“When tomorrow starts without me
And I’m not here to see
If the sun should rise and find your eyes
All filled with tears for me…”
I tried to place the face of the lady who had just greeted me, but drew a blank.
Maybe she’s not talking to me.
I stopped my right hand that was already rising to strike me chest, and refrained from looking over my shoulder to see if she was saluting someone behind me.
‘Hello,’ I mouthed back with a smile.
She was sitting to my right two pews in front.
I was in church for the funeral, and while we waited for Mass to start, I looked round, taking in the stained glass portraits. I had been to Our Lady of Perpetual Help, Victoria Island twice before, they still felt like the first time to me.
People drifted in sombre and solemn, most in one of the two black t-shirts made for the occasion. I did not know shirts would be made, and even if I did, I would not know who to meet for one. I was dressed in a plain navy blue t-shirt over blue jeans.
‘Would you like a shirt?’ she asked.
‘Yes please,’ I wondered what the shirt was going to cost.
‘I’m coming,’ she raised her right palm.
She looked around before sliding along her pew to where I was and handing me a shirt. No charge.
‘Thank you very much,’ I said. I went out to the men’s room where I donned the shirt.
“Classic Radio King of Hip-Hop Lives on”
“I wish you wouldn’t cry
The way that you did today
While thinking of the many things
We did not get to say…”
When I returned everyone was outside the church; the service was about to begin.
I looked across the entrance to where his wife, stood. She was wearing a stylish black gown and a black hat angled to shield her face. Most of it. She looked up in that instant and I nodded to her. She returned the nod and a moment later we all filed into church.
Proceedings were solemn, very so, and throughout the sermon my eyes kept straying to the casket laid out in the aisle, the wreath on it, its foot pointing to the altar, and I thought about the meaning of life. The mystery of death. The promise of eternal life.
“I know how much you love me
As much as I love you
Each time that you think of me
I know you will miss me too…”
After Holy communion the priest invited us to listed to a few words from her.
The church fell quiet as she made her way to the altar, her steps determined.
I wondered if it was a good idea to let her go by herself, if someone shouldn’t have gone with her, but I realised that, like a lot of things going forward, this was one thing she had to do by herself.
She was going to share a poem with us, for Sly.
“When tomorrow starts without me
Please try to understand
That an angel came and called my name…”
Her voice broke. She paused to collect herself, the breath she took amplified by the microphone.
I heard a few sniffles, and a guy on the pew to my left moaned. I felt tears sting my eyelids, but I blinked them back. Crying just won’t do; I had to be strong for my kiddo.
“… And took me by the hand
The angel said my place was ready
In heaven far above
And that I would have to leave behind
All those I dearly love…”
The sobbing of the congregation grew louder, but she ploughed on.
She is a strong one, my kiddo.
Her voice broke twice more before she got to the end of the poem and when she was done, I wanted to walk over and tell her how proud of her I was, and hug her and cede my strength to her.
Behave, before people will ask what is your own there.
When it was time to leave, the pall bearers lifted the casket onto their shoulders and we all filed out behind them.
The guy on my right was now bawling loudly and someone put a hand over his shoulder to comfort him.
“But when I walked through Heaven’s Gates
I felt so much at home
When GOD looked down and smiled at me
From his golden throne…”
There was some confusion about the cemetery which was quickly sorted out, and we all trooped to Vaults and Gardens.
Walking along the path leading to the graveside I was amused by the distinction that was made even among the dead by the living: Moslems were buried to the left, and Christians to the right.
As if the dead really cared about this.
“He said this is eternity
And all I promised you today
For life on earth is done
But here it starts anew…”
We crowded round the graveside, family, friends, colleagues, maybe a few curios as the priest said the prayers and the casket was lowered into the recently dug grave.
He called for a shovel, and some earth was thrown in the grave, followed by flowers from family and colleagues.
“I promise no tomorrow
For today will always last
And since each day’s the exact same way
There is no longing for the past…”
Done, the grave diggers shovelled more earth into the grave. For them it was just a job, but not so the people gathered there.
The seeming finality of their actions set more people to crying, and when they manoeuvred the pre-cast slabs onto vault, a lady who was standing to my right crouched, her left hand wrapped around her mid-section, her right over her mouth. The lady next to her, I noticed, had not moved since we arrived there. She just stood with tears running down her cheeks.
People leaned on other people, or folded into themselves.
“So when tomorrow starts without me
Do not think we’re apart
For every time you think of me
Remember I am right here in your heart.”
I was amongst the first to leave the graveside and head for the exit. I wanted to reach her and let her know I was in her corner.
When I eventually walked up to where she was I heard her joke about something and her friends with her laughed.
She had just laid the love of her life to rest, and while she could have milked the attention and concern being shown her – no one would be impatient with her if she chose to do so – she wanted them to know she was okay. She would be okay.
I looked sideways at her and her friends, and the world receded.