The Funeral of the Mute
by Sandister Tei
Yesterday was a week since my uncle Pépé, Grandma’s first son died. He was also the first from “our side” of the family to die in over 24 years. Pépé was a very good man and useful to the family. His most outstanding quality was his willingness to help.
Somewhere along the line, before my birth, I heard he lost his wealth, regained it and lost it again. His wife ran off with his friend, and not long into his second marriage his baby drowned in bath water. After those incidents, he took to alcohol and cigarettes. Often, Grandma would say to him in Twi, “Kwame, I don’t want to bury any child of mine so you need to quit drinking and smoking.” He would then respond, “Fresh leaves fall, old dead ones also fall.” We knew he might answer to alcohol sooner or later, but it doesn’t make it any less painful that he died. Right now, our biggest challenge is how to tell Grandma that her son is gone.
As for mum, they had an argument last two weeks. She was angry that Pépé still treated her like a child. He also insisted that whether she is in her fifties or not, she is still his kid sister and he can talk to her anyhow the hell he liked. Mum got mad and never called him again. The next she heard about him, he had died.
When I first heard the news, I wept in confusion and sadness. I haven’t had any good sleep since then, and I can’t explain why, but I feel so so lonely. Now when I move around the house I imagine him in the places I saw him when he would visit us — in the parking space, in our sofa, at the shop, with his bandana, his boots … his suede boots. And Duane Stephenson ’s August Town which was “our song”, makes me break down.
Yesterday, we went to his house for his “one week” as Ghanaians call it. There, hell broke loose. During a family meeting, the ebusua pannin and his assistant spoke endlessly. Mum had to step out briefly to speak with a lady who would supply canopies for the funeral. Pépé’s brother- in- law, about the age of my brother, got angry and threw a fit that mum had walked out of the family meeting. He was silenced by the ebusua pannin who said that mum was a mere attendee. In Akan tradition mum’s exit, although she was a key person in Pépé’s life, was ignorable for she wasn’t presiding the meeting. He, the ebusua pannin was and due to that the meeting could go on.
After this meeting, I couldn’t find mum, neither could I find the in-laws so I sensed trouble. The in-laws had called mum into a private meeting supposedly to discuss finances but they rather ganged up on her verbally over her walk- out saying it signified that we, as Pépé’s family, had abandoned his widow and children. His widow, threw a fit saying my family hadn’t contributed anything since he died, to his body preservation and other arrangements so she would take up the costs even if she had to borrow. Marissa, that was blatant lie. They rather, hadn’t paid a dime for anything since Pépé left because it isn’t their duty. However when a widow aggressively wants to take up cost, she is sending signals to the man’s family to back off, she will make the expenses herself and whatever offerings she gets on the funeral day, will be her profit. Period. What is striking is all this money we are talking including plane tickets his other brothers are buying to come down for the funeral, if Pépé had it, he wouldn’t be gone too soon.
I walked in on them, I was upset that mum went into that meeting alone. What upset me more was that chap who initially complained disrespectfully about mum’s exit, was confronting her with his fingers in her face. I was sad and I wished my brother was there. I didn’t want to act inappropriately in front of elders but I also resolved that if the elders weren’t going to control that man I might as well speak up. The next time he pointed at my mum again, I asked him to put his hand down.
He asked me, “Excuse Me?”
I repeated, “Put your hand down, don’t point into my mother’s face like that, she has a son just like you, show her respect and put your hand down.”
He stood up, I was up as well expecting the worst. He walked past me out the door. I stooped and whispered into my mom’s ear that she shouldn’t have come to this meeting without us and that we should leave and we did. Of course when my family heard about the confrontation with the in-laws, they responded and it became an evening of chaos.
While they tried to talk things out, one man came to me and asked for my number. He whispered into my ear that we can talk about what is happening and we should also secretly meet somewhere after the meeting. With that, he ran his fingers through my hair and slightly pulled at it. At that point I just wanted to go home. I haven’t seen people wailing, women screaming at each other, men wanting to take things “outside” like that in my family, we don’t behave like that. And certainly no man has ran his fingers through my hair without my permission before. Now I understood why Grandma isolated herself and her own from long ebusua issues.
Mum swore in front of everyone that she was never coming back into that house again and cried all the way home. At some point, she would ask Pépé to come so that he can confront her like he used to. She said she didn’t care how annoying he would get, she’d give anything to have them fight than to have him gone.
Did I also tell you his illegitimate daughter also showed? Bringing drama? I won’t even touch that one.
We all went home exhausted and angry.
Marissa, family — extended family, is tough and death makes it tougher. But we should always aim for the experience and lessons when we face problems interacting with others.
Also uncle’s wife’s reaction wasn’t a surprise. Always she said behind our backs that we had abandoned her husband and she had to be feeding him. Yes she didn’t marry into Bentleys, mansions and hefty housekeeping money, and Grandma knew all that so when she retired as a trader, she handed over her expensive commercial lands in Accra to this woman not uncle, so that whatever my uncle couldn’t give her in riches, she could make some for herself with that investment and wouldn’t have to nag him about money. And you know Grandma hasn’t given her own blood any of these benefits. How much more can one do for a person? What her expectations were, only God knows but the lady’s heart was full of unspoken lack of appreciation for over 25 years of marriage and yesterday her mouth betrayed her. Matthew 12:34 is right.
After yesterday’s drama one elder told us proverbially that it is often at the funeral of the mute, that voices shall be raised. But Marissa, death need not bring out the angels and demons in people. Let us learn to love and settle differences while we are all still living and able to. The sweet tributes we have for the dead can be said to them while they are here. Family issues and so on which involve us should be settled lest we die and leave chaos behind. That’s why family meetings were invented. Gossip need not be the vehicle conveying sentiments. And then, I always say if you wouldn’t give people “flowers” while they are living, don’t go lay some on their grave when they die.