By Douglas Anele
In last series of this column entitled “Yuletide experiences and acknowledgments,” I wrote about the death of my father, Alagbo Ebere E. Anele, at the age of ninety-four. Before travelling to the village on December 27, 2013 to commence preliminary preparations for his funeral, I was a bit apprehensive because the stress of my late mother’s burial about three years ago was still fresh in my memory.
Therefore, I anticipated that, given my father’s unsurpassed generosity and honesty, which attracted people to him the way iron magnets attract iron fillings, I tried as best as I could to prepare mentally for a more challenging outing this time around. The burial was slated for Friday, January 24, and I arrived my village, Ishiowerri two days earlier. Before then, I had sent some money to my indefatigable sister, Ihuoma, to help in the preparations.
To minimise stress and avoidable mishap, I politely turned down suggestions to get a coaster bus either from the University of Lagos or from the university’s branch of the Academic Staff Union of Universities to convey colleagues and friends to my ancestral home for the burial. I reckoned that, overall, it would be better for those wishing to condole with me and my family to do so by coming to my residence within the university. Now, by the time I arrived the village on January 22 for the funeral proper, virtually everything was ready for a memorable event, thanks mainly to the untiring efforts of my sister.
Without wasting time, I mobilised funds to pay the disk jockey that would play music for two days, the video man, photographer and other sundries. The wake keep that took place the night before Friday 24 was good: a sizeable number of people kept vigil until the next morning while the DJ played good Christian songs and highlife music to the satisfaction of everybody.
On the day of the burial, I was in a dilemma because as an unrepentant unbeliever who considers religious burials a waste of time and resources I definitely did not wish to go to church. Yet, as the first son of the deceased, it was somewhat obligatory for me to be in church for the funeral service. The problem did not arise during my mother’s burial because the programme was conducted in our family compound and, consequently, there was no need to go to church. Anyway, I decided to be in church out of deep respect for Alagbo who while alive was a sincere Christian.
A retinue of clergymen, led by The Most Reverend B.C.I. Okoro, Archbishop of Orlu Anglican Diocese, conducted the funeral service. It was solemn and dignified occasion, although I did not like the fact that it lasted too long. My sister, Ihuoma, read some verses from the Holy Bible, while I gave an inspiring brief biography of Alagbo, which was well received with a resounding ovation. After the church service and photo sessions, everybody moved to our family house.
Another round of religious ceremony was conducted near the grave. Shortly afterwards Alagbo’s remains were lowered into the grave around 1 pm. Some family members and friends, particularly my sister, wept uncontrollably. That was not surprising: Alagbo was an admirable man and most people he interacted with deeply appreciated his childlike generosity and humane attitude. People came in large numbers to pay their last respects to a humanist who willingly shared whatever he had and cared for those in need.
Clearly, although I was crestfallen after performing the “dust to dust” and “sand to sand” ritual, my heart dilated with joy because of the open show of affection for my father by people I never met until that day. All told, my father received a colourful, befitting and dignified burial. Three traditional rulers, including the Ishi Igbo of Owerri Nkwoji, attended the event. My siblings and I did our best to satisfy everybody who came around. Of course, there were lapses; but with the help of relatives and friends we worked tirelessly to make sure that food and drinks were properly distributed.
At this point, I wish to thank those who made Alagbo’s burial hugely successful. To begin with, the event was organised almost singlehandedly by my sister Ihuoma: she worked harder than anyone I know right from the time our father died until the very last ceremony. I deeply appreciate her efforts and the support she received from her husband, Dee Sam. My sincere gratitude goes to all the officiating ministers and the choristers for a job well done.
The mortuary attendants that took care of Alagbo’s body at the morgue in Amaigbo Joint Hospital, I thank all of you. My second sister, Ngozi, was unavailable because she is currently in a hospital abroad. Her physical absence notwithstanding, she was psychologically present: through daily telephone conversations with my wife and me, she got all the necessary information about how things were going. Moreover, the money she sent was quite helpful and I am grateful. Ijeoma, my wife, was great. She moved around all the time attending to guests. I commend her graciousness and commitment. My younger brothers, Emeka and Kalu, also tried and their contributions are hereby noted. My cousins, Franco and Emee (Emmy Don), deserve special mention for their significant contributions to the success of the programme.
Franco’s excellent generosity and driving skills together with Emee’s uncanny organisational ability and honesty helped me so much – accept my sincerest gratitude, please. To all indigenes of Ishiowerri who came from different places to honour my late father, and members of Anele family and Umuokwara kindred, particularly Chimezie and his siblings, John, Timothy, Emeka Nwosu, Dee Silva, C.J., Iheanyi, and Inspector – I say thank you very much. My good friends, ndi enyi ka nwanne, Chiefs Innocent Egwim and Ralph Obiduba, you attended the ceremony with two traditional rulers and a cultural musical group, which added a carnival-like atmosphere to the programme.
I salute both of you sincerely. I really appreciate my friends who gave me their widow’s mite and gifts, such as Ngozi Osarenren, Femi Adesina, Editor-in-Chief and Managing Director, Sun Newspapers, Jude Uche, Soni Ajala, Ekene Obi (Kenzman), Simon Tashie, Nduka, Alogba, Gbenga Akinmoladun, Emeka Ezike, Nduka Nwabueze, Uche Udeani, Clement A. Edokpayi, Ndubisi Madubuike Ekwe, and Kalu Onuma. I thank my in-laws from Obowo for their presence and gifts. Certainly, the list above is not exhaustive. Consequently, if I omitted your name please forgive me.
Memory lapse is a universal phenomenon. All the same, I sincerely cherish your kindness. As I gazed at the lifeless body of my father, I wished I could talk to him for the last time. Suddenly, it dawned on me that he has gone forever, and I began to understand why human beings throughout the ages have been clinging tenaciously to the notion of immortality, despite the fact that scientific evidence for life in any meaningful form after death is very tenuous. It is difficult to really accept the fact that death is the ultimate annihilation of all human possibilities encapsulated in a dead person.
For me, instead of wasting mental energy hankering after immortality, every human being, should endeavour to live a life inspired by love and guided by knowledge, in spite of delusions concerning eternal life here on earth, hell or heaven. CONCLUDED.