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A strange funeral indeed

Clinton
Chisholm

Monday, October 22, 2018

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I began serving as a pastor in 1983 and have done many funerals in different settings, but I have never before experienced being told by the spokesman of an armed group of policemen that I would be allowed only an hour to complete the service.

I had no objections at all, since I had to take the Knutsford Express shuttle back to Kingston in time for a graduation ceremony.

I assume their presence and the time limitation was for our safety. Folk have been murdered or shot at during a couple funerals in Montego Bay.

This was the Friday morning funeral service for my murdered nephew Courtney Clarke at Delapenha Funeral Home chapel on Union Street in my hometown, Montego Bay, and I was the officiating clergyman/preacher.

We were done in half-hour owing to the absence of a couple of individuals who were on the programme, along with the omission of some of the stanzas of the two hymns, plus my very condensed, six-minute homily on the 'Rough Realities of Death'.

I read Psalm 90: 12 from the New King James Version then provided my own rendition in standard English. I also offered for their memory my Jamaican version of the verse. The Jamaican version is in what my erudite friend Professor Carolyn Cooper would call chakka chakka spelling. Here it is: “Lawd, mek wi count up di likkle time wah wi have yah an' suh nuh liv lakka eediat ar leggo beas'.” My standard English version; “Teach us to count our days that we may wisely make our days count for you.”

There were three main points to the homily, with each attracting just a sentence or two of clarification in a mix of Jamaican and English:

1. The fact of death troubles us: That there is such a thing as death, the annoying opposite of life, bothers all of us. Most, if not all of us regard death as a dreadful, dismal and damnable intrusion in life. [Of course, I had to lower the blood pressure in the room by explaining that 'damnable' is a perfectly legitimate word meaning “very bad or unpleasant and worthy of divine condemnation”.]

2. The fear of death torments us: No matter how Christian or Stoic we claim to be, deep down, most of us have an inner fear of death itself or of personally dying. Whether death is near because of a terminal illness, or just because it is inevitable, we register a fear of it; and that fear causes some emotional torment.

3. The finality of death terrorises us: As of now, despite wishful thinking from even reputable scientists, there is no reversal of death short of a divine miracle; so death is very final and that tears up all of us. When it really hits home is usually at the graveside for internment in the awful words “…dust to dust…”

For these three reasons and more the Psalmist's prayer should be our prayer: “Lawd, mek wi count up di likkle time wah wi have yah an' suh nuh liv lakka eediat ar leggo beas'.”

Death is really a strange reality and my nephew's funeral was stranger still.

Rev Clinton Chisholm is academic dean at Caribbean Graduate School of Theology. Send comments to the Observer or clintchis@yahoo.com.

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