These days there is a lot of euphemism surrounding one’s death. People hardly say that someone is dead. Instead, we would hear that the person has passed or that the person has gone home. Sometimes the message is simply that someone has gone.
Then there is the funeral. It is no longer a funeral service; it is a going-home service. Often, too, one is not actually saying farewell; one is celebrating the life of the person.
When I was a boy I was dragged to church on every occasion my stepfather had. Being Anglican or as the Americans say these days, being Episcopalian, I served at the altar. In that role I did many things. I carried the crucifix, I served as a boat boy which had nothing to do with boats that sail. It was merely the boy who walked alongside the Churifer—the person swinging the incense pot. My role was to fetch the incense pot into which the priest dug ever so often.
We stood out at funerals. We sang the dreary hymns and heard the mournful litany. Of course, people only spoke about the good things that the dearly departed did during his life. Even if he was a criminal the words were soothing.
There was this case of a priest who presided over a funeral in Bare Root, East Coast Demerara. Not far away there was another funeral for one of those who terrorized the country during the crime wave. The priest mistook the corpse for what it was.
So he preached about he who lives by the sword would die by the sword. Pandemonium broke out in the church. “He ain’t live by no sword,” the church screamed. It was some time before some semblance of order returned.
But it is the procession from the church to the final resting place that takes the cake. Most funeral processions are somber. En route to the cemetery people would drive before the hearse because they “don’t want no dead to lead them”.
But there are some that are calypso events. I remember the funeral of the sister of Rita Forrester. The assembly point was Stabroek Market. Needless to say, the sno-cone carts and the various push carts came out.
There was a truck with a steel pan that provided up tempo music. Alcohol flowed and people gyrated. That day it was not all’s well that ends well. A popular character called Bundarie fell off the truck and died.
Since that soul funeral there have been others too numerous to mention. Just Friday there was a big soul funeral, if that is what they are called. There were countless motorcycle riders, colourfully dressed people who caused me to wonder where have the black and the purple gone.
In the coffin was one of the five who were shot and killed at Liliendaal a few weeks ago. The man was celebrated as a hero of sorts and I said to myself, he had a lot of friends.
Needless to say, the police kept a close eye on the procession, but I wondered if they would have dared to make an arrest had they seen a person of interest.
I must admit that the spectacle is worth seeing, because it is so out of the ordinary. Smiling faces at a funeral always takes away the grief and even the fear of dying, I suppose.
When my grandmother died way back in 1986 she was led to her grave by a band. The band played up-tempo music from the home until they reached the gates of the church. The priest later wondered why they stopped. His sermon was that this was a joyous occasion. It might have been for some people, but it wasn’t for me and most of my relatives.
Now that I look back, dance music is perhaps the best thing to lead a funeral procession. It adds life to an occasion that is often somber. Of course the dead cannot hear and certainly does not seem to care.
My grandmother supervised the construction of her tomb. She even lay on the tomb to ensure that she would have room when they put her there, because she didn’t want to feel hot. She never came back to tell anybody if the place was hot.
But picture the heat inside a sealed concrete contraption and tell me that it would not get hot. She wanted a band for whatever reason.
So here I am thinking about providing an occasion for a gala party when my passing comes. Wakes are occasions for drinking and merriment. Gone are the days when the older people walked with their hymn books and sang the mournful hymns while keeping an eye on the coffee and biscuits.
These days, biscuits are no longer served. There are copious amounts of liquor, pots of cook up and metagee with loud salt fish, and of course, music. Depending on the mood, there would be oldies or pop music. I never heard dancehall music at wakes, but I heard calypsos and reggae or soca.
Not that I care, but it would be nice to ‘sport’ all those who find time to come to my wake. Let there be loud music and bountiful liquor. Let there be mini-skirted girls. Knowing some of the people I know, there would be ‘nuff ganja’ to drunk a horse. While I stay away from the drug, I wouldn’t care who smoked.
In fact, I wouldn’t care about a thing. I have told my children not to spend money on a fancy casket and things like that. An old box would do, because the last place I would be would be a crematorium.
And that’s another story. People ask “Why cremation?” Why would I want to leave work for people? They would want to trek to the gravesite on special occasions to paint and to weed. If the place is anything like Le Repentir, they would need axes and the fire service. They would also need pumps to remove the water from the ground.
There is no such thing with ashes. But for now life is beautiful; people would have to wait a while for this ‘going home party’ and for the wake. Twenty years is not too long.
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