Death and funerals

Teenage

Death and funerals

Barbara
Gloudon

Friday, February 21, 2020

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A five-year-old bangs on his neighbour's door in Jones Town, Kingston, and shouts, “Dem shot up mi mother and she dead, and dem shot me too!” The Jamaica Observer report on Tuesday related the story that the police were summoned by residents about 1:10 am. They found the little boy's mother suffering from multiple gunshot wounds. She was taken to hospital where she was pronounced dead.

His story is one covered in a trail of tears. His father died and now his mother has been killed in front of him. Why are we in this nightmare? How came we here, Lord? How? Why? What could cause this? Will this child be helped to deal with the scars of such a traumatic experience and come out whole?

Every day there is another story of grief and despair in this nation. It makes it hard to focus on the political word-throwing and squabbles that have also occurred this week. The only political news that holds interest for me this week is whether a new addition to the Ministry of National Security in the person of Senator Matthew Samuda will bring us closer to outing the fires of death and destruction that have been raging around us.

Once upon a time in Jamaica funerals were a gathering of people of senior age. The deceased very often had accomplished their three score and ten. They had lived full lives before the chariot would swing low and carry them home. Now, we are burying toddlers, teenagers, and people who should have had more years in front of them. More and more the cause of death relates to acts of violence or mayhem.

In a discussion with other senior friends who recently gathered for a memorial, we spoke about how funerals and mourning have changed over the years. Set-ups, nine-nights and wakes are a part of our culture. Our people have always gathered to comfort the living and honour the departed in a show of community. Depending on where you are, and who is involved, the rituals can run the spectrum of a subdued prayer service to a full on dancehall session. In this current season of death and despair, our grieving rituals are more prevalent.

My friend said she remembers what she saw as the turning point in how we grieve. “It was the funeral of a don, a bad man. I can't remember which one, but one of the mourners came to the church bearing a wreath made in the shape of an M16. That's when I knew we had started down a different path.” In the 1990s, funerals began to become flashier and 'bashment'-driven. The bashment funeral can really be a show: theatre and drama. Caskets in glass carriages drawn through the streets. Caskets covered in photos of the departed or other images of “triumph over death”. Old boxy hearses gave way to shiny, flashy Escalades.

My other friend reckoned, “It's almost as if it's an in-your-face gesture. You thought my relative's life meant nothing, so let me show everybody how much they are worth.”

Younger people are dying and having to attend funerals. It is no wonder that they see the grieving process in terms of how they now live their lives. The “duppy band” will give way to sound systems and stacks of speaker boxes. The set-up is now a dance, and the nine-night is a major curry-goat feed. And yet there is still room for the traditions of old. The coming together with singing and drumming.

I had a chat with a young man who is drummer. He is a Revivalist and does kumina drumming at set-ups and nine-nights. I asked him to share how he has seen things change. He said it depends on the family or the relatives of the departed. It really comes down to how they choose to honour the departed. The songs raised and the rituals done are a reflection of the community. If the family is Christian, then hymns and songs from scripture are performed. If the departed was a “worldlian” then the party-time gathering would be expected. He saw it as a way of remembering happier times with the departed. If that is how the family is comforted, then so be it. To each, his own.

For some a large crowd, several tributes, and hours spent carrying the departed to the burial site is the sign of a good farewell. I know some people who cannot settle for a funeral service that can be completed in under three hours. “No, sah! Funeral is whole-day ting. You have to say a proper goodbye!”

Another news item on our funeral culture that caught my interest came from St Mary. It was a television report on “fancy graves”. Tombstones are no longer just an open Bible with the name of the departed. In honouring the departed, family members have erected replicas of castles and fancy homes to house the dead. Concrete aeroplanes, cars and bikes sit above the graves, brightly painted for all to see. This is a practice in countries in our African motherland. I don't know how much of this is a reflection of our roots or our new trends of elaborate displays of affection. Some of these graves are full-fledged mausoleums, so ostentatious that parish municipal corporations are now considering enacting rules and regulations as to what can be done in the cemeteries which they have responsibility for.

We continue to grapple with death and all that comes with it. We all process grief in different ways. What is outlandish and boasy for some is a fitting tribute of love and honour for others.

Fool-fool prank

Why would anyone think it is funny to take part in the idiotic “jump-trip” challenge? Stories are circulating about an idiotic prank in which two people trick someone into jumping. As the poor unsuspecting victim is coming back down, the two brutes kick the third jumper's legs from under them, causing them to fall to the ground.

Why? How we fool-fool so? Is it funny to have a friend break their back, or crack their skull when they hit the ground?

The Ministry of Education has issued warnings, as have the police, to those people whose sense of humour is under-ripe and immature. We have heard of at least one student who broke his arm when he fell. Please, let this one go by quicker than Usain on the track. Unnu find something worthwhile to do!

Barbara Gloudon is a journalist, playwright and commentator. Send comments to the Observer or gloudonb@gmail.com.


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