When a woman attends her own funeral

When a woman attends her own funeral

Saturday, June 26, 2021 8:58 pm

Aduke Gomez

Aduke Gomez speaking at the event ( All photos by Ayo Efunyela)

By Nehru Odeh

It sounds surreal but true. And it is a journey many embark on in the secret recesses of their minds, though ironically a subject easily swept under the carpet and considered a taboo. Yet many still live under its shadow, especially in this time of Covid-19.

However, Aduke Gomez, lawyer writer and poet, has made a bold move. Not only has she grappled head-on with mental health issues, she has come out to give expression to that experience in a collection of 50 poems entitled, On Attending My Own Wake and Other Episodes.

Attending one’s own wake? Yes, “written with clarity, truth and music,” the book speaks to the journey the author went through while grappling with mental health issues, her inner thought processes and metaphorically speaking, how she attended her own funeral.  Tade Ipadeola, award-winning poet and author of The Sahara Testament said of the book: “In a society that has succeeded in banishing taboo subjects to the realm of whispers, Aduke’s unsettling script marks a point of departure and of suppression.

L-R Mrs Gbemi Shasore, Mr Charles Corudent, Aduke Gomez, Jumoke Coker and Dr Tolu Ajomale

L-R Mrs Gbemi Shasore, Mr Charles Coudent, Aduke Gomez, Jumoke Coker and Dr Tolu Ajomale

The book, published by Bookcraft, was presented to the public on Saturday 19 June at the Alliance Francaise, Wale Adenuga Centre, Ikoyi Lagos. Many who could not make it to the book launch also participated via Zoom. The event was compered by Gbemi Sashore. While Tayo Aluko and Rachael Onelka read and performed the poems in a video that was directed by Jefffey Page.

Charles Coudent, outgoing Director, Alliance Francaise Lagos set the ball rolling with a brief speech. He described Gomez as one of the most incredible persons he has met in his four-year stay in Lagos. “We have some personal links. She is my friend. I think she is incredibly talented and courageous and open minded. And she really loves Nigeria,” he said.

Sashore, Gomez’s childhood and “long, long time friend” also described her as an incredibly smart woman and a super lady. “We all know why we are gathered. It is for this super book from a super lady. She is an incredibly smart woman … It gives me great joy that a matter that deserves attention is put into this lovely coffee-sized book for a time such as now.

“We all know what we’ve been through, the pandemic and all kinds of stuff in the nation right now. Mental health is a matter that everybody needs to pay a lot of attention to. This art form I think is something worth celebrating because it draws some kind of attention to such a very heavy topic. And from the last two years we have all lost somebody or the other. And more and more it is getting closer to home,” Sashore, who asked that a minute silence be held for those who had passed on, said.

Dr, Raphael Ogbolu, consultant psychiatrist at the Lagos University Teaching Hospital, LUTH, and  the national co-ordinator of the Suicide Research and Prevention Initiative, SPRI, gave a lecture via Zoom entitled The Role of Art in Health.  Ogbolu, a modern day authority on suicide prevention in Nigeria spoke about how art and creative literature can be used as forms of therapy.

Charles and Nehru

Charles and Nehru at the event

He however made a distinction between art therapy and art in health even though people use them interchangeably.

He maintained that while art therapy is something that is more structured, organized, requiring training and qualification and a degree of expertise, art in health is less stringent in terms of the requirement to practice it. So it does not often require expertise or structured training.

Ogbolu, who maintained that literature can be used to treat various forms of physical, mental and emotional disorders such as stroke depression and anxiety, however bemoaned the fact that Africans do not know how to express depression in words.  He was full of praise for the book.  “The Creativity expressed in the book is also notable.  It creatively invites you to participate,” he said.

In a question-and-answer session with the author, Dr Tolu Ajomale, a medical doctor and specialist in public and global mental health decried the increasing suicide rate in Nigeria, saying the book speaks to one of the growing epidemics not only in Lagos but also in the country as a whole. “The current rate suggests that we have about 9.45 per 100, 000 people committing suicide in Nigeria. And a lot of time we understand that there is also a high level of under reportage of these cases, largely because there is a lot od stigma associated with suicide in social media.

Ajomale, who said causes of suicide include abusive parents and pressures from society said what is more important is the ability of people to have access to care or being able to speak to speak out when they have issues, so that those issues can be dealt with.

Asked how she felt when she was writing the book, Gomez said she was initially hesitant. “If you read the appreciation of the book, you would see that  I thank my publisher for his patience during the hesitancy of this process because I wasn’t sure how it would be received. I was really, really quite hesitant. As I said I first came across Dr Ogbolu’s work  in 2019.  That was when I and Olayebi Bankole {the publisher+ had a conversation around it. He said, ‘Look, I am sure we can do something with it.’

Aduke Gomez and Dr Tolu Ajomale while responding to questions at the book presentation in Lagos

Aduke Gomez and Dr Tolu Ajomale while responding to questions at the book presentation in Lagos

“I had written it, showed to him. He said, ‘this is great,’ which you’ve always wanted to do.’ Then at the point at which he would say, ‘Ok can we go ahead,’  I would say, ‘Oh well I’m not sure. Not yet. Lets just give it a bit of time.’ But with Covid, and  hearing all the stories that were coming out during Covid and post Covid, I thought however it is received, however people think about it, if really my intention is to hope that it can do good then I shouldn’t hold it back.”

The author, however said she hopes the book will stimulate conversations. “And my hope with this book is that it will stimulate conversations like this and conversations with other people. And something I have found is that I have had quite intimate conversations with people about mental issues which I would not ordinarily have had. So I think even in my own small space, the conversation has begun..“

And a vote of thanks given by the authors’s daughter, Jumoke, signaled the end of the book presentation.


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