Last month, 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.
Dumor presented his last programme last Friday. On Saturday he suddenly died at his London home, aged 41. It is thought he suffered a heart attack.
His passing is a sobering reminder of the unpredictability of death – for us all. 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. 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 dieing 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.
Since I heard the news on Saturday 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.
After working in journalism in his native Ghana, he moved to the BBC’s World Service radio, and then became a TV presenter with BBC World News and Focus on Africa programme. He featured in New African magazine’s November 2013 list of 100 most influential Africans. It said he had “established himself as one of the emerging African faces of global broadcasting”, who had “considerable influence on how the continent is covered”. He has been described as a trailblazer, an icon, witty and wise, a man with a vision.
He has left behind a family including a father, wife and 3 children, colleagues, friends and audiences here in the UK and across the world.
I think what has impacted me is the suddenness of death, though it is not the first time I have experienced it, and probably not the last. 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.