There is a chapter in the book by Stephen Covey, The Seven Habits Of Highly Effective People that starts with a description of a funeral service. Then Stephen (I love the fact that sometimes the author and I are on first-name terms) asks the reader to imagine that it is his own funeral. If you are like me and if you have read this book, chances are you did not pause as instructed and visualise it. We don’t like to think about death, not even our own. Today, I will try to envision five types of people who will attend my funeral. This is not a fun thing to do but it is a serious thing and provokes a lot of thought. We Africans don’t like to talk about dying. In fact already I am concerned about this week. Is it a premonition? Don’t think too much about it. If nothing happens to me and I write next week’s post, will it be a post-monition? Anyway, assuming one day I will have a funeral, here goes…
This is the group I dare not joke about. My family is very important to me. These are my wife and two kids, my two brothers, their wives and kids, my two sisters, their husbands and kids, our parents. When you refer to ‘my people’, this is the group you are referring to. I’m glad to have all of them. Warts and all. These have seen me all my life, seen me go through good and bad times. God never gave us the option of choosing our family, and rightly so I think. We all belong to a family and no one should think they have more right to be in a family than the other. We cannot choose family, tribe, gender, colour or region where we will be born. So the majority of this group will not have a choice about attending. There are many funerals we will not have a choice as to whether we will attend or not. My only plea to them, coz I do not want to make threats or ridiculous requirements about what to do or not to do during the funeral, or whether to cremate, bury or whatever to do to my body so long as they confirm kabisa that I’m dead. My only plea to them, please don’t say this in any eulogy (why do some people say euology?) or testimony
“ni kwithiwa Ngai nuumweendie mbee wa undu tumwendete…”
Loosely translated this means “since God has loved him more than we love him…” I find this a very ridiculous thing to say at a funeral. It implies that the reason you are alive today is that God does not love you enough yet to call you to himself.
2. Extended family
The best way I can think of to define these people is this. Look above, all those people in the first group, their brothers, their sisters, their wives, children, parents and relatives. Of course now these will be hundreds. In our place, everyone is related to everyone. Usually this group end up giving testimonies that only the person being buried can get up and dispute. Their way of coping or handling this is to share something that connects them to me in this case. Something really deep I told them, some random good deed I initiated that changed their lives. Some principle I held on to, lived by and refused to ever compromise. Some humility that I showed despite my immense wealth and status in society (hey, it’s my funeral, I can dream). These people should also be given their chance to speak. They are my family’s support group and will be grieving too. In different ways but grieving nonetheless. Just don’t allow someone to say sijui I promised them that they can take any of my stuff when I die.
3. Friends from church and ministry
Since I have been involved in church and ministry for close to thirty years, from CU in secondary school till now, this could be a very large group I believe or hope. From my stint at AIC Ziwani in the 80s, Nairobi Baptist then Nairobi Chapel and its offspring churches, particularly Lifespring Chapel and now Mamlaka Hill Chapel. Or course during all these years, don’t exclude ABC Syombuku, my church in shags which has sort of all this time understood my ‘dual-citizenship’ in these ‘Nairobi’ churches. This group is my community of faith. Many of the people in this group are lifelong friends. Tumetoka mbali. For many, we have ended up in different parts of the world and I understand, life happens, people move on and live the lives the good Lord had for them. I once bumped into a guy who was my classmate in primary school. After greetings, he started listing to me all the classmates we had and who had kept contact and who ‘tupad’ him. Up to this point it was ok, but he started freaking me out when he went on about how ‘all of us’ had deserted him and just decided he meant nothing to us. In my mind I was like, “move on dude” that was primary school. Life happened. Get over it. There was no contract that I had to keep in touch with all my former classmates all through school. Ok now I realise he was just ranting. If he had made a few more steps, this guy could have invented Facebook. Silly guy would be a millionaire now. Anyway these are people I have grown up with spiritually and who we share values and lives with. My desire is that they would remember how awesome God has been in our lives and how far he has brought us all these years. I would like them to remember to be real to themselves and each other and not to treat church like some club to belong to. That they would not forget that we are saved by grace. That we cannot earn or deserve the salvation God has freely given us.
4. Friends from business and work
I have been in business and work for close to twenty years. In this time I have met and made many great friends. A lot of these people will belong to the third group as well. We have shared different experiences in the business and work world. I’m hoping these will remember the times we shared about my desire for excellence, that my work matters to God and that I endeavoured to testify with my work, that software is hard to write, computers are difficult gadgets and deadlines are hard to meet but I always did my best. This group will move on very quickly, don’t worry guys, I will understand. Business is business.
5. Na kadhalika
This is a net supposed to trap all the rest who did not fit into any of the above groups. From my kinyozi who cut my hair for close to ten years and who I fired coz he got into the bad habit of tipping himself and keeping change every time he cut my hair, the random bike and car mechanics who have taught me so much about mobility solutions (big term I have coined to incorporate Vitz drivers), people we have been on the same flight with (ahem), watchmen who have opened many gates, numerous times for me, bank tellers – there is one who we have a deal, I come to the counter and say loudly “I would like to withdraw the nine million now please” and her response is supposed to be even louder “so we leave the balance at 89 million?” and I ask “huh?” and she repeats even louder.
To all these people I say, you may not think you mattered to me, but you did, every one of you, everyday.
What about you? How do you think your funeral will be?