It was around 3am and the phone rang repeatedly. Initially, I thought to ignore it but after 2 minutes of non-stop ringing, I concluded it was no prank call, so I stretched to the other side of my bed to pick up the phone. Just before answering, I noticed from the caller ID that this was an International call. My heart skipped a bit; an international call this early in the morning cannot be good news. I answered the call with much anxiety. On the other side of the phone was an Uncle whom I had not heard from in 7 years. His name was Mark. I could sense the sadness in his voice as calmly informed me that my aunt (his older sister) had passed away a few hours ago. Oh noooooooo, I screamed, not Aunty Grace, I just spoke with her the previous day and had begun making plans to visit her in 3 weeks.
We were both looking forward to my visit. What happened to her I asked? Well, we are not sure, but we think she had a heart attack. She went to bed and did not make it to the next morning. In that moment, I realized it was a bit odd for Uncle Mark to be the one calling me about this sad news. In order to understand my confusion, we would need to go back 7 years prior. Auntie Grace and Uncle Mark were constantly at loggerheads, but their relationship worsened when Mark embezzled funds from the family business and blamed it on Auntie Grace. Eventually, investigation showed that Mark was the culprit. He had stolen the funds to support his drinking habit and flashy lifestyle.
Needless to say, the family business fizzled, and relationships soured further. Rather than apologizing for his actions, Mark allowed his pride to get the best of him and he moved to another part of town without ever saying a word. That was the last time we saw or heard from him. So, receiving this phone call a few hours after my aunt’s passing was strange. It turns out one of Auntie Grace’s “children” had contacted relatives who in turn informed him. As he narrated the incidents leading to aunt’s passing I couldn’t help but have mixed emotions. I was heartbroken that my dear Grace was no more, but I was equally livid that my Uncle who had remained distant in 7 years was choosing this moment to tell of how great she was. Just before I got off the phone with him, his final words got me confused.
Precisely he said “Auntie Grace was a wonderful woman, and we would use this occasion to celebrate and honor her. We are planning an elaborate week of activities and I will keep you posted, he said. After the call, I pranced back and forth in my room, speaking loudly to myself in the process. Going back to sleep was not an option. This just doesn’t make sense; how can you ignore a living person for 7 years and show up to pay your “final respects” to them when they are no more. The more I thought about it, the more upset I became. I have heard many similar stories of people wanting to “show off” after a relative’s demise but I never imagined I would encounter my own family drama soon. Why do we honor the dead more than the living? Why would one take the time and money to “pay respects” to a dead person?
I’m in no way suggesting that we abandon corpses but this notion of respecting the dead over the living has to be reassessed. I am a proud African, but I believe that we need to recall certain aspects of our culture/tradition. We must celebrate life more than death. Honoring the deceased does not fix the bad relationship we had with them while they were alive; it may soothe our guilt, but it really does not fix anything for the deceased. So today, I encourage us all to celebrate life. The best honor and respect you can give anyone is your time and respect while they are alive. Life is short; make it count, invest in it, and let go of petty squabbles that add no value to one’s life.
As you can imagine, Uncle Mark’s plans of a big celebration to honor Auntie Grace did not materialize. The rest of the family decided on a simple burial; just the way she would have loved it. Her legacy of love and kindness lives on through the eyes of the 25 children she raised.