Let us see you through this day, the final gaze on your face as you depart in body, but not in soul.
I had resisted seeing you until then. My memories of you spread across a spectrum of emotions. Joy, laughter, scorn, generosity… But this stillness I perceived as disquieting.
This then is the final hours.
At 4.00 am we the family would meet you as you were chaperoned in a convoy to your home in Accra, Tema. It is a beautiful home and your neighbours speak fondly about you — they miss you too.
The car taking you to your residence carries its significance. It slices through Accra’s roads with its hazard light blinking, sometimes in the middle lane — a convoy of five cars pushing others aside. Apparently, I’m told, this action is reserved for important people. You loved VIP treatment in life. Once recently emerging from the passenger seat of a VIP 4x4 with a glint in your eye, we marvelled, “Who’s car is that mum?” You relished that.
This is tradition, the elder would proclaim, not ritual. The nuance is lost on us; a monocle perhaps to support the many things throughout the day we might not understand.
For instance in Ghanaian funerals, which are spread over a number of days, a mother’s body becomes the ownership of her extended family, not the children or grandchildren. The courts uphold this tradition.
Rites are performed and the simmering impact of your predicament suddenly erupts; your sister can no longer contain her anguish. She calls your name. You do not answer.
By 7.00 we are back at the funeral home as an army corp band plays in your arrival. Later they will play The Last Post. You would have liked that too.
You are laid out in splendour for all to see. Suddenly I am confronted with the inevitable. Timidly I approach, and then withdraw. Then seeing my older brother I gain strength. You look radiant and at peace. Your grandchildren surround you caressing your hands and face. Your sister and her family are unconsolable.
It’s time for the service. The readings go well. We overcome a minor hiccup, hidden from sight. It is the elder as he takes to the lectern to read the biography. Omar (my nephew) stops mid track. Tradition.
Then you are escorted out to a private ceremony. By now, I can see you belly ache laughing; more exclusivity. By the way we found the perfume, that was placed just under your head and the Tiara. That was exquisite.
Not all can make it into the private grounds, so the elders defer; the children and grandchildren are a priority. This must be accepted as a huge gesture on their part. We file in, some at a distance observe. The priest performs his prayers and as you are lowered into the earth, from whence we all came from says scripture, the Last Post fills the air.
Gravels of earth are placed on your oak-looking coffin that Yaw, our senior brother, chose for you.
As we depart, we make our way to the reception. More ceremonies; those who give and traditions that demand giving. My Almar Mater ( Prempeh College) show. They are given a rousing welcome. They donate 500 cedis. Many others too donate. Tradition demands, we’re told, that we are given two new mothers. Er no thank you we might murmur politely, but the elder sensing our bemusement affirms, “it is tradition not ritual”. Tradition, traditional pecuniary.
By this time I can see my mum double bent over laughing. Mum too liked tradition, but she wasn’t afraid to confront it.
The evening wears on and the mood has visibly changed. There is much dancing and whooping. My Uncle and others offer congratulations; we’re past the condolences stage. You have put on a fine show, we’re told; mum would have been proud.
We’re invited back to see your resting place and given words of duty by our cousin. If you’re passing through, staying, whatever pass by and see mum. She liked flowers. Yes she did.
By now, my mum’s infectious laugh is in full throttle mode. She’s had her way; she always had her way. See, I can hear her saying. “I told you so”. “Now who are these people in my house I’ve not seen before. What do they want?”, would have been her cheeky pay-off.
We have seen you through this day, the final gaze on your face as you depart in body, but not in soul because that’s what will continue to guide us. I could end with Rest in Peace, befittingly, but you knew what you wanted. You’re smiling.