We are all fine except we have two funerals

PRETORIA, SOUTH AFRICA — It was Saturday when I opened my email to find this greeting from a colleague in Lusaka, which then named two colleagues who both had died Christmas day.

One was a 39-year-old mother of four, who had just recently returned to work from a maternity leave. She had a quiet wry humor that I enjoyed, and a courteous kindly way. The other was a man of 50, greatly liked, who had seized an array of opportunities over the years to add to his knowledge and who shared his experiences with the young ones at the office. “Let me give you some fatherly advice,” he said to a colleague in his 30s, once, before laughing, and amending it to, “rather some brotherly advice . . . ” because he didn’t seem that old.

I have yet to learn the cause of death for either of them. It wasn’t mentioned in the email, or in the facebook postings I found later, or in the obituaries. That both had recently been ill was mentioned at work to explain their abscences.

Death has the run of the place, tolerated and ignored, like a vendor whose goods no one happens to want, but who, apparently, no one thinks it his or her particular place to turn out. To discuss the presence of this shadow that lingers in the corners, occassionally flitting across a hall as colleagues turn out for another funeral, remark on another person lost young — a famous singer, the son of a former president, several government officials — in the last few months alone, would, perhaps be to acknowledge responsibility for questioning this intruder, it seems.

Others explain it differently, saying that to talk about death is to invite its notice. And a couple have suggested that my colleagues simply don’t have the same morbid fascination with lurid details that prompts American media to pry in to the privacy of the prominent departed.

So I don’t know what happened to this mother of four at 39, or this man who had spent the last 30 years gathering knowledge that he suddenly ran out of time to share. All I know is that everyone is fine, except they have two funerals.

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