Stories and Funerals
I have a friend who is threatening to ‘defriend’ me – she is scared I go to too many funerals, and that it may rub off on her! Unfortunately we have a hard time believing in our own mortality, somehow thinking that we can cheat death. But although funerals are sad occasions, I never fail to learn something from the gift of a person’s life.
Recently I attended the funeral of a former co-worker, made sadder by the fact that she had died suddenly and with no warning. And these are the hardest realities for families and friends to deal with. One of the eulogies was given by her ‘companion’. He told the story of their friendship, one that went back 60 years to the schoolyard they had played in back home in Barbados. And he told how he had always known she was the one for him. She was small and fiery. He was tall and patient. She had coped with tragedy at an early age, losing her mother before she went to high school. But she had completed school. He went on to tell us how mad he was when he saw she was pregnant for someone else, then she immigrated to the US. Over the years they had lost touch, and had only rediscovered each other a few years ago. The love they had known as young kids was still as strong, and they had reconnected.
Sudden death is a shock for friends and loved ones, but it may be a gift for the one who leaves. No prolonged painful sickness, no sense that it will soon be over. Last week after I wrote of my father-in-law, my niece posted a memorial tribute to her brother Desi, who died tragically, suddenly and senselessly 12 years ago. Desi had drummed the night away at his grandfather’s set up, getting blisters from the Kette drum. He had no way of knowing that he would be gone within the next 3 months.
Desi was a striver – always trying to do better. He learned from every experience, and tried never to make the same mistake twice. He had a young family, and his only intent was to make life better for them. Ingenious? He would set up his recorder on the stage of every dancehall clash, then sell the tapes at his store in Spanish Town. A hustler, he got his hands on a bootleg “Third world cop” and set it up on a bigscreen TV on the rooftop for everyone to see. An entrepreneur – when Reggae Boyz came to Florida he flew up and sold Jamaica flags at the intersection. He even set up his drum to drum up business. A passerby was impressed and he was invited to perform at a Black History Month event at Miami Dade College.
From his flag sales he earned the nickname ‘Flagman’ but he not only paid for his air fare, he was also able to shop for his family, and invest in a CD burner for his business. He saw opportunity in every obstacle, a joke in every tragedy, and a reason to laugh every day. Twelve years later his family still tries to cope with their loss.
The only way to make sense of tragedy is to make sure that we learn something from it. The only way we can honor the meaning of a person’s life is to celebrate their spirit and try to keep that spirit alive. And then we can shout from the rooftops with Dylan Thomas ‘and death shall have no dominion’. The first verse ends quite beautifully:
Though lovers be lost, love shall not;
And death shall have no dominion.
One Love Family! Let us live this life like there’s no tomorrow, saying what we need to say today, doing what we need to do now, loving without holding back. Have a great weekend, and make the best of every day.