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Pain of watching bad funeral rites is severe than grieving the dead

By Njoki Kaigai | July 7th 2019

Last week was not a good one for Kenya as we said goodbye to one of Kenya’s leading business icons - Bob Collymore. It was heartwarming to see the outpouring of grief and the glowing tributes from Kenyans from all walks of life. Bob prepared for his send-off providing explicit instructions on responsibilities, timings, speakers, music and even photography. This had me thinking about funeral and burial services in this part of our world. Maybe it is fusion of our culture and grief, but sometimes our services can leave the grieving feeling aggrieved not consoled. As Michael Joseph once said, we are peculiar country and I think this is most visible at our funerals.

Let us start with the clergy who sometimes make the process of holding a funeral service pure hell-as if death is not hell enough. Some clergy men and women see the grieving process to flex some muscle. In some cases, some dare not come close to any burial rites till they have photographic and paper evidence that the deceased was a man or woman of God. Sometimes those requests are outrageous and downright ridiculous - what good is it asking for the baptism card of an octogenarian before proceeding with any sendoff rites.

Others see those funeral services as an opportunity to carry out their ‘fishers of men’ duties, so instead of soothing the souls of the grieving - they go on crusade mode and spew fire and brimstone. Instead of speaking tender words, they go all hoarse and loud on the microphones as they insist (in some cases demand) that at least some mourners see the folly of their ways and accept the Lord as their personal saviour. I think it is perfectly alright to put fishing of men on hold to deliver on the primary purpose of funeral service- comforting and consoling. I dare not venture to the topic of sermons where some members of the clergy spend endless hours preaching to the bereaved. It is common sense that heavy hearts do not make for retentive minds -sharp, crisp, well-targeted sermons(12 minutes at max) should be the order of the day.

The next common disappointment at our funeral services is the singing. Firstly, you have the selection of the usual hymn culprits - It is well and Amazing Grace. These hymns are beautifully arranged and for those who know music, they will tell you that they are iconic. Yet, somehow, we have managed to massacre them by creating our own notes, dragging out certain bits of the hymns - basically just making them sound nothing like what the composers intended. Perhaps as nation we should pass a law that bans any vocally untrained persons from singing these hymns during funeral services - trust me we have already caused irreparable damage.

Once we get past these hymns, we have funeral singers- those who feel compelled to perform at funerals. It is highly likely that these singers mean well, but often nature has not deemed it fit to gift these people with palatable voices. For reasons I am yet to understand, these bad ‘funeral musicians’ like to choose long hymns those that have something between fifteen and twenty stanzas. I know of instances where the pain of enduring these performances has been more severe than the pain of grieving the departed. Maybe a way out of this is to ban all such performances and instead rely on recordings.

Showing up very late

This article must give honourable mention to those Kenyan folks who  onsider every public gathering as an opportunity to feed the ‘I love the sound of my voice’ monster. These people, who seem to have a penchant for showing up very late, sneak up behind backs of the master/mistress of ceremony and demand that they are allocated an immediate slot to address the mourners. Their glee at being accorded a slot is usually in sharp contrast to the mood of the day. Some of these ‘bulldozer’ speakers grab those slots to talk about topics that are of little relevance to the bereaved such as handshakes, vegetation or rainbows. As if this were not bad enough, these gatecrashers often ruin timings on the program and sometimes get involved in family politics (a staple in Kenyan funerals).

Politicians are notorious for the bulldozer habits, with random relatives who sprout up at the mention of funerals coming a close second. Based on their behaviours, it seems that their one desire is to pay respects to their insecurities, egos and need for public adulation. I have heard that trees and plants have a hidden ability to hear what we mortals say - so perhaps instead of creating additional pain to mourners this passé of ‘love the sound of my voice’ can talk to vegetation.

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There are also other minor transgressions which give Kenyan funerals some additional unpleasantness. Wardrobe transgressions where certain people come dressed in outfits that draw too much to themselves – too much colour, too much tightness, on display undergarments and branded T- shirts. It also seems shades have become part of Kenyan funeral wear- though I do not understand why they must remain on in enclosed spaces or in Church. We cannot forget the Kenyan obsession with having a copy of the funeral program/booklet in their possession.

There is an unspoken understanding that the status of a funeral is determined by the pagination, gloss, pictorial layout and print run of the funeral booklet. This has been known to cause some mourners to get into wrestling matches or to throw tantrums all in the name of the funeral booklet. At the end of the funeral, this booklet is carried around as if it were a badge of honour. Given the state of our forest cover, we should consider banning these booklets - all they do is cause unnecessary drama and decimate our forests.

We live in eternal hope that we shall pick a few useful tips from Bob’s funeral and make things a bit bearable.

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