Identity & Culture

An "Ode" to Memory ( I will never bury my friends again)

Many years ago a close friend, faith died.  It was the first time in my life someone i knew and was close to died. She was young and her death, especially the nature of it, sudden and unexpected hit me hard. That was the first time i did not bury a friend and it was last time i traveled to bury anyone.

Like all funerals in Africa, there is a flurry of activity and a gathering of friends and family to help with burial arrangement. Unlike western culture were death and burials are a family affair, in Uganda, you are sent off with a great huff.

Faiths death was no different.  We gathered, we prayed and we pooled resources.  She was a member of the church i attended and so a van was availed to take some her close friends and church members to be part of it.

But this loss was different for me. I did not know it then but something had broken. Like all other journeys, i packed my clothes and let my family know. The taxi ride was slow and the walk up the Nakasero hill to our meeting point was tiring.

We waited around mostly in silence, occasionally sharing stories and wiping away tears. Then the van arrived. we had planned to travel through the night and be there by morning, be part of the funeral and then journey back home.

But in that darkness i just knew i could not go. I would not bury my friend. And there, one foot on the step into the van i changed my mind.

“i am sorry faith, i cannot to this”, i mumbled.

I gave some lame excuse and stepped aside. My heart beating, my shoulders slumped…a lump in my throat, my brain screaming at me to get into the van, that to not go would be disloyal especially to someone who had been a good friend. Didn’t i want to say my final good byes? i stayed still…rooted to that spot and as the van drove out of the parking lot i burst into tears and through blurry eyes and runny nose i kept blurting

“i am sorry faith, i am so sorry but i cannot do this. i cannot do this. “

Her passing has never left me. From time to time i see her face, and her gorgeous gorgeous smile and i am sad. She left us so young and so full of life. And to this day, with each new memory I still apologise. I don’t regret it. i know faith understands, she knew me well enough to, but i think that night stands out because it was the start of something that would continue to this day…i do not travel to burry my friends.

But where life finds a way, death is not far behind to write the final chapter always.

My grandfather has always been precious to me. He was the perfect image of what a grandfather was supposed to be. Well at least what i imagined them to be…based off the books i had read. Severino was my jjaja

He was not those wrinkly bent over jjajas. No, he had a full head of short neat silvery white hair, was always well dressed. Sometimes he wore a hat, wore glasses and smoked a pipe in my younger day. He spoke with a slight British lilt, a remnant of his days being taught by white colonial teachers. His English was perfect, his writing was cursive and he has a rich deep laugh the showed his stained but otherwise full set of teeth.

He was an avid reader and loved doing the crossword puzzled. He carried an attaché case stuffed to the gills, with what, i would never know. And like all grandfathers and their grandchildren he spoiled me rotten.

Of course like all grandparents he lived in the “village”, Tororo to be precise. When he visited he always brought me a box of family biscuits. he made sure to tell me it was mine and i was to decide with who and how i shared them. He gave me my first taste of true power haha.

Many years later he was my teacher when i joined my form one in St Peters Collage Tororo. He was much older then and while he was till the grandfather i remember, he had become the disciplinarian i never knew. His voice alone would send a house full grandsons scampering.

He taught ancient history, the rise of the moors and such. I don’t remember all of it, it was ancient after all but i do remember him saying the rock of gibralter was originally called Gabr Al Tarik…go figure. He had the most wonderful script even while writing on the black board and he inspired what is my handwriting today.

For his age he was strong and active. i never say him sick in my life. The odd cough and flu but never full blown sickness so when he fell sick and was admitted i never believed he would not come out.

My aversion for hospitals made me postpone all visits and he passed away the night before i was scheduled to go see him. He had been diagnosed with cancer, apparently something he had carried for the past 13 years. He had miraculously survived it for that long but in a matter of months he was no more.

Like all African burials, there was the usual flurry of activity and the pooling of resources. His funeral was larger than most cause he was from a large family and was well known. He had seen his children, his grandchildren and his great grandchildren and i believe even great, great grandchild too. He was remembered by all those he taught and touched with his life.

i was in shock and guilty. I don’t remember most of the journey to the village, or the vigil, or the service. i do remember the actual laying of the coffin into the ground and the finality of it all…and there while it rained i watched them lower him into the grave and told myself

i will not do this again i swear.

But where there is life there is death. They are two sides of the same coin, two melodies of the same orchestra. One begins and the other finishes.

For the most part i have kept my word. I spend minimal time at vigils and attend church services only. I never travel to the village for burial. I know in an African context its odd and i am sure many have judged me and i have offended countless others and that i have come to accept. My heart and my mind just cannot take it.

The older one gets the more likely someone close to them will die. It’s a statistical certainty. With that has come a re-evaluation of my decisions not to attend up country burials. No i have not changed my mind but i have pondered how then i should mourn and honour those who pass on.

It does not help that i grieve days and even months after a loss. For my grandfather it was almost a month later. I got home from work tired and lay on my bed. In that moment i was flooded with memories of him and i wailed for several minutes as wave after wave of emotion swept me until it finally subsided and the burden was lifted.

SO what is the point of all of this? It’s the year 2021 and the world is still in the throes of a global pandemic. We, Uganda, are experiencing our second wave of infections and with it deaths. No day passes without someone posting that they have lost a loved one. I lost three uncles and an aunt in a space of two week.  Death is everywhere.

I am quite honestly all dried out of everything, emotion and more. But this exhaustion is at the center of why I don’t do burials. I found that for days after I was in a sense of melancholy, depressed. Years later, looking back I recognised the anxiety that I silently or rather ignorantly suffered. Even then, Our immersion in the process of death was and is too much in my opinion. It did not make sense to go into a micro depression each time I buried someone. And so I found that center space, it did not make people happy but it is healthy for me.

I have instead chosen to maximise the aspects of my friends that touched me. Their laughs, wise words, rebukes and more are things I am keen to remember, to hold them, embrace them and to live them. To weave them into aspects of my life and hold onto those things that keep them alive in memory. That way I would never have to burry my friends again.

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Andrew Pacutho
Andrew Pacutho is a trained journalist and lover of stories. In his free time, he is a writer, photographer, DIYer and a sleep enthusiast.

    4 Comments

    1. I really loved the emotions in this, the waves that are moving and also the thought of it. It made me think of why I avoid burials, the thoughts as one is lowed down, the intense crying that happens, the no joke silent rule that bounds me not laugh.

      Thanks for this

      1. I know right. glad to know i am not the only one.

    2. Big hugs to you. 4 relatives in two weeks is tough and would be depressing for anyone.

      1. Thank you Rachael.

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