with aspects of my own grief, which will always remain.
I think what impacted me most was the suddenness of his death. Though it is not the first time, many others have died since, and many more will join at some point (including me). Mortality is part of our reality.
It reminds me of my own mortality and what it would be like, if I or another had their final day today, without knowing.
Would I have said and done anything differently? Definitely.
Death is a brutal reminder of some key facts in all our lives:
We do not always get what we need and deserve.
Life is not always fair and predictable.
Tragedies do happen.
Accepting this reality does not mean surrender, but having a realistic and non-utopian outlook on life.
Feeling the pain of loss and bereavement is normal and healthy.
Like a river, the feelings will ebb and flow naturally, and we must avoid pretending otherwise.
Grief has to be allowed – for the one who has passed and for own mortality.
That is the only way for the vision and energy of the dead to live on in our motivation and enthusiasm for the life we all have left.